Monday, January 19, 2009

Notice to Red Wings - He's back...

San Jose is the site of a hockey comeback not seen since Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur laced up his skates with the Rangers and Quebec Nordiques from 1988 - 1991, three years after retiring from the Montreal Canadians. Sharks General Manager, Doug Wilson, confirmed today on Hockey Central @ Noon that 43 year old Claude Lemieux has earned his way on to the Sharks and will be on the ice in the coming days.

Lemieux, who retired in 2003 after stops in five NHL cities, is one of only eight players in league history to win the Stanley Cup on three different teams - Montreal, New Jersey and Colorado. His 80 career playoff goals ranks him in the top 10 all-time for playoff goal scorers, and that is certainly one of the reasons why San Jose made the decision to sign the veteran forward. GM Wilson told the Hockey Central crew that Lemieux "earned his way" onto the squad, and this is an "opportunity based on merit". Wilson expects the veteran forward to fill a 3rd or 4th line role with the Sharks, and could be in the line-up as "soon as tomorrow" - the final decision will belong to Head Coach Todd McLellan. In 23 games with the Worcester Sharks (San Jose's AHL affiliate), Lemieux has 3 goals and 8 assists and was a plus 2.

During an interview in September with RDS, the French sports network in Quebec, Lemieux expressed interest in an NHL comeback. Wilson, who was a teammate of Lemieux's, suggested a trip to the Asia Ice Hockey League and the San Jose sponsored China Sharks, and that's where he started the season. Perhaps he found a fountain of youth in Asia, signing a minor league contract with Worcester in November, and then a two-way deal with the Sharks at the end of December - leading to the January 19th call-up to the NHL. With 498 career goals, he could soon be joining the exclusive 500 goal club; just as Jeremy Roenick did last season with the Sharks.

Claude Lemieux is probably most famous for his battles with the Red Wings during his time with the Colorado Avalanche. Everyone can recall his violent check on Kris Draper that sent the Detroit forward head first into the boards in the 1996 playoffs. Draper suffered a concussion, broken jaw, nose, and cheekbone, while Lemieux received a 2 game suspension. The Draper hit eventually lead to the famous brawl on March 26th 1997, that saw Darren McCarty exact revenge on Lemieux. After escaping from the grasp of a linesman, McCarty went after Lemieux with a right hook and started an on ice brawl that included a Patrick Roy/Mike Vernon fight. Several incidents have followed over the years, and the Red Wings/Avalanche rivalry has grown.

After several seasons of early playoff exits in San Jose, and knowing that a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals will most likely pass through Detroit, the Sharks have made a statement about their intentions to still be playing hockey in June. What can Claude Lemieux bring to the Sharks at 43? A suitcase full of Stanley Cup rings... Have a great sports day everyone.

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