TORONTO – They finally cornered Scott Niedermayer on Monday night, all of them gathered in chairs in a large atrium in downtown Toronto, impossible to penetrate.
Hockey’s ultimate problem-solver had to make a Hall of Fame induction speech, an impossible cut-and-paste task for practiced orators. As we know, Niedermayer is far more comfortable with stick than shtick.
So Niedermayer did what he always did. He took what he was given.
Brother Rob, with whom he shared the 2007 Stanley Cup, recorded a video introduction, and when Scott took the microphone he said, “Thanks, Rob, for stealing a bunch of my material.”
He then did what recipients always say they don’t have time to do. He thanked everyone he could think of.
The most naturally occurring player that any of us have seen returned thanks to everyone that he felt made him what he was.
That list included:
His parents, his bantam coaches, his junior coaches, his general manager in New Jersey, his coaches in New Jersey, his teammates in New Jersey (five of whom came here, as did the GM), the head of Hockey Canada, his agents, Ducks owners Susan and Henry Samueli, president Tim Ryan, CEO Michael Schulman, coach Randy Carlyle and his staff, defense partner Francois Beauchemin, his four boys and his wife Lisa.
And that was about it.
Self-effacement comes as naturally to No. 27 as did rushing the puck. He was noted for his skating endurance, so he was recently asked if he was ever encouraged to run marathons as a kid. “Nobody did because they saw me run,” Niedermayer said.
Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios and Canadian women’s hockey star Geraldine Heaney also joined the Hall on Monday night, as did the late Fred Shero, coach of Philadelphia’s Broad Street Bullies.
After Niedermayer spoke, it was Shanahan’s turn, and he remembered a photo op this weekend when the Hall of Famers were balancing a puck on their sticks.
“Then it slipped off our sticks and landed on Geraldine’s, and Scott almost knocked it off,” Shanahan said, as the crowd laughed. “So even thought you’re humble and modest, you’re not that nice.”
No sport does pomp and circumstances with as much dignity as hockey. Some of that is naturally Canadian.
But maybe some of it is because hockey players are the only team-sport athletes who are basically wedded to an implement. Hockey players have to master that stick, how to use it, how not to.
A couple of weeks ago, Niedermayer said he learned the stick from Larry Robinson, who was a Devils’ assistant at the time.
“The stick is not an ornament,” he said. “You should always have it on the ice. There are a lot of things to do with it. A quick stick can surprise guys.”
That was his underrated trademark, the knack of poking a puck before his opponent even knew he was supposed to have it. That, and being able to dodge without ducking.
“I played against him with a lot of years and I’m known for hitting a lot of people,” said the Kings’ Dustin Brown. “And I think I maybe got him once, and it wasn’t exactly like I wiped him out.”
“I used to tell him to go ride the bike for 20 minutes because he was wasting my time,” said Tom Renney, who coached Niedermayer in junior hockey at Kamloops. “I’d say, ‘It’s way too easy for you.’ He brought all of us along for the ride.”
Rene Fasel, the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation, read off the championships Niedermayer amassed, looked down at him and just said, “I cannot think of anything you did not do.”
It was that type of night, when people spoke truths to each other in front of lots of other people.
Heaney thanked her husband, John, and apologized “for the grief you take at work because your wife has a harder shot than you. And thanks to my parents for never telling me girls can’t play.”
Shanahan, now the NHL director of player safety, urged players to realize the exclusivity of the club they’re in, and to heed the line that separates competition from dismemberment.
Ray Shero, now the general manager of the Penguins, cited the motto his dad put on the blackboard before the Flyers clinched the ’75 Stanley Cup: “Win today and we walk together forever.” Sure enough, a quorum of those Flyers, now gray and limping, was here to honor Freddie The Fog.
Sitting elsewhere in that crowd was Bob Murray, who was Brian Burke’s assistant GM when the Ducks signed Niedermayer in 2005.
“He was the start of everything we did,” Murray said. “He is what made us real.”
Hang around Niedermayer for any length of time, and you hardly have a choice.