Sports

Scott Niedermayer is inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame

TORONTO — What began as the germ of an idea, two brothers pursuing a jointly held dream of winning the Stanley Cup together, took a firmer grip overseas in an unlikely spot, the Czech Republic.

It was 2004. Scott and Rob Niedermayer were far away from their roots in British Columbia, helping lead Canada to a gold medal at the world championships. This represented a rare, treasured opportunity for the brothers to play together. They relished those games in Prague and so the Niedermayers started discussing an extended partnership.

"We knew our careers were coming to where we didn't have a lot of time to play, so we knew that we wanted to experience it before it ended," Rob Niedermayer said in a telephone interview. "Everything just sort of worked out that way."

Said Scott Niedermayer, speaking to reporters last week: "We wanted to be in a place where we thought we would have a chance to win."

The emotional apex for the Niedermayer brothers came in Anaheim three years after Prague. Scott joined Rob in Southern California and their vision became reality when the Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators, punctuated by Scott handing the Cup to his younger brother on that transcendent night in Anaheim in 2007.

If that was the high point for the brothers, then Monday served as an exclamation point for the smooth-skating defenseman Scott, who was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was joined by defenseman Chris Chelios, power forward Brendan Shanahan, pioneer Geraldine Heaney in the women's player category and the late Fred Shero as builder. At the induction ceremony, Shero was represented by his son Ray, the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The video introduction to Scott's speech was done by Rob and Scott opened by gently teasing his brother about "stealing" his material.

Niedermayer mentioned a long list of family, friends and former teammates, including the Devils' Scott Stevens, who he thanked for "teaching" him how to become a pro. He broke up, briefly, talking about the Stanley Cup moment with the Ducks, passing the trophy to Rob when the brothers achieved their dream of winning together.

Scott Niedermayer serves as an assistant coach for the Ducks and the organization considers him its first player to reach the Hall of Fame. Playmaker Adam Oates and Finnish icon Jari Kurri, both Hall of Fame members, had brief turns with the Ducks but reached the Hall of Fame for their achievements with other teams.

Niedermayer won four Stanley Cups (three in New Jersey), the Norris Trophy (the league's best defenseman) in 2004 and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff most valuable player in 2007 as well as gold medals for Canada at the Olympics in 2002 and 2010. His third Cup with the Devils came at the expense of the Ducks and brother Rob, in 2003, and it took an emotional toll on both brothers in the handshake line.

Scott would go on to sign with the Ducks as a free agent on Aug. 4, 2005, and his decision to leave New Jersey was not as effortless as it may have appeared. Niedermayer said it was hard to leave and his younger brother stayed out of the process by design.

"I never wanted him to ever feel pressure, I know that was a very tough decision. He took a long time," Rob said. "He knew how I felt. I thought, take a step back and he'll make the decision that's best for him and his family."

The defenseman arrived with big-time credentials and a minimalist touch in the dressing room. Randy Carlyle, then the coach in Anaheim, addressed the immediate effect of Niedermayer on the Ducks, who were one piece away from putting it together.

"Scotty was the glue for our team, He did everything to support the hockey club," said Carlyle, now the Toronto coach, in an email.

"Very calming influence and delivered big time [overtime goals, series-clinching goals], feel very fortunate to have been around a player and person of this quality."

Teemu Selanne of the Ducks spoke of one specific play after Niedermayer joined the team.

"I remember once he joined the rush and they got a turnover, got a two on one," Selanne said. "Scotty just turned around and beat the guy getting backwards and made it a two on two. It was amazing. So smooth. It looked like he wasn't even trying."

Teammates marveled at his effortlessness on the ice. Opponents used other words. Chelios joked with reporters about hating Niedermayer's smoothness.

"It was almost like Paul Coffey," Chelios said. "He was well rounded and it just killed me to see guys who made it look so easy because I felt like I was fighting and scratching for every inch."

Niedermayer made a distinct and lasting impression on Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell. Mitchell's first NHL team was New Jersey and he played briefly for the Devils in the spring of 2000. By then, Niedermayer had won a Stanley Cup, with the Devils in 1995.

"You would see him in the locker room and he'd go out there and play 30 minutes," Mitchell said. "He wouldn't have a drop of sweat on him on his head because he's such a good skater. You'd never notice a mistake because he could skate back and cover up for it."

Mitchell speculated that Niedermayer would have received much more attention in his playing days had he been in a major Canadian market or a short car ride away from New Jersey.

"The Devils, even with all the success they've had, they know they are second fiddle to the [New York] Rangers," Mitchell said . "If you take all the success they had there and his success and moved that just across the river.

"Can you imagine? His career and how much more attention it would have had."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

Twitter: @reallisa

Times staff writer Lance Pugmire contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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