Many people step away from their careers for family matters. For Claude Lemieux, family was one of the main reasons he jumped back into the NHL. Now, after a one season return, Lemieux is officially hanging up the skates.
“I never made a formal announcement the first time around in 2003,” said Lemieux. “A big part of it was my son Brendan. He was only six when I retired and he never knew much about my previous career. I had a lot of regrets because of that.”
Lemieux’s winding journey back to the NHL could not have happened without his family’s support, which includes his wife and four kids.
“It really was an adventure and we attempted it together,” said Lemieux.
Not that the adventure did not give him pause at times, whether it was skating in a previously unknown Asian Hockey League or riding the buses of the AHL.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t question myself,” said Lemieux. “There were times riding the bus and playing three games in four nights. After the third game I’d go back to the hotel wonder how long it would take to feel the way I wanted to feel.”
“He deserves all the credit,” said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson. “He is very driven and his competitive attributes make him unique to this game.”
The most difficult parts of the journey were the injury setbacks.
“At Christmas time, I wasn’t quite ready, but I ended up with what they call walking pneumonia,” said Lemieux.
Then late in the season, Lemieux was one of a myriad of injuries that forced Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan to juggle the third and fourth line virtually every night.
“I had a weird fracture in my left jaw,” said Lemieux. “When you’re older, it takes longer to heal than normal.”
The four-time Stanley Cup winner was appreciative of the opportunity provided him by Wilson and the Sharks.
“I want to thank everyone that supported me and helped make my dream come true again last year,” said Lemieux. “I didn’t play the way I wanted to, but I’m proud of what I did and have no regrets.”
As for his next step, that will basically be recuperating at his Arizona home – for the short term.
“I’ve decided for the coming season to remain in Phoenix,” said Lemieux, noting there have been some hockey opportunities floated his way. “Most likely I will not coach this upcoming season.”
Wilson says when the time comes, Lemieux will be ready.
“He’ll make one great coach,” said Wilson.
Lemieux’s presence on the ice was limited to just a partial season in San Jose, but the direction he provided in Worcester and in San Jose will not be wasted.
“I can’t say enough about Claude,” said Wilson. “What he showed the players in Worcester and in San Jose, we’ll reap the benefits for many years.”
As for a Lemieux playing hockey in the future, the rest might be up to Brendan.
“I have a feeling we may see Brendan play in this league,” said Wilson. “He’s his father’s son.”