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'Forever a Flame,' Nieuwendyk to receive honor

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Twenty-five years after No. 25 helped bring the franchise its only Stanley Cup, the Calgary Flames on Friday will honor Joe Nieuwendyk.

Nieuwendyk, who starred for the Flames for eight seasons and was an integral piece of Calgary's Cup run in 1989, will receive the "Forever a Flame" celebration for his contributions to the organization.

"It feels great," said Nieuwendyk, who played the first 577 games of his career with Calgary, totaling 314 goals, 302 assists and 616 points. "I have so much of the early part of my history, my start here with this organization. I'm very grateful. A lot of memories; a lot of former teammates that live in this area still obviously. It's just a classy organization that's rolling out the red carpet and it's a little overwhelming."

Joe Nieuwendyk, who had a pair of 51-goal seasons and won the first of his three Stanley Cups with the Calgary Flames, will receive the "Forever a Flame" celebration Friday for his contributions to the organization. (Photo: Getty Images, Denis Brodeur/NHLI)

Nieuwendyk's NHL career started with a bang as he scored 51 goals in his first full season to earn the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie in 1987-88.

In 1988-89 he had another 51-goal season, reaching 100 career goals in his 144th game. At the time he was the third fastest player to reach that milestone, behind Mike Bossy (129 games) and Maurice Richard (134 games). He also joined Bossy and Wayne Gretzky as the only two players to start their NHL careers with 50-goal seasons.

More importantly Nieuwendyk had 10 goals and 14 points in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games in 1989 to help the Flames to their only championship, assisting on Lanny McDonald's Cup-clinching goal along the way.

He officially will be welcomed into the "Forever a Flame" group in a pregame ceremony prior to puck drop Friday against the New York Islanders.

A banner with his photo and number will be raised to the rafters alongside fellow "Forever a Flame" honoree Al MacInnis and the retired numbers of McDonald (No. 9) and Mike Vernon (No. 30).

"I'm thrilled," said Nieuwendyk, who still holds the Flames franchise record for goals in a game with five. "I see some familiar faces around here and we all shared in that time period of the late '80s and it was a special moment for all of us. To be a 'Forever a Flame,' with the three guys that have gone before me with Lanny, Vernon and most recently Al, is a thrill. I'm sure there's a handful of guys that are still to come on that run that we had those years that we had in the late-'80s."

McDonald, Vernon, Ric Nattress, Joel Otto and Gary Roberts are among the teammates that will join Nieuwendyk for the ceremony. All won the Stanley Cup alongside Nieuwendyk in 1989.

The thought of being with them back at Scotiabank Saddledome already has flooded Nieuwendyk with memories from his first Cup win.

"It was really interesting for me and for my best friend Gary Roberts to be 22 years old and taking the Stanley Cup out of the Montreal Forum thinking life is good, we're going to do this many times," said Nieuwendyk, who went on to win the Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999 and the New Jersey Devils in 2003. "I think when I look back now you realize how difficult it was.

"The greatest lesson for me was to see what it meant to some of our older guys, especially Lanny, but Jim Peplinski and Tim Hunter and Brad McCrimmon and Joey Mullen and those guys. It was a big deal. We were young, but to see those lessons made me realize because after that I went 10 years without tasting it again or even getting close."

It was that run with the close-knit group that catches Nieuwendyk's mind when he thinks of the Flames.

"It was quite a cast of characters we had back in those days," he said. "I know some are here [Friday]. I spoke to Al MacInnis because he most recently went through this [ceremony]. We all feel the same way. Even though we all moved on and things changed and we all continued our careers, whenever we get together you just don't even have to say much. You just know what we all went through together and it's a nice bond to have."

Nieuwendyk, the 11th captain in Flames history, will have plenty of teammates on hand to go through the celebration with.

And while they'll relive 1989, Nieuwendyk doesn't think he'll get overly emotional during the evening in his honor.

"I don't think so," he said. "I've been told I have two minutes so hopefully I won't lose it in two minutes, otherwise they'll kick me off.

"I just think I'm so grateful to the organization. … It's been a long time since I've played here. A lot of my teammates are around but we all shared in something special and hopefully [Friday] will be as well."

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