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Devils set to honor blueliner who was a class above

Friday, 12.16.2011 / 10:36 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Devils set to honor blueliner who was a class above
The top skating and puck-moving defenseman on the Devils' three Stanley Cup winners will be honored by the team prior to Friday night's game when his No. 27 becomes the third in franchise history to be retired.
Considering the number of possible answers, the question certainly seemed loaded.
 
What, in your opinion, was Scott Niedermayer's greatest moment as a Devil?
 
Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey's longstanding general manager, didn't even hesitate to answer. He didn't stammer or even stumble over a single word. The answer came as easily to him as skating the puck up the ice came to Niedermayer.
 
"It's the goal in Detroit, in the Stanley Cup Final. That comes right to mind without even thinking," Lamoriello told NHL.com on Thursday afternoon. "He went from one end of the rink to the other end, shot the puck and it missed the net, the rebound came out and he put it in. That was probably the turning point of the Stanley Cup win for us."
 
Niedermayer's goal in the third period of Game 2 of the 1995 Cup Final against the Red Wings is one of the most viewed highlights in Devils history.
 

The then 21-year-old defenseman went coast-to-coast, got a step on Paul Coffey, shot the puck wide, followed his rebound off the end boards, and put the carom past Mike Vernon to tie the game at 2-2. The Devils eventually won the game 4-2 and swept the Red Wings for the first of three Stanley Cup championships won with No. 27 playing such a pivotal role.
 
Friday night at Prudential Center -- ironically, a building he played in only twice, both times as an Anaheim Duck -- Niedermayer's No. 27 will be raised to the rafters, joining Scott Stevens' No. 4 and Ken Daneyko's No. 3. Niedermayer called both Stevens and Daneyko his defensive partner at various times during his 13-year career as a Devil.
 
Both should be on hand Friday in Newark to join in the celebration. Niedermayer's entire family, including his brother, Rob, are also expected to be there. Former Devils play-by-play broadcaster Mike Emrick, inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this week, will serve as the master of ceremonies.
 

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"Obviously there's no coincidence that the first three (retired numbers) are three defensemen, guys that played together for 10-plus seasons and won three Stanley Cups," Daneyko told NHL.com. "Hey, you know how they say it, in any sport, championships are built by defense."
 
Niedermayer, though, was so much different than Stevens and Daneyko. He was a puck-mover and a risk-taker by trade -- but because of his speed and skating stride that made him look as if he was almost floating above the ice, he was also as reliable a defender as Stevens or Daneyko.
 
Daneyko said Niedermayer was the only one of the Devils defensemen under Jacques Lemaire from 1993-98 who had no restrictions. If he wanted to pinch or jump totally into the play the ultra-defensive oriented Lemaire would let him go because he knew Niedermayer would be able to retreat.
 
"He would scare you at times with those chances, but invariably he'd be back to cover up," Lamoriello said.
 
Niedermayer came to the Devils as the No. 3 pick in the 1991 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut by playing four games early during the 1991-92 season before being sent back to the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. He went on to win the '92 Memorial Cup with the Blazers.
 
He became a full-time Devil in 1992-93, putting up 40 points in 80 games to earn All-Rookie honors as a 19-year-old. Lemaire took over the following season, and by then the Devils were beginning to fully comprehend Niedermayer's natural talent, especially his skating.
 
"I'll never forget in the third year of his career, we were going through a bad stretch and Jacques put us through one of those so-called bag skates," Daneyko said. "Everybody was coming off and just falling in the room. All our undergear was totally soaked, like we took a shower in our equipment. And then Nieder comes in, and he's got maybe a tear-drop of sweat in the middle of his chest and everything else is dry. I'm thinking to myself, 'Was it that effortless for him?' Everybody's skates were going a half-inch into the ice and it was like he was floating above it.
 
"Boy, that (ticked) me off," Daneyko added while laughing. "It looked like he went for a Sunday walk in the park."
 
Niedermayer made it look that way for a lot of his career, but Daneyko said what made it even more amazing is that he made it look easy when the spotlight was brightest.
 
For instance, there was that goal against the Red Wings that Lamoriello so vividly remembers. There was also his stellar play during the 2002 Winter Olympics, when Niedermayer helped Team Canada end a 50-year drought by winning a gold medal. He won gold again as Canada's captain in 2010.
 

"I mean, the guy won everywhere. For Nieder, the bigger the moment, the bigger the stage, he was so calm, cool, collected, and he always rose to meet the moment. It was like it was effortless, too. He didn't have to turn it on; he just knew it was time for him to take over the game." -- Ken Daneyko on former teammate, Scott Niedermayer

And, of course, there was his play during the 2003 playoffs, when he had 18 points to help the Devils win the Stanley Cup over brother Rob and the Anaheim Ducks. He also won the Norris Trophy in 2004 and another Stanley Cup, this one with Rob and the Ducks, in 2007 -- when he was named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
 
Niedermayer is the only player in history to have won the Memorial Cup, a World Junior Championship gold medal, the Stanley Cup (4), an Olympic gold medal (2), a World Championship and the World Cup.
 
"I mean, the guy won everywhere," Daneyko said. "For Nieder, the bigger the moment, the bigger the stage, he was so calm, cool, collected, and he always rose to meet the moment. It was like it was effortless, too. He didn't have to turn it on; he just knew it was time for him to take over the game."
 
Niedermayer also knew when it was time to leave New Jersey. He did after the 2004-05 work stoppage when he took less money than the Devils were offering him in order to join his brother in Anaheim.
 
He signed a four-year contract worth $27 million, and it could be argued the Devils have not been the same since. While Niedermayer went on to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Ducks, the Devils have managed to win only two playoff rounds in the six seasons since he departed for the West Coast.
 
"I remember talking to him a lot that summer and really trying to coax him to stay. He was very candid to me, saying this was the toughest decisions of his life," Daneyko said. "He took less money. He did it for family reasons, the dream to play with his brother. Was it difficult? Absolutely. It was difficult for the fans and they were lukewarm when he came back, but any guy that takes a million bucks less a year after what he accomplished in Jersey, you have to respect it even if you don't like it. I didn't like it, but I certainly respected.
 
"He got to Anaheim and they won a Cup. That's not a coincidence. He put it all together."
 
On Friday night the Devils will put together a special night for Niedermayer -- both to honor his career in New Jersey and, in a small way, let him know that there are no hard feelings anymore.
 
Expect that goal against Detroit to be among the highlights that play on the video scoreboard.
 
"It's recognition for what he did while he was a Devil," Lamoriello said, "and in my opinion, he will always be a Devil."
 
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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