The real story of Sunday night in Anaheim had nothing to do with the future Hall of Famer on the ice, playing with Washington, and everything to do with a four-time Cup winner on defense whose #27 was being retired by the Ducks.
Scott Niedermayer’s sweater will now hang with Selanne’s #8 and Kariya’s #9 in the arena where Niedermayer and Selanne shared the winning of the Stanley Cup in 2007.
Niedermayer had come to the Ducks two summers before, a coveted free agent coming out of the lockout year of 2004-05. He signed with Anaheim on August 4, 2005, as cited by his then-owner, Henry Samueli. Along with the later acquisition of Chris Pronger, it was a lynchpin move that put the team which had lost the Stanley Cup to Niedermayer’s Devils in position to win. Part of the reason he came to the West coast was that the team already featured his brother, Rob.
Each of those former players, including Rob Niedermayer, as well as Scott’s parents and family, was in attendance. Speeches were made. A banner was raised.
The arena was resplendent with blinking lights and shimmering displays on the lightboard that surrounds the bottom level. Reflective screens rotated through images of Niedermayer in various eras of his life.
Brian Hayward started the festivities, asking, “What is true greatness?” and answering the question by citing someone who could read a play, have stamina to skate for days, be a great skater, control every part of the game, be a leader, and inspire. “Scott Niedermayer was all of these,” he said.
And more. A winner at every level, Niedermayer has four Stanley Cups, two Olympic golds, a World Championship gold, a World Cup championship, a Memorial Cup, and a World Junior gold. He also won the Conn Smythe (in 2007), a Norris trophy, and made a bunch of All-Star appearances. There’s nothing in hockey he hasn’t won, in other words. He entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013 after retiring after the 2010 season ended.
Kariya put it simply: “He’s inarguably the greatest champion of our generation.”
His NHL career spanned 1263 regular season games and more than 200 playoff games. He scored 740 points.
His time with the Ducks might have been somewhat slight—he played just 371 regular season games there, but his leadership, and that Stanley Cup, plus his continued relationship with the team, made this move a natural. Selanne was the first to get this recognition with Anaheim, back in 2015, and Kariya got his number raised in the fall of this current season.
It all seems to automatic, but Niedermayer himself said that as a kid, “The NHL seemed like another world—you saw it on TV, but how do you get there?”
He got there as a first round draftee, third overall, maybe a bit of an anomaly in an era where British Columbia wasn’t a hockey hotbed that produced a lot of marquee players.
Paul Kariya told the story that he played Niedermayer in a youth championship in 1989, when they were 15/16, and Scott stayed on the ice the entire sixty minutes. He said that Niedermayer scored a goal and two assists, and that he dominated on defense.
Niedermayer would later (when we interviewed him after the first period of the game) say, “That was a total fiction, but we were proud of that. We were the little town. Growing up in a small town and being able to go and compete with teams like Paul’s in Vancouver, and that sort of thing, we were proud of that, and we had a good group, again, that I was a part of, and beating those guys, we felt pretty good about it.” He said that it was a ten-hour bus ride, all the way to Vancouver Island, so even further out.
Niedermayer and his team came from tiny Cranbrook, BC, and they weren’t supposed to beat the team from the metropolis of Vancouver. But they did. It was just a small sign of where this guy would go as a hockey player.
Along the way, he made a lot of other players great with him. Todd Marchant, another teammate from 2007 and currently heading up Ducks player development, cited the following: Niedermayer has a total of 226 teammates with whom he won the Stanley Cup over the three New Jersey teams and the Anaheim one.
Niedermayer, later in the day, explained his feelings on signing with Anaheim: “Initially, there was a lot of change when I signed here. I don’t really remember what I thought about how good we’d be, or how many games we’d win, or those type of things. So for two short years later, to win the Stanley Cup, it probably exceeded what I expected what was going to happen. Everybody that was involved contributed to that success, and I was just grateful to be a part of that.”
He added, “I don’t know if I realized it as much until I was here. . . just how I’d react. How it would keep me on my toes, and keep me young, feeling a bit like a rookie again. It hit me pretty quick when I first got here in training camp, and a while after that as well, and I think it was good for me as well.”
During the pregame ceremony, after others had had their say, Niedermayer finally got to speak, and he cited many of the people who helped him along the way, not just hockey people, but the media people and staff members. He gave special praise to the trainers who get these guys onto the ice day after day for their thankless, tireless, work.
Later in the day, he commented, “I think the longer I’ve been retired, the more you recognize the input from so many people that help, that make these things happen.”
As the pregame events headed towards their end, he read the name of every teammate from 2007, including comments on each one’s role.
There was nothing left to do but raise the banner, and the family and Scott walked to the spot where it would emerge and watch as it went up, beside both Selanne’s and Kariya’s, forever.
Niedermayer said that he was always a player who got up the most for the biggest games, because he thrived on the challenge, and indicated that it was great to be in Anaheim in an era when that kind of games was common. The team went to the Western Conference Finals in 2006 and then won the Cup, as everyone knows, in 2007.
He summed up the day: “Tremendously emotional, because there’s so much that’s gone on, the history, and the work and sacrifice everybody’s made, that sort of thing, It was enjoyable. To sit back and reflect a little bit was nice.”