PHOENIX – As he’s done at NHL games for more than 20 years, Claude Lemieux put his hand on his heart Friday as he listened to “The Star Spangled Banner.”
But this time, Lemieux did it as an American citizen.
Holding a small American flag, the Canadian-born NHL veteran took the citizenship oath before a federal judge in Phoenix.
The 43-year-old with four Stanley Cup titles from three teams said he has no enmity toward Canada, but wanted to share citizenship with his family and vote in the country he has called home for 20 years.
“My wife and my children are all proud to be Americans,” he said before the ceremony. “Today when we walk out we can all say we’re Americans, and that means a lot to me and to them as well.”
Three of Lemieux’s four children are American citizens, he said. He lives with his second wife and their two children in the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley.
The native of Buckingham, Que., left a five-year retirement in December to sign with the San Jose Sharks, where he had one assist in 18 games.
He has scored 379 goals in 21 NHL seasons.
While playing for the New Jersey Devils, Lemieux won the 1994-1995 Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Montreal Canadians took Lemieux in the second round of the 1983 NHL draft, launching a career that took him to the Devils, the Colorado Avalanche and the Phoenix Coyotes before his temporary retirement.
A U.S. resident for 20 years, Lemieux was one of 99 people from 32 countries who took the citizenship oath at a federal courthouse Friday.
“There probably are a lot of people (in Canada) who will react negatively, and there are a lot of people who will understand and respect my decision,” he said. “It has nothing to do with what I think about the great country where I was born.”
Lemieux was unsure whether he would be able to retain his Canadian citizenship.