Most NHL fans remember Claude Lemieux as a hounding gladiator who wanted to win at any cost. So, it was a bit conflicting to see Lemieux — one of the more accomplished but despised players in NHL history — surrounded by a group of 9-and 10-year olds Saturday in a World Arena hallway. The former Avalanche forward was explaining techniques to the kids before their Squirt AA game in the 29th Presidents Day Hockey Tournament. It is a new world for the coach, whose words obviously registered with the Jr. Coyotes Squirt AA team of Scottsdale, Ariz. The Coyotes won 6-0 against the Jr. Ducks of Anaheim, Calif., playing the kind of hockey Lemieux encouraged, but didn’t play himself during a two-decade NHL career. The images of Lemieux throwing opponents off their games with his petulant style are indelible. But his legacy is being one of the greatest playoff performers in the NHL. His 19 playoff game-winners are exceeded only by Wayne Gretzky’s 24. He won Stanley Cup championships with Montreal (1986), New Jersey (1995, 2000) and Colorado (1996), along with two Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP (’95 and ’96). Now, the 40-year-old native of Gatineau, Quebec, is concentrating on his duties as president of the Phoenix Roadrunners of the ECHL, his involvement in commercial real estate and his responsibilities as father to three boys and a girl. It is the latter that encouraged him to start coaching two years ago. “Down deep, you think you should’ve kept playing,” said Lemieux, whose NHL career ended in an injury-plagued 2002-03 season in Dallas, although he played in Switzerland in 2004. “My wife (Deborah) felt it was time to start focusing on the kids. If I had kept playing, I’d be looking back and saying I did everything I wanted, but what about the kids?” Lemieux, who lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz., has two teenage sons, Christopher and Michael, from a previous marriage. Both play hockey, and he travels to Montreal every other month to see them. He also has a daughter, Claudia, and a son, Brendan, who is a member of the Coyotes, and on whom Lemieux admits to being a little hard. “When I was growing up, I played on teams where the coach was a father of a player, and those kids were always favored by their fathers,” Lemieux said. “I always hated that. I thought it was so unfair how blinded coaches could be when it came to their own son. So, I’m kind of learning where to draw the line with my own son. “I’m a big believer that you have to see how far you can push the kids. I told the parents when I took this on, that this is travel hockey, that it costs a lot of money for you to be involved. So, I’m really going to push the kids hard in discipline, going to be real firm off the ice, and very demanding on the ice.” It seems to have worked. Although Lemieux said his team didn’t have the best talent in its league, it did win the Southwest Youth League championship this year. The Coyotes, who have split four games in the tournament, will face the North Stars of Anchorage Alaska in the consolation game at 8:30 a.m. today at Colorado College. Lemieux, who was the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association’s guest speaker at last year’s tournament, enjoys bringing teams here. “Having played for the Avalanche for five years, I have a lot of good memories coming back here,” he said. “It’s a good hockey environment, the rinks are top quality, there are good hotels and restaurants, and the tournament is put together well with the way they do the opening ceremony and the pin exchanges. I think it’s one of the better tournaments, and every year it seems to be getting better.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0250 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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