He’s the kind of player you love to play with, but hate to play against. He’ll get under your opponent’s skin, and do the ugly things it takes to win championships. He’ll be a regular guest of the penalty box, but also chip in with the odd, timely goal. If it sounds like four-time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux, it’s for good reason — his son, Brendan Lemieux, is blazing his own trail in hockey by following a similar path.
“I definitely try to model a lot of the way I play after the way he did,” Lemieux said in comparing his own style to that of his father. “A little bit more of the newer style, though — the game doesn’t really allow, maybe, for a lot of his old-school grit.”
“Old-school grit” may be a polite euphemism for border-smudging play, but Lemieux has applied the lessons and experience of his father to his own game, knowing that there’s always a role on successful teams for players of his ilk.
After all, his father told him so.
“He’s a big preacher in that he doesn’t like the ‘numbers’ game,” he said. “He wants me to play the right style of hockey because playing the right style will get you anywhere, no matter what your numbers are.
“So I’m just making sure that I’m keeping it simple, making smart NHL plays, rather than just trying to score goals in junior. You know, be successful here and be successful for the rest of my career.”
Lemieux is a bit of a hockey nomad, having traveled around the hockey world with his father who played for six teams, winning four cups with three different squads. If he comes across as hockey wise beyond his years, it comes honestly.
After all, how many 17-year-old kids can call one of the world’s greatest goalies, “Patty?”
“[My father] loves the way Patty Roy, his buddy, is playing in Colorado — just real, simple hockey. He just tries to preach that game onto me,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to have great coaching here in Barrie and I’ve really had a good opportunity to play.
“I want to focus on good defensive play and making sure that I’m ready to make the right, simple, play.”
It’s obviously working for him. NHL Central Scouting rated Lemieux as a B-level skater amongst its “Ones to Watch” preliminary list for the NHL Draft. While he’s pleased with the recognition, Lemieux explained that it’s fueling his desire to get better.
“I want to be a first-round pick in the NHL. So I’m not there yet, but I know it’s going to come,” he said. “It’s always easier to rank the skill guys or the points’ guys higher earlier, but I just know the way I’m going to reach that goal is to play a simple, hard-nosed style of game.”
Aiding Lemieux's ascension up the draft boards is an increased opportunity to play this season on a Barrie Colts’ squad that’s in a bit of a transition period. The Colts, who came within tenths of a second of competing for the Memorial Cup last year, has seen some of its top players leave to graduation. That’s given players like Lemieux and his linemate Kevin Labanc more opportunities to play key roles. In 18 games so far, Lemieux has scored six goals, added six assists, and of course, racked up 33 minutes in penalties.
“We had a team last year that was really stacked. It’s kind of like deja vu walking into this arena [the Budweiser Gardens] in London and seeing where we lost it there with zero-point-one seconds left,” he said. “I didn’t really get that much of a chance to play too much. I got to play here and there when we had some injuries, but it really wasn’t consistent.
“Now, I’m a top-six guy and I take that opportunity every night. I know I’m definitely going to go and get a good sweat every night. I try to take as much advantage as I can with it, every night work my hardest.”
And Lemieux thinks there’s plenty of opportunities for his line to play better.
“Numbers-wise, you could say our line hasn’t been all that productive,” he added. “But I think if anybody who knows hockey watches the game, you’ll see a lot of consistent effort, especially with Labanc and [Tyson] Fawcett out there. Just good puck possession and that’s the kind of game we’re trying to play.
“We’re definitely trying to make the most out of our opportunity here and take advantage of all the ice we’re getting.”
Unlike many American-born players, Lemieux had no doubts that playing Canadian junior hockey was the right choice for him and his long-term goals.
“It’s the fastest route, right? Just the level of skill and the speed of the game alongside the skill level here, it’s huge,” he said. “I felt like it was the fastest way for me to go professional, which is my dream, and it was the best league to do it.”
Canada, of course, is an officially bilingual country. With a last name like Lemieux, there’s some expectation that there’s French in there — especially considering his father didn’t speak much English for years. It’s not the case, Lemieux said.
“No, no, no. I never picked it up,” he explained. “[My father] doesn’t speak it at home — it’s more with his parents. My mom taught him to speak English, so we never really worried about [French] at home.”
Speaking of expectations, bearing the Lemieux name carries with it a certain reputation. But far from being a burden or causing expectations, he explained that having an famous NHL father has helped
“I think it opened some doors for me to meet some cool people and be around a lot of pros. I really don’t think there’s any added pressure on me — it’s all just on my own,” he said. “Being around the San Jose Sharks recently — my dad was playing there later in his career — I got to be around guys like Joe Thornton. And even after his career, Patrick Roy is a good friend, Joe Sakic, Shane Doan…
“Just seeing these guys and the way they live, the professionalism behind the game, just the way that they give back — it’s really cool to see and it’s helped me to try to narrow my focus, especially when you get into the whole junior lifestyle and you see what it takes to be a pro, how dedicated you really have to be.”
Being so close to the NHL, Lemieux had plenty of opportunities to find idols.
“There’s a lot of guys — I really like Ryan O’Reilly on Colorado right now. I grew up watching Shane Doan,” he said. “I love Peter Forsberg — that’s not my game,” he added, laughing. “But I loved to watch him play — the way he played gritty and real skilled.”
And he’s always got over 1,200 NHL games worth of experience in his corner.
“He’s my dad, he’s my best friend,” he said. “We’re always talking and working on what I can do better and what I can do to play at the next level.”
Lemieux said he knows he has plenty to work on and is dedicated to doing just that to improve his draft standing.
“I think it’s a complete game. I need to work on everything. I’d really like to get my head up a little bit more often and work on my overall speed,” he said. “It’s definitely all parts of my game: I have to make sure I still pay attention on D and just play simple. Simple hockey can be my game at the next level and it’s an NHL-style of game, so I have to make sure I keep playing that way.”
And playing on a line with fellow B-rated draft prospect Kevin Labanc — not to mention having Aaron Ekblad behind him — does that cause any friendly rivalries to develop? Any internal competition?
“[A long, drawn-out Oh] my gosh. No, no, no,” he said .”I think we’re all cheering for each other. Eck’s my roommate, so we’re definitely cheering each other on. I want to see him go first.
“That’s just the way we’re built — we want to beat up on the other guys, not on each other.”
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