He’s the leader of the Ducks, the team captain, the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman. But Scott Niedermayer isn’t the type of guy to walk through the locker room before a playoff game wearing his three championship rings, hoping to pump the team up.
“That’s not my style,” Niedermayer says. Not to mention, the rings are at his mom’s house in British Columbia. But while Niedermayer isn’t the chattiest of the Ducks, he still can get the team going with his words.
“It’s more important to walk the walk,” says the 32-year-old Niedermayer. “But at the same time I think it’s important to create some energy in the dressing room by doing some talking and getting everybody focused.”
But if Niedermayer wanted to lead the team simply from what he shows them on the ice, that would almost suffice. Niedermayer anchors the Ducks defense, while also contributing on the offensive attack and seemingly getting to every loose puck. All the while, he makes it look seemingly effortless.
“He just has so much poise,” says goalie J.S. Giguere. “He never seems to panic out there. He’s just an amazing player to watch and he’s blown my mind since he came here. He’s the best hockey player I’ve ever played with.”
Says head coach Randy Carlyle, “We’ve talked a lot about Scottie, and he just continues to impress. He plays major minutes, he plays on all situations on the defensive side and the offensive side of the puck. He makes it look so easy night in and night out. He's very efficient in how he goes about his business.”
And Niedermayer has shown this season that he is one of those great players who makes the others around him better. Exhibit A is rookie Francois Beauchemin, who came to the Ducks in November after seeing little action in Columbus. While playing alongside Niedermayer most of the season, he has become a major force on the Ducks blueline.
“My overall game has been really good since I started playing with him,” Beauchemin says. “He gives me a lot of confidence out there. I just watch the way he plays and the way he handles the puck. He’s so patient and he makes so many big plays.”
Beauchemin says Niedermayer does most of his leading by example, but players still hang on his infrequent words. “He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, everybody is listening,” Beauchemin says. “It’s a big part of our team.”
Jeff Friesen first got a taste of Niedermayer’s influence while playing with him in New Jersey, where they both won the Stanley Cup over the Ducks in 2003 (Niedermayer’s third with the Devils). Niedermayer wasn’t the captain of those teams, yielding to fellow veteran defenseman Scott Stevens. But since coming to Anaheim in March, Friesen has noticed Niedermayer accepted that position on the Ducks with ease.
“I think he’s underrated as far as his leadership goes,” Friesen says. “He can be vocal, but I think he understands the coach is ultimately the leader as far as getting everyone to buy in and be on the same page. Of course, on the ice he leads by example. The best leaders understand that you need to do that.”
Niedermayer has maintained the level of play that saw him win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in his last season in New Jersey (before he was signed by the Ducks last August. He has been among the league leaders in defenseman points and easily surpassed the 54 he scored during his Norris-winning season. That’s despite the fact that he was nagged by a knee injury for two months before having surgery during the Olympic break in mid-February. Surprisingly, he didn’t miss a single game when the Ducks hit the ice again on March 1.
That type of work ethic allows Niedermayer to be a leader even without having to say a word. He also brings to the team the invaluable experience of having grinded through countless playoff games, and no one knows better the difference between the regular season and postseason atmospheres.
“The intensity is there every shift in the playoffs,” Niedermayer says. “There is a lot of stuff you’ve got to do that isn’t a lot of fun, blocking shots, taking hits, taking a puck off the ankle or the thigh, getting hit, getting in front of the net and getting cross-checked, trying to score on a rebound. You feel it after the games, but that’s what it takes, all of those little things.”
And with the way his Ducks team came on strong in the stretch run before the playoffs, Niedermayer sees the potential in another Stanley Cup run.
“Obviously, you have to believe in each other and play together,” Niedermayer says. “To a certain extent, we’ve been doing a lot of those things. Obviously, it gets cranked up in the playoffs and you have to do it more.”