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A Different Season For Nieuwendyk

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
By Dave Joseph for

Summer was different this time.

Joe Nieuwendyk
No arduous workouts. No preparation.

For the first time in 20 years, Joe Nieuwendyk didn’t have to prepare for another NHL season. For the first time in 20 years, Nieuwendyk was nothing more than “a full time dad.”

“It’s been different, no question about that,” Nieuwendyk admitted. “I haven’t had to stress about getting away to get a couple of hours of training in. Other than playing once a week with a group of friends in Ithaca (New York), I’ve been fully committed to being a full time dad.”

While Nieuwendyk hasn’t had to think about playing another season of hockey, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about his next career in the game. The 2007-08 season will mark Nieuwendyk’s first full season as special consultant to Panthers’ GM and coach Jacques Martin.

“It’s something I’m looking forward to,” said Nieuwendyk, who retired in December after chronic back problems curtailed a career in which the four-time All-Star scored 564 goals and played on three different Stanley Cup champions. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of our kids develop and working with Jacques and the team.”

Nieuwendyk signed on as consultant with the Panthers in April. Over the summer he joined the Panthers at the Entry Draft and attended the Panthers’ Teen Ranch for rookies. The future Hall of Famer has been impressed with the team’s youth.

“I think we have some good ones coming up, guys like (Michael) Frolic and (Kenndal) McArdle,” Nieuwendyk said. “I’ve seen some of the guys at camp this summer and I really liked the look of them and I think it’s going to be fun watching these kids progress.”

Martin believes Nieuwendyk’s experience, knowledge and understanding of the game can help the Panthers in countless ways.

“Joe brings so much to the table,” Martin said. “I think he’ll be a tremendous help in looking at some of the players we have in Rochester (of the American Hockey League). I think a major responsibility of his will be helping us evaluate talent, whether it’s younger players or free agents coming up next season.

“You know, Joe has such knowledge of the team. There’s so many different areas he can fit and help us. He loves being involved. He loves being around the game. You’re looking at someone who has won the Stanley Cup with three organizations in Calgary, Dallas and New Jersey. Joe will be a great help.”

When asked if part of his role will be helping younger players to develop into leaders, Nieuwendyk, who scored 30 or more goals eight times in his career, said; “I’ve never tried to be somebody I’m not. I think when you’ve been in the league as long as I have or, say, (friend and former teammate) Gary Roberts has, just being yourself can influence younger players.”

Nieuwendyk, who played his final two years in Florida and had 26 goals (56 points) in 65 games in 2005-06, believes the Panthers can go far if they come together.

“Every year is different whether you win the Stanley Cup or miss the playoffs,” he said. “I think it all depends on how guys jell, and that takes a lot of work. It’a a challenge.

“We went out and got a goaltender (Tomas Vokoun) and some goal scorers. Now you have to pull together as a group. That’s the biggest challenge – coming together and relying on each other.”

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