TORONTO --Joe Nieuwendyk admitted Monday that he struggled mentally immediately after he retired in December 2006.
"I really struggled for a year and a half after that," said Nieuwendyk, who had to end his career due to chronic back pain that didn't allow him to lace his skates on some mornings. "I think a lot of players go through that. I loved being around my teammates. I couldn't wait to get out of the house in the morning and go spend time with them before we even practiced. That was the hardest part."
But Nieuwendyk's post-playing career quickly began in Florida as a special consultant. He moved quickly up the ranks, becoming a special assistant to the GM in Toronto before moving into his current position of GM of the Dallas Stars prior to last season.
Those early days after retirement are forgotten now because Nieuwendyk again feels the competitiveness he felt as a player.
"Cliff Fletcher brought me to Toronto and obviously fast-tracked me to my position in Dallas," Nieuwendyk said. "I'm very thankful for that, and for me it is has been terrific because it's the closest thing to playing again. I still feel the competitive juices and I'm around the guys enough where I get a little bit of that again. It's been terrific."
That was something I've been dreaming of, something I've told myself before the third period I was going to do ... It was an amazing feeling. It's hard to describe. I didn't believe it went in at first but when I saw all the reaction and all the fans going crazy and my teammates going crazy, it's just an unbelievable feeling. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know whether to jump or just skate and do a Theo Fleury. I don't think I'm the same caliber player he is so I couldn't do it.
— Flames forward Mikael Backlund on scoring the overtime winner against the Ducks in Gm. 3