Go-to-guy Niedermayer has to get it going
EDMONTON, Alberta -- There is something otherworldly, almost beatific, about Scott Niedermayer's countenance that seems somehow at odds with his greatness.
If the Benedictine monks put together a hockey team, Niedermayer would be a good choice for captain, such is his demeanor. Of course, if they did put a team together and Niedermayer joined, he would instantly make them a contender.
"He always seems to be in control. That's the thing that surprises me, is that it's 24 hours a day," Mighty Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of Niedermayer, who acts as the lowest of low-key captains. "You don't see him have too many emotional outbursts. He's not a guy that's ever loud. He never yells and screams."
"Maybe he screams at his kids," the coach added thoughtfully as though trying to figure out his most important player.
Whatever hopes the Mighty Ducks have of getting back into a series they now trail 2-0 to the Edmonton Oilers, they'll rest on the curious combination of Niedermayer's skill on the ice and his Zen presence in the dressing room.
Niedermayer has one assist and is minus-3 in the series, logging a total of 56 minutes, 59 seconds in ice time in the two games. And certainly if there's ever been a difference maker, it's the man whose résumé includes three Stanley Cups and a Norris Trophy in New Jersey, a World Championship, an Olympic gold medal, World Junior and World Cup of Hockey titles and a Memorial Cup. No other NHL player has enjoyed so much success at so many different levels while never appearing to raise his heart rate above "at rest."
Of course, Niedermayer's greatness isn't news. But that's the thing about greatness: Once you've obtained it, the particles that make up that greatness sometimes become hard to distinguish.
It has been so during these Western Conference finals, where many lump Niedermayer and Edmonton defensive stud Chris Pronger together. Are they two great defensemen? Certainly. But they are night and day.
Pronger is all sharp angles and edgy, on and off the ice. He is sometimes caustic, sometimes sarcastic; a force no matter how you cut it and, to this point, the more dominant force in these playoffs.
The iceman doesn't just cometh, he's in the house.
Just ask Joffrey Lupul, who sits next to Niedermayer in the Ducks' dressing room. "He doesn't even sweat," Lupul said with more than a trace of awe in his voice.
Niedermayer plays 30 minutes a night, and if he wanted to, could just put on his clothes and go home afterward, the rookie said.
Carlyle, a former Norris Trophy winner himself, said he has never seen a player react to situations on the ice as quickly as Niedermayer.
"He's a guy that does things at a very controlled pace," Carlyle said. "Scott Niedermayer has been a total professional in every aspect from Day 1. He's brought a calmness that is displayed daily to our group."
Niedermayer, 32, is among the finest skating defensemen ever, ranking alongside Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr. Both Carlyle and Anaheim GM Brian Burke place him among the current elite (Rob Blake and Pronger) in their ability to stick check, knock down passes and turn a play the other way in the blink of an eye.
"Those are things you can't teach," Carlyle said.
When Niedermayer carries the puck, he is ghost-like, swerving gracefully from lane to lane, finding time and space that doesn't seem to exist for most players.
"He's way better than I thought he was," Burke told ESPN.com during Game 2 in Anaheim. "I knew we were getting a great player, I had no idea how great."
When Niedermayer, the crown jewel in the free-agent bazaar, signed with the Mighty Ducks in the offseason, there were two ways to look at it.
By heading to the West Coast, closer to his hometown of Cranbrook, British Columbia, and playing with his younger brother Rob, some wondered if this was a sign that Niedermayer was winding things down.
Instead, the move west and being reunited with Rob for the first time since the boys were bantam-aged players seems to have rejuvenated his career.
One Western Conference GM told ESPN.com he thought Niedermayer was the best player, bar none, in the second half of the NHL season.
On the surface, it might appear that the Ducks' strategy in landing Niedermayer would have been simple: Throw a boatload of money at him and promise to sign his brother, who'd been with the Ducks since midway through the 2002-03 season.
Instead, Burke went at it the other way.
He thought Rob Niedermayer, 31, might be tempted to accept the team's qualifying offer this year and then go the free-agent route at the end of next season. That might have cost him both Niedermayers. So Burke went to Cranbrook and signed Rob to a long-term deal.
Then he called Scott and asked him what he was looking for in a new team. Niedermayer gave him a checklist: He wanted to play in the more wide-open Western Conference, he wanted to play for a contender, he wanted a team in which he might enjoy some relative anonymity and, at some point, he wanted to play with his brother.
"I said, 'Scotty, I'm the only GM that can check off everything on that list,' " Burke said.
Rob recalled the two were running their annual summer hockey school when the deal was finally struck.
"It's been great. It's been something that since we were 15, 14, we've kind of gone our separate ways in the hockey season and just kind of had a month or two in the summer to spend with each other," Rob said. "Now, it's great. I ride to the rink with him and get to see his family, his kids. It's been pretty special.
"You go away and come back, a lot of things change, so it's been good."
At the start of the season, Rob, who is single, lived with his brother and his family, which includes three boys, before he got his own place.
Scott jokes that it was a good thing his brother got out when he did.
The toughest part? Those 7 a.m. wake-up calls. "He couldn't handle the kids. He wouldn't have lasted," Scott joked.
"That's a whole different world there," Rob admitted. "Three boys there and they've got a lot of energy and they get up pretty early, so it was a new experience."
As one might expect from Scott Niedermayer, he does not get all mushy when asked about the effect the move has had on him.
"It's been about what I imagined," he said. "I wasn't expecting anything magical."
Still, it's clear that being close enough to have Rob visit with his boys, has been something. If not magical, it's been rewarding for the whole family.
Said Scott: "Little things like that, that's what family's all about."
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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