Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thanks for the memories Joe!

When Joe Nieuwendyk was my age he led the Dallas Stars to their first Stanley Cup by scoring 11 goals including 6 game winning goals which tied a then record with Joe Sakic. That year, even though he was the "second-line center" the league recognized his efforts and leadership and awarded him the Conn Smythe Trophy (awarded to the MVP of the playoffs).

I remember that series well because back in 1999 ESPN actually showed some playoff hockey games in Taiwan and I watched game 3 which IMO is the critical game from a momentum standpoint if the first 2 are tied up. Dallas had split the first two games with Buffalo and were playing game 3 in New York. Hull was out, Modano had a wrist injury, and Buffalo had the hottest goalie at the time Dominik Hasek AKA, the Dominator. What was Dallas to do? To make a long story short Joe ended up scoring both goals for Dallas in a 2 to 1 victory. I remember the second goal. He just gets flattened by a cross check in the back as he's camped in front of the goal. He gets up, takes a pass on his backhand, changes to his forehand and shoots high over a sprawling Dominator. Stars go on to win the cup, second one for Joe, and he would go on to win one more with New Jersey.

4 years prior to that (1995) I first met Joe at my oldest sister's wedding. That year he had been traded to Dallas after contract issues with Calgary Flames. Before meeting him, a friend who was originally from Calgary filled me in on some stats as I didn't really know that much about him. Calder trophy winner (rookie of the year), first 2 seasons 50+ goals, only Flames player to score 5 goals in a game, amazing hand-eye coordination from his lacrosse days.

At the wedding he was very nice, down-to-earth, and something that sticks out is me and my two brothers are sitting around and Joe asks us if we want a drink. We all agreed and after he left to get our drinks we kind of looked at each other and I can't remember who said it, but someone said "yup, not bad, Joe Nieuwendyk's getting us beer".

Fast forward 11 years (first time I've seen him since then), we're driving out after his game in Florida and he stops and signs a bunch of autographs for people waiting for him outside of the game. Nevermind he's tired and hungry (life of hockey player means eating at different hours than others), he's signing everyone's autographs before we head off to the restaurant to meet up with Gary Roberts.

Over the years, as I tracked his career stories on the Internet validated what I had concluded based on my limited encounters with him about the type of individual he is both on and off the ice and the respect he commands by everyone regardless of the team he played for.

It's a sad day for the NHL when he decided to hang up the skates.


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