This started out as a one line response to a blog for a writer in the Denver Post, but ended up as a slightly gushing display of my man crush. Since Lemieux is a Shark now, I thought I'd share.
As excited as I was last night watching my favorite player of all time play hockey again, there was a even greater emotion that I was feeling.
As corny as it may sound, Claude Lemieux has inspired me yet again.
It began in New Jersey in 1995. A player whom most considered at best a 3rd line agitator scores 13 goals and leads his team to a Stanley Cup. What he lacked in talent, he made up for and far exceeded with work, determination, and heart.
He's been my favorite player ever since.
I followed him to Colorado in '96 and watched him teach an amazingly talented, young group of players how to win. Watching him play with Forsberg and Kamensky is still among my greatest hockey memories.
Now, at age 43, he's back.
He has nothing left to win. Nothing left to prove. No reason whatsoever to play NHL hockey again... except that he loves it.
While others laughed, Claude hired a trainer and got into better shape than he had ever been before.
While the current Avalanche struggle on most nights to even put forth an effort for 60 minutes, Lemieux was sitting on a bus somewhere in New England, amongst kids half his age, traveling to play 3 games in 4 nights of minor league hockey, just thankful for the opportunity.
Last night, while critics called him a PR stunt and anticipated an embarrassment, Lemieux skated hard and finished checks.
Most former and current NHL stars would have a hard time just dealing with just their egos to play 4th line minutes. Claude Lemieux was just thankful for the opportunity.
The Conn Smythe winner is back because he loves hockey and thinks that playing in the NHL is the best life in the world. He'll skate his tail off each and every shift, not taking a single second of it for granted.
Most players and fans will continue to hate him, but the truth is this:
The NHL would be a whole lot better off with more players like Claude Lemieux.