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Hradek: Niedermayer ceremony, Selanne return, Hitchcock Cup worth watching

by EJ Hradek /

As the season pushes toward the Christmas holiday and the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2, there are a host of interesting matchups this weekend. Here's a quick look at three highlights.

Friday: Stars at Devils

Prior to puck drop, the Devils will honor their former star defenseman, Scott Niedermayer, raising his No. 27 to the rafters of the Prudential Center. A future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Niedermayer was a key member on the club's three Stanley Cup-winning teams (1995, 2000, 2003). He went on to win a fourth Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Long-time Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello selected the talented young defenseman with the third pick of the 1991 draft. The Devils had acquired that pick in a fortuitous deal with the Maple Leafs during the 1990-91 season. The smooth-skating Niedermayer, who came to New Jersey will a wealth of natural talent, learned the finer points of the game under the tutelage of coaches like Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson.

In time, Niedermayer matured into an elite defender who would be a key part of winning teams at many different levels. While he left New Jersey as a free agent in 2005, Devils fans will fill the building to pay tribute to one of the franchise's all-time best players.

Saturday: Ducks at Jets

Nearly 16 years after he was traded by the original Winnipeg Jets, Teemu Selanne returns to the Manitoba city where he started his NHL career (7 p.m. ET, CBC).

The 10th pick of the 1988 draft, the "Finnish Flash" burst onto the scene during the 1992-93 season with the most spectacular rookie outing in League history. Selanne netted a record 76 goals and 132 points during that first season in Winnipeg. In his final three seasons combined with the franchise, he wouldn’t match his goal-output from that rookie year.

In perhaps his final NHL season, Selanne's return figures to inspire an outpouring of emotion from the excited fan-base at the MTS Centre.

Sunday: Blue Jackets at Blues

The Blue Jackets get their second crack at their old coach, Ken Hitchcock, when they visit the Blues. On Nov. 27 in Columbus, Hitchcock guided his new team to a 2-1 victory against the Jackets. Blues defenseman Kris Russell, who was acquired from the Jackets just a few weeks earlier, netted the game winner for St. Louis.

While the Blues have taken off under Hitchcock, who replaced Davis Payne on Nov. 6, the Blue Jackets have played a bit better in recent weeks, buoyed by the surprisingly good goaltending of ex-Blues stopper Curtis Sanford. I'm sure Sanford would love to get a crack at slowing down the Blues.
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