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Humble Niedermayer Reflects in the Days Leading Up to Jersey Retirement

by Adam Brady @AdamJBrady /

He's the greatest winner in the history of hockey, the man who was instrumental in bringing a Stanley Cup to Anaheim, but you'd hardly know it when Scott Niedermayer enters the room.

Just a few days before the Ducks rightly raise his No. 27 to the Honda Center rafters on Sunday (4 p.m.) at Honda Center, Niedermayer dropped by the arena to meet about logistics for the ceremony and have lunch with various members of the local media. The focus of much of the afternoon was the subject that makes the ever-humble Niedermayer the most uncomfortable - himself. And it was clear he struggled to find the words when asked what the honor meant to him.  

"I'm pretty confident in saying it's happening because of winning the Stanley Cup," Niedermayer said of joining Ducks legends Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya as the only players to have their numbers retired by the organization. "I wasn't here a long time, or as long as Paul and Teemu were. I think I have a good idea of why the organization chose to do it, and I appreciate that. I didn't expect it, but it's a very humbling thing. It's not just one year. It's not just one thing. It speaks to the big picture of everything you tried to contribute and who you are."

NEW BOOK: Scott Niedermayer: The Ultimate Champion

The 45-year-old Niedermayer came clad in an untucked blue button-down shirt with wire-rimmed glasses and a beard that was once salt and pepper during his Ducks playoff runs - but now is mostly salt. He looks much more like your typical suburban dad than one of the greatest defensemen in the history of the game. Of course he is both, with him and wife Lisa raising four sons, three of whom live with them in their new home in Penticton, BC and one who has stayed back in Newport Beach.

"I remember my older kids sort of had a different perspective, where they almost expected to play in the NHL because I did," Niedermayer said with a chuckle. "Like I don't think they really get how hard it is. They're like, Well if Dad can do it, it can't be that hard. I don't know, I could be wrong, but that's the feeling I get."

Niedermayer scored arguably the biggest goal in Ducks history - in the last minute of regulation in Game 5 of the 2007 Western Conference Final in Detroit. He also made, as some have quipped, the franchise's most memorably pass - when he handed the Stanley Cup to brother Rob after the Ducks vanquished Ottawa in five games in the Final.

That moment came four years after Niedermayer's New Jersey Devils defeated Rob's Mighty Ducks in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final in seven games.

"Whenever I think about it or people bring it up, it still seems unbelievable how that scenario played out where we played against each other and shook hands, and four years later I was able to hand him the Stanley Cup as teammates," Scott said. "When we shook hands when we beat them, I said, 'You played like a champion.' That's all you can do, and I truly believed that."

Then he started to laugh and added, "It's definitely a lot nicer when you play like a champion and you are one. It tends to be more satisfying."

The timely and timeless goals, and the Cups raised above his head are among a litany of memorable Niedermayer moments, but when he's asked to recall his favorites, he deflects the focus to his teams. "I've been thinking the last couple of months about this, and to me the highlights of my career are those types of bonds, those connections with teammates, those relationships. It's what makes winning the Stanley Cup special. That's what I've come to recognize in my life.

"Seeing some of the older guys in Anaheim after we won, like I remember how much it meant to Teemu, Todd Marchant, my brother, Sean O'Donnell, some of those guys. Those really stand out to me, those feelings and seeing those guys reach a goal like that - and being able to contribute to that."

He admits the highlights are fun to relive as well, "especially when your kids watch them. You have something to represent yourself with." He told a story of how his youngest son, Luke, was watching some Niedermayer clips on YouTube a few months ago, "and he had this real surprised face," Niedermayer laughed. "He was like, 'This is what you did, Dad? What?!'"

Whether his boys realize it or not, Niedermayer has been the ultimate champion in the sport, the first player in hockey history to have won the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, World Championship, World Junior Championship, Memorial Cup and World Cup.

He won three Stanley Cups in New Jersey and helped bring the first one to a California team with Anaheim, yet when one reporter asked for perspective on his role in altering the histories of two NHL franchises, he politely replied, "That's too big a question for me. I was just trying to win the next game."

Niedermayer did reflect on the path that brought him to Anaheim, the tough choice to leave New Jersey after 13 seasons and join brother Rob with the Ducks in the summer of 2005. "It was a hard decision, but it worked out better than we could have hoped. I'm a bit of a realist. I don't know if I would have bet a whole lot of money that we would have won a Stanley Cup within two years."

But it wasn't easy for him at first, as Niedermayer endured somewhat of a culture shock after spending his entire career in New Jersey. "I remember coming to camp and being on my toes, not knowing who everybody was and where the stick tape is, where my stall is," he said. "Everything was so different, and it was overwhelming in some respects.

"There was so much going on, having a young family, trying to find schools, my wife had the boxes at home. It was a busy couple of months to start. It was a scramble and there were some frustrating moments there for awhile. When I went to New Jersey [in 1992], I think I went there with a duffel bag and my hockey bag. When I came out here, I had a whole semi truck full of stuff and three kids following us around. It was challenging at first, for sure."

That spring the (then Mighty) Ducks were underdogs against a tough Calgary Flames team in the opening round of the playoffs. The Ducks surprised many by prevailing with a 3-0 victory in Game 7 in Calgary, and as the seconds ticked down in that game, almost the entire Ducks bench was celebrating. Yet Niedermayer still had his eyes focused on the ice, a determined look on his face. In looking back on that moment, he says he wasn't surprised by the victory, but he also knew the ultimate goal was still far away.

"Going back to juniors and even minor hockey when we always had good teams, that's sort of all I've known. So naively that's what I've always expected, that we're here to win," Niedermayer said. "Fortunately in my career, which I recognize now probably more than I ever did when I was playing, I've always been in good situations and with good teams. I guess I sort of had that expectation of 'We're supposed to win this series, and there is still a heck of a lot to do before we start jumping around.' I had come to a point where that was sort of expected, and there is still a heck of a lot more to do.

"That's just my personality though. I don't want to take too much credit for that focus. I don't do a lot of jumping around day to day as it is."

The Ducks were ultimately knocked out by the Oilers in the Western Conference Final, but there was a silver lining, Niedermayer remembers. "I've always believe that having that experience is almost a prerequisite to winning. It's a great learning experience for a team, the coaches, the individual players. It's the reality of what all that's about," he said. "We learned from that, but it also gave us a lot of confidence as a team coming back the next year. We were looking forward to coming back and improving upon what we had done the year before."

The Ducks traded for Chris Pronger that summer, giving Anaheim two future Hall-of-Famers on the blue line and almost immediately vaulting the club to Cup favorites. "We already believed in our group here, and then when you add a player like [Chris] the excitement gets even stronger," Niedermayer said. "I think that's how we felt inside. Some people don't want to say that too loud at the time. But I think a lot of us in our own minds and hearts probably felt that. We believed it was very much a possibility to win a Cup."

Niedermayer played a monumental role in that Cup run, deservedly winning the Conn Smythe Trophy after Anaheim downed Ottawa in Game 5 of the Final. Soon afterward, he temporarily walked away from the game, only to return to the Ducks midway through the 2007-08 campaign and play another two seasons before officially retiring in 2010.

"The one good thing that came out of the 'pretend' retirement or the 'maybe' retirement, was that I had a much better understanding and a total new perspective for every day as a professional hockey player," Niedermayer said. "It was like, 'We're practicing and we're tired - but this is great.' That really was a big mindset change for the last two and a half years of my career. You realize that it's not there forever, that it's going to disappear someday. That was a positive that came out of that wrong decision, and I'm very thankful for that. I don't know if I had that perspective enough when I was playing."

In retirement, Niedermayer has dabbled in various commitments, including some coaching stints with the Ducks and helping his kids with their teams. With the Ducks having recently gone through some coaching upheaval, there was some fan sentiment to give Niedermayer a shot, who had post-retirement coaching experience with the Ducks and their prospects. But becoming a head coach is something he says is far from his mind.

"To do it right, it's a huge huge commitment, and I'm just not ready for that at this point," he said. "That may change, it might not. I could see wanting to get right back into the fire, I guess, having the competitive juices flow. That would be fun for sure. But I think just being around a little bit, I've recognized that I just don't think it would be right to go in halfway."

Yet he says he misses the "structure" that being a full-time hockey player instilled, admitting that 8 1/2 years into retirement, "I don't have a real plan. I'm just kind of taking it as it goes right now."

For the time being, that means being in Anaheim for Sunday's ceremony, which will be attended by extended family, friends and former teammates. When that 27 is raised to the rafters, Niedermayer will become the eighth player in NHL history to have his number retired by two teams (the Devils retired his number in 2011), but yet he'll undoubtedly remain as unassuming as ever.

"I'm so thankful and grateful to be part of something where everybody was committed to the team," he said. "I don't think a whole lot about how much I did or didn't do. I don't like to take a whole lot of credit. For better or worse, I am who I am.

"But seeing Paul and Teemu's banners and being up there with those two guys, they're very special players for their reasons. And I guess my recognition is as a special player in my own way and for my contributions. It's a great feeling, obviously."

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