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Wednesday, December 24, 2008
QOTW answers: Fans feel the love/hate for Lemieux


With the holiday spirit in mind, we asked our ESPN.com puckheads this week to tell us about the player they absolutely hated at one time but, in a weak moment, would admit how much they'd love to have on their team.

We got some interesting answers.

fudgymcpoo: With Ron Hextall, it was 60 minutes of nonstop cheap shots to anyone in front of his crease. And the dude could play. Did he not win a Stanley Cup MVP award as the losing goaltender? As a Penguins fan, I hated the guy. But I secretly had a poster of him in my bedroom, which ended up as a wadded ball of paper at the bottom of the stairs one year when he eliminated the Penguins from the playoffs.

Lockwo57@msu.edu: Patrick Roy. Can you guess where I'm from? General consensus says he's one of, if not the best, but I think Hockeytown would marginalize him to the same caste as the likes of Jarome Iginla, Claude Lemieux and Chris Pronger. All are -- deep breath -- great players (well, maybe not Claude), yet all seem to make my eyes narrow and teeth clench. But what made it so easy to hate these guys? Honestly, the fear of what they could and would do to the Red Wings whenever we played them. Roy succeeded against the Wings enough times that I can admit he would improve any team he played on. But that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy seeing big No. 14 tackle him at center ice in the infamous 1997 brawl.

My take: These two posts are exactly what I was looking for, in the spirit of the question. You can feel the serious hate these two readers had for Hextall and Roy -- but also just how much they secretly wanted them on their teams. Hextall was universally disliked around the league. Like Billy Smith, who spent most of his career with the Islanders, he wasn't shy about dishing the lumber around his net. And remember when he took a run at Chris Chelios of the Habs in the 1989 playoffs? He had those crazy eyes going when his mask came off. Roy, who, ironically, was at the other end of the ice in goal for Montreal that night, wasn't liked by a lot of people because of his arrogance. The wink to Tomas Sandstrom in the '93 Cup finals comes to mind. And it's understandable for a Wings fan to have hated him. I mean, the guy fought both Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood in separate fights during that Colorado-Detroit rivalry, right? Ironically, I can tell you that the Wings gave some thought about trying to acquire Roy when Montreal was forced to trade him in December 1995, and they even spoke to the Canadiens about it. Wouldn't be too many Roy haters in Hockeytown then, eh?


mabell009: Player who I hated but would take in a heartbeat? Scott Stevens. I'm not sure if all of his hits would fly in this day and age, but the man was intimidating and put the hurt on people. A player who I never hated -- but who was hated by others -- and would have loved to have: The Angry Midget, Theo Fleury.

My take: Not sure Stevens got any Christmas cards over the years from Paul Kariya or Eric Lindros, among others. As Don Cherry would say, Stevens was a beauty. Old-school, hard-hitting and, yes, dirty. I was once sitting at a table, having a pop, with seven or eight NHL scouts and executives. Every single one of them said he'd do whatever he could to have Stevens on his team during his era. It's a different game now, and we're not sure how the new NHL would deal with the "borderline" Stevens bodychecks, but I know I'd also take him on my team. He was a gutsy character player who laid it all out on the ice. And sometimes laid out others.


midcaley: All time? Fleury. As an Oilers fan, there was nothing more obnoxious than watching Fleury fly around the ice, launching his tiny body at much bigger players -- but being fast enough to get away from them, scoring key goals and sliding across the ice. I would have become his biggest fan if he'd ever been traded to the Oilers. Right now, I'd have to go with Jarkko Ruutu. When he's not on your team, you just want to see somebody pound him. But when he's on a team you like, there's nothing funnier than seeing Ruutu floor a skill player, then smile as an enforcer takes a penalty trying to get at him. I remember George Laraque standing up for him last season and saying something like, "Sometimes, even his teammates want him to get beat up."

My take: We had a few Fleury posts, not surprisingly. Ask Edmonton Oilers fans circa 1988 to 1998, and they'll single out Fleury as their most hated player in a heartbeat. In its heyday, the Battle of Alberta was a dirty, borderline affair, and Fleury (and his stick) was in the middle of it. Of course, Oilers fans also hated him because he scored a ton of clutch goals against Edmonton.


kragar52: Tiger Williams, big time. Goin' back a few years, of course, but when he came over to the Canucks from the Maple Leafs, the first thing I wanted to do was barf. Then, watching him out there, it was sure nice to see him in our unis instead of the blue and white. Gotta love his post-scoring antics, such as riding his stick like it was a horse. Lots of good ones listed here.

My take: Had to post this one, a throwback. Canucks fans indeed quickly warmed up to Tiger. Can you imagine a player in today's NHL riding his stick down the middle of the ice in a post-goal celebration? Of course, when you were a tough guy like Williams with a bit of an, ahem, edge, you could do whatever the heck you wanted after a goal. Besides, it's not as if he scored very often.


hahnski66: I'd take Dino Ciccarelli as my enforcer/pest any day. Dino was incredible at getting under people's skin and also could chip in as a scorer. His penalty minutes aren't astounding, but he had an in-your-face style, very old-school, very choppy. One of his more notable goonish altercations came against the Maple Leafs in 1988, when he attacked Luke Richardson with his stick. He's also infamous for physical altercations with members of the media. Don't get me wrong, as a Penguins fan, I hated him when he played for the Caps. But there is no denying that I would have wanted this guy on my team. He wasn't afraid to take a hit, and he sure as hell wasn't afraid to dish one out.

My take: Lots of Dino posts for the Question of the Week. He drove the opposition crazy, and opposing fans indeed could not stand him. But man, oh man, was he ever effective. He scored 608 goals and had 1,425 penalty minutes -- that kind of says it all. In a similar vein, I was surprised to see relatively little attention given to Dale Hunter in the posts. He was mentioned a few times, but no one really made a compelling case as to how much he hated him but still would have loved to have him on his team. As a French-Canadian who got the chance to watch the Battle of Quebec in the 1980s, I can tell you this: Hunter was absolutely despised by Canadiens fans, but you know there's no question they would have loved him to wear the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. Besides, the Habs already had his brother, Mark Hunter.


vinalb: For me, it's probably Darius Kasparaitis. I hated that guy when he was with Pittsburgh but was pleased when he came to the Rangers. Sean Avery is right up there, too. I was really disappointed to see him go, but apparently he's too much of a loose cannon, even for the NHL. Remember, he's responsible for renaming Brodeur "Fatso," a chant we'd all like to hear soon in a hockey rink near you.

My take: Kasparaitis is a great example of this debate. He drove other teams and their fans crazy with his knee-to-knee (he would say hip-to-hip) bodychecks, but the reality is that he was really effective at what he did. He drove Mario Lemieux crazy.


sgoodwin3: Chris Pronger. I'm a die-hard Red Wings fan, and he has been a Wings killer over the years. One of my favorite hockey moments of all time is when he took a run at Steve Yzerman, who ducked him, and tore his ACL. I couldn't help but laugh. But, man, would I have liked to see him wearing the winged wheel.

Sharkfinatical: Chris Pronger. Talented, skilled and one of the best in the league. He also is one of the dirtiest players around and a big-time whiner. On any given night, he will make a dirty or questionable play. More often than not, he gets away with it. He will then turn around and chirp and whine to the refs when the other team doesn't get called for doing what he just did! I realize there are a lot of players out there who are just as guilty. But few of them have the star power Pronger does, and he ends up getting away with more.

My take: Great modern-day example, to be sure. Chris Pronger has crossed the line -- even in the Stanley Cup finals -- but ask the Edmonton Oilers how much they miss him. Or the St. Louis Blues. The guy's immense talent is equaled by his nasty streak. How many teams in the NHL would try to sign him if he were a free agent tomorrow? Thirty.


mikexford: My pick is actually a guy who played on my team but who I hate anyway. Claude Lemieux was a relatively despicable cheap-shot artist in his day, and even though he helped the Devils win two Cups, I still loathe him to this day. His time on the Avalanche only further cemented this position, as his actions in that famed Detroit series went beyond all reason. It's no wonder Darren McCarty beat his brains in and Ciccarelli lamented shaking the man's hand.

adam0918: It has got to be Lemieux. Having grown up playing and watching the sport, I say he's the ultimate choice. As much as everyone hated him, including me, he was a sports icon (and, in a way, an idol to me). I'm a smaller player (5-foot-10 and 185 pounds soaking wet), and I tried to play like he did -- with heart. This guy was amazing. People also seem to forget that when his team needed a lift, he was there. He scored when you needed it, and he destroyed his opponents' frame of mind. It seemed that the other team just wanted to hurt Lemieux and would forget its game plan.

Rudee66: The legendary Lemieux was such an agitator that I'm convinced even his own mother would despise him. Because of his magical ability to get under a player's skin with minimal effort, I would have loved to have him on our team.

Chooch1982: Lemieux. What an antagonist he was, but he always managed to find himself on Cup contenders. His antics and cheap shots made all opponents and their fans hate him, but if he was on your team, you had to love him. It seems he gave his team at least one or two power plays each game because of retaliation penalties against him. I couldn't stand him as a Bruins fan but, man, was he a winner. I'll never forget Cam Neely dragging him across the ice trying to get his face shield off so that he could pummel him. In all my years of watching hockey, Lemieux is definitely the one player I loved to hate most.

MKJWH: Lemieux, hands down. Four Stanley Cups with four different teams (well, two in separate stints with New Jersey). You hate him when he plays against your favorite team, but you would be delirious with excitement if he was acquired at the trade deadline for the playoff run. He won the 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy, ranks ninth in career playoff goals with 80, and he may be back again in the 2008 playoffs. Who else combines that level of aggravation with performance? Bobby Clarke, maybe?

My take: We kept the most popular choice for last. By far, Lemieux was the man in this Question of the Week. He was just so easy to hate. I mean, there is no excuse for what he did to Kris Draper. But you know what? The guy was a winner. Oops, he's working on a comeback, so I guess I should say the guy is a winner. He was a big-time clutch performer come playoff time. You love having those guys on your team. Case closed.