It was a special moment last week when members of the 2007 Ducks Stanley Cup champion team reunited to see Scott Niedermayer's No. 27 jersey raised to rafters at Honda Center. Considered one of the best teams ever assembled, it featured future Hall-of-Famers Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger and, of course, Niedermayer. With a mix of youth and experience, the 2006-07 squad came out of the gates flying and finished the regular season with a 48-20-14 record. They carried that momentum into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they went 16-5 to capture California's first Cup.
But it was a blockbuster trade in the summer leading up to that fateful season that ultimately put them over the top. On July 2, 2006, the Ducks acquired Pronger from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for right wing Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Ladislav Smid, a first-round pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, a second-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft and a conditional draft pick. The Ducks saw firsthand the kind of dominance Pronger had on the ice, as the Oilers eliminated them in five games in the 2006 Western Conference Final.
In his commemorative book titled Scott Niedermayer: The Ultimate Champion, Niedermayer described the impact Pronger's addition gave to the Ducks. "We knew we had a real good team after what we did the year before, and really believed and were excited about being able to chase the Stanley Cup," he said. "And then when you get a little shot in the arm by acquiring a defenseman like Chris, such a great player, smart player, fierce competitor, I think our confidence just got a big boost when everybody heard that."
During a brief moment of downtime before Niedermayer's jersey retirement ceremony, Pronger, who these days works for the Florida Panthers as a senior advisor to the general manager, took a few minutes to reflect on Niedermayer's legacy and the special bond he and his teammates formed during their run to the Stanley Cup.
"We had one goal, and that was to win it all," Pronger said, still looking fit and physically imposing. "There was no second place or runner-up finish. None of that was ever part of the conversation. We had one goal, and that was to win the Stanley Cup. We didn't deviate from it.
"Just the mindset of the group. Over the course of a year, you're going to have some ups and downs, and some adversity throughout the course of the year. We were able to step through some of that with the different injuries we had. [J.S. Giguere's] situation in the first round against Minnesota. We pretty much had the same group throughout the whole year. You form that bond. The group, together, just never deviated. That's pretty special."
Pronger says he had a feeling the team had a real shot at the Cup early on during the season. They set the tone early, going 12-0-4 in their first 16 games, but they were also versatile. "The way the team was built, and the types of players we had, we could play any way you want," Pronger said. "That's one of the reasons why I enjoyed playing on that team so much. We could play a tough game, offensive game or a defensive game. That's what is so special about that group. We could win 6-5 or we could win 2-1. We could beat you up and play however you wanted to play."
Despite their decorated international careers, Pronger says he and Niedermayer didn't play together too often prior to being teammates on the Ducks. But having two No. 1 defensemen in the lineup gave the Ducks a luxury many teams didn't have. At any point in a game, one of Pronger or Niedermayer could be on the ice, or both, if needed. For most of the season, Niedermayer was paired with then-rookie Francois Beauchemin, while Pronger and veteran Sean O'Donnell formed a formidable shutdown tandem.
"I didn't really play with Scotty that much," Pronger said. "We played on the power play together or late in periods or games. It's similar to the 1A-1B [tandem] I had with [Hall-of Fame defenseman] Al MacInnis in St. Louis. One of you is going to be on the ice. You get 25-27 minutes a night, and you're able to back it up with another Hall of Famer. You have a lot of different options as a coach."
Niedermayer was a player Pronger respected highly. Though their playing styles couldn't be more different from each other (Pronger played a tough, hard-nosed and physically intimidating game), Pronger marveled at Niedermayer's ability to elevate his game at crucial times.
"He's an effortless skater," Pronger said. "So calm, cool and collected. Nothing seemed to faze him. As the stakes got higher, he got better. That's what you want from a leader and a captain. Someone who could relish the moment. Someone who could get bigger in big situations. It was a lot of fun to play with him."
In his 18 years playing in the NHL, Pronger made it to the Stanley Cup Final three times (2006 with Edmonton, 2007 with Anaheim and 2010 with Philadelphia), but only won it once. "It's something I dreamt about my whole life ever since I started playing hockey," he said. "When you're ultimately able to do it, and accomplish it in a way we were able to do, it was a tremendous honor to be able to hoist it."
Though more than a decade has passed, Pronger says the memories he made with his teammates that season will last a lifetime. "The bond that team had, you might not see somebody for a year or two years, but you kind of pick up where you left off. Those are the types of friendships that make the game so enjoyable. On the other side of retirement, you're able to sit back and reminisce about the old war stories and shenanigans that went on during your time here and playing together. It's a lot of fun.
"It's always good to see the old teammates and come back for an event like this. To see Scotty's number go up in the rafters is pretty special."