Barrie Colts forward highly skilled, but also known to get under opponents' skin
Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux, shown here during a recent game against the Erie Otters, has a nose for the net but also a knack for chirping his opponents. MARK WANZEL PHOTO
When Brendan Lemieux isn’t making opposing players fuming mad at him, you can often find him giving Aaron Ekblad the gears.
Ekblad is no slouch himself when it comes to needling and can give as good as he gets.
Now, add the fact the Barrie Colts teammates share the same billet home and you can only imagine how much ribbing goes in the living room, at the kitchen table or, heck, even just in passing.
“Oh yeah,” Ekblad, sporting a mischievous grin, replied when asked if the two rib each other. “I don’t think we’ll ever admit that we’re wrong or admit defeat. That’s the biggest thing.
“Those are two good aspects in our games. (Me ribbing him) makes him a better player and he (ribbing me) makes me a better player.”
The son of legendary former NHL agitator Claude Lemieux, Brendan is proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to skilled play and getting under the skin of opponents.
His willingness to physically battle for every inch, along with a pair of lips and feet that hardly stop moving can, at times, drive opposing players to forget about everything else on the ice.
In three head-to-head games in late December, then-Steelheads defenceman Trevor Carrick spent a good amount of his time sparring with Lemieux.
A couple of weeks ago, the Kingston Frontenacs at times looked more interested in settling a score with the Barrie power forward than they did anything else.
“My dad taught me a few things in his day and watching him growing up,” said the 17-year-old Lemieux, who was ranked 38th overall in the recent NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings for the upcoming 2014 NHL Entry Draft in June.
“That’s the way he played the game. He’s my role model and that’s the way I want to play," Lemieux said of his dad. “The faster I move my feet and the better I battle in the corners, the more guys are going to take penalties on me and that’s just the way it goes.”
For Lemieux, it’s all about finding another way to be effective and helping his team win hockey games.
“Sometimes you get wrapped up and you get a little emotional, but my job is to just keep them on that end and me focused,” he said.
Playing with that edge will land Lemieux in the penalty box at times, but Ekblad says his teammate’s ability to draw penalties at key times has resulted in numerous power plays that have helped Barrie win.
“(Chirping) is all part of the game and sometimes he steps over the line, but you know if you’re riding the line hard it’s going to happen sometimes,” said Ekblad, who along with his teammates will look to make it four straight wins Thursday night when they host the Owen Sound Attack at the Barrie Molson Centre.
“He’s very good at keeping it right at the edge and not going over, and I commend him for that. It’s not easy to do.”
Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk admits he would like to see Lemieux “minimize the yapping” at times. He’s talked to his gritty winger, pointing out to him that when he comes to play every shift, he’s very effective.
“He’s got a lot of energy and sometimes his temper will get the best of him at times, but he’s just done a really good job with it,” Hawerchuk said. “He’s a valuable part of our team, that’s for sure.”
Playing with that edge can wear down his opponents, but Lemieux isn’t just about grit. The second-year, six-foot-one, 210-pound forward brings a highly skilled game that has seen him rack up 15 goals and 16 assists in 40 games this season.
“He’s unique that way,” Hawerchuk said. “I haven’t seen too many guys in the draft that play hard and play that bulldog-type game, but he’s a pretty skilled player, too.
“He’s got a great shot and he knows the game well. He brings a lot of aspects that you wouldn’t expect with a guy that plays that hard, so he’s unique that way.”
Lemieux showed off some of that skill last Saturday when he set up two of linemate Andreas Athanasiou’s four goals against Niagara. The power forward displayed his vision and touch when he layered a pair of long, cross-ice passes through heavy traffic in front right onto Athanasiou’s stick.
“There’s a lot of great things about his game and that’s just one of them,” Ekblad said of Lemieux’s grit. “People see him as an agitator and that’s very, very true. He gets guys off their games, but he’s a very skilled player.
“He made two passes (Saturday night) where they were almost Gretzky-like. He’s unbelievable. He’s got a whole bunch of tools in his package.”
“They were great plays there,” Hawerchuk said. “He’s always dangerous. He’s got a heavy wrist shot and he drives nets hard. He can penalty kill, play on the power play. He can do everything.”
That includes never passing up a chance to take a playful shot at Ekblad, something the Colts captain is just fine with.
“It’s beyond friends now. I think we’re brothers,” Ekblad said. “I love having him with me when we go to these tournaments, whether it was the U-18s (winning gold for Canada) or the Top Prospects Game. I love having him with me because we both push each other to be so much better than we are.”