7:00 AM CST, November 9, 2013
Scott Niedermayer glided into the Hockey Hall of Fame as smoothly and surely as he skated around NHL rinks through 1,263 games over parts of 18 seasons.
Niedermayer's skates seemed to be extensions of his feet, so gracefully did he move when he brought the puck up ice or patrolled his position on defense. He won just about everything there is to win at every level of hockey — including four Stanley Cup championships, the last in 2007 alongside his brother, Rob — and his election to the Hall of Fame was a certainty in his first year of eligibility.
Certain to all but Niedermayer, apparently.
"They gave us our rings," he said Friday of the event that kicked off the induction festivities in Toronto, "and I still felt like a visitor in there."
No, Scott. Make yourself at home. You belong there, though he insisted he couldn't have made the journey alone.
"I have the time now to reflect on how fortunate I was throughout my career," said Niedermayer, an assistant coach with the Ducks. "I've come to realize how many people were involved that helped out along the way and were a big part of it. Just lucky I had those people in my life, I guess."
The induction ceremony will take place Monday and will feature a diverse group, a tribute to the breadth and depth of the game.
Also elected on the first try was defenseman Chris Chelios, one of the greatest hockey players the U.S. has produced and a three-time Cup winner who was a fearsome force into his late 40s. Brendan Shanahan, who occasionally flouted the rules during his standout career as a power forward and now dispenses justice as the head of the NHL's department of player safety, made it in his second year of eligibility.
Women's game pioneer Geraldine Heaney, a two-time Olympic medalist who has been compared to Bobby Orr for her offensive exploits, will join Cammi Granato and Angela James as the only female players in the Hall. Fred Shero, the visionary coach who was well ahead of his time and won two Cup titles with the Philadelphia Flyers, will be inducted posthumously. His son, Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero, will represent him.
And although media honorees aren't considered in the same category as players, coaches and builders, shout-outs must go to witty Jay Greenberg, winner of the Elmer Ferguson Award for distinguished hockey writing, and insightful Buffalo Sabres commentator Harry Neale, winner of the Foster Hewitt Award for his work in broadcast journalism.
Of all the inductees and players already enshrined, Niedermayer stands out for his fluid, seemingly effortless skating. "We worked on it. I did power skating and a little bit of figure skating at a young age," he said. "But at the same time I had some talent and that was a strength of mine. Instruction and technique helped.
"There were times early in my career it got me into trouble but I learned to use it to my advantage at both ends of the rink and eventually it kind of paid off."
Niedermayer isn't being falsely modest. He truly doesn't see himself as a Hall of Fame player, like the ones he saw on TV or read about.
"I grew up watching so many of the guys that are now in the Hall of Fame. They were the guys that were amazing to watch, great players, guys I idolized," he said. "I don't know when I'm going to feel like I belong there. Those are the guys that were my heroes, guys that maybe I didn't see play but guys you always refer to, like Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe. So it's hard to fathom."
He won his third Cup title in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils, prevailing in a seven-game series at the expense of the Ducks and his brother. Seeing the devastation on Rob's face planted a thought in Scott's mind, and he acted on it by signing with the Ducks as a free agent in the summer of 2005.
"We played together as kids and I went away to play junior and he went to a different team the following year. We were probably happier to play on different teams then," Scott said, laughing. "There's been a lot of water under the bridge. Obviously we've both matured and when that opportunity came, especially after the tough situation of facing each other in the Finals, that was a big reason I wanted to be in Anaheim."
The Ducks reached the West final in 2006 and won the Cup in 2007. One of the most lasting memories was created when Scott, as captain of the winning team, received the Cup and immediately passed it to Rob.
"I don't know how much I thought of it beforehand, but it felt great. It was very emotional," Scott said. "For anybody, winning the Stanley Cup is an amazing accomplishment and pretty satisfying to be able to do. And our whole back story, the connection there, where I stood between him and the Cup, I remember how disappointed he was after Game 7 [in 2003]. Four years later, to right a wrong, I guess, it felt really good. I knew how much he contributed to the team. He really deserved it, like all the guys on the team did. It was great."
As for those who visit the Hall 10 or 20 years from now and look at his plaque, as he has looked at plaques of those before him, Niedermayer hopes they will judge him in the same way he measured his own value.
"Good teammate. Played hard for the team. Just tried to help them win. I guess that would be just perfect," he said.
That's all? A good team guy?
The beauty of hockey is that it's enough.
"I think very highly of a lot of guys I played with, so I respect that a lot," he said. "Just a guy that went out there and did everything he could to help his teammates and let his team have success. I think that's it. I'd be very happy."
Consider it done.
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