ATLANTA – Anaheim Ducks
defenseman Scott Niedermayer
stood on one segment of a four-sided stage, talking to the media about his surprising All-Star appearance.
On the other side was teammate Chris Pronger, entertaining the gathered masses with amusing criticisms of the biased East Coast media.
The other two spots on the dais were empty during the early part of Saturday’s meet-and-greet session with the Western Conference All-Stars. Supposed to be in those spots were the two other Ducks All-Stars, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
The first-timers arrived 20 minutes late, to a loud verbal razzing from Pronger.
“Showing up on time, they’re 0-for-1 there,” joked Pronger.
It’s one of the few things the pair of young Ducks has missed during their journey from 2003 first-round picks to their first All-Star Game.
“They’ll be pretty excited for their first time stepping into a room with all these great hockey players,” said Niedermayer. “I’m sure they’ll be a bit nervous, but at the same time they belong here, so I’m sure they’ll have a great time.”
There’s little doubt both belong in Atlanta. Getzlaf is ninth in the NHL with 39 assists and 10th with 45 points – both numbers lead the Ducks – and his plus-24 rating is fourth in the League. Perry tops the team with 26 goals (10th in the NHL), and his 45 points are second only to Getzlaf on the Ducks.
Said Pronger; “It’s a game for players like that, that have that high-skill level, that can put the puck in the net, be creative and make the types of plays they’ve scored all year long. It’s time for them to shine and show the folks in the East who don’t watch the West that we have a League in the West. It’s a chance for them to shine.”
Perry said he got a few words of wisdom from his veteran teammates, who have been name to a combined 11 All-Star teams.
“It’s always nice when you have guys that are experienced and can show you the ropes and what’s going on,” said Perry.
“They just said have fun. That’s the name of the game and that’s all you’re going to have here, just have fun.
“I’m just going to take everything in and experience everything. Come in and just make sure I have fun and sit back and relax and take everything in.”
Niedermayer will be doing the same thing as he takes the ice for his fifth midseason extravaganza.
It was a surprise announcement, as Niedermayer has played just 19 games since his return from a three-month sojourn to consider retirement or coming back to the Ducks for another season.
“I enjoyed my time,” said Niedermayer. “I was having fun doing what I was doing. That really wasn’t an issue. The pull back onto the ice was stronger than the fact that I was enjoying my time. There’ll be time another day to do other things. This was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass on. Playing with teammates you won a championship with the year before and trying to defend, as difficult as it may be, I felt it was a challenge I wanted to be part of.
“I’m definitely more (energized) than I would have been if I had been back at the start of the year. I just wasn’t ready mentally, wasn’t ready to go through what you needed to do to be ready to play in this League. If I had done that I wouldn’t be feeling the way I am now. I’m excited to be here, I want to be here and that’s how you need to feel to be on the ice.”
In his 19 games, the 34-year-old has 11 points on two goals and nine assists. Not overly impressive numbers, especially by Niedermayer’s Hall-of-Fame standards, which made it even more of a shock when the call came for him to replace the injured Sergei Zubov.
“Yeah, I was surprised. Obviously there’s a lot of different things they take into consideration,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one hard and fast rule. The fact that I’ve been around a little bit probably helped me.
“When I did get the call I was excited to come. I haven’t played a lot, just 19 games, so to be here is pretty exciting.”
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com