Before the Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals, and Conn Smythe and Norris Trophies, Scott Niedermayer was guiding the small city of Kamloops to stardom.
The defenceman from Cranbrook B.C., known for his fluid skating and calm demeanour, joined a group of Blazers alumni this past weekend to celebrate the franchise’s enormous success in the 80s and 90s, capped off by three Memorial Cups in a four-year span.
“It’s gonna be fun having the number of players that are coming back here, not just one team, but over the course of a good stretch is pretty exciting. This is a franchise that has a lot to be proud of over the years. [They’ve] accomplished a lot and a big part of that is the players that have come through here and the teammates that I was fortunate enough to play with.”
Niedermayer kicked off his junior career with the Blazers in 1989-90 where his 69 points in 65 games established the rookie as an immediate impact player. The Blazers finished first in the WHL that season before losing all three games in the Memorial Cup tournament.
“My first year here, we went to the Memorial Cup in Hamilton and didn’t play very well there, so to get a second crack at it, you’re lucky to have that kind of opportunity.”
Two years later, Niedermayer and the Blazers licked their wounds and returned to the grand stage in Seattle all the wiser.
“We had a bunch of us there in 1990 in Hamilton and I think that helped us when we got to Seattle, just to have a little more experience with that type of tournament and what it’s all about.”
Niedermayer, who now resides in Penticton with his wife Lisa and their four sons, was drafted third overall by the New Jersey Devils in 1991. After appearing in four regular-season games with the Devils, Niedermayer was sent back down to Kamloops where he helped lead the Blazers to another WHL Championship. He put the cherry on top of an illustrious junior career with a stretch pass to Zac Boyer that is forever ingrained in Blazers’ history.
Boyer’s breakaway goal with 14.6 seconds left in regulation lifted the Blazers to a 5-4 win over Sault Ste. Marie for their first of three Memorial Cups.
“It was exciting to win that, especially in that fashion with seconds left in a tie game. To score an exciting, crazy goal like that [is] something you obviously remember.”
An unforgettable moment, but Niedermayer teases that time has a way of distorting things.
“Well that’s just it — we’ve all aged a bit so the faces aren’t totally familiar.”
Father time has taken on a more literal meaning for Niedermayer whose four sons are taking on the trade, including Jackson who plays for the Penticton Vees.
“When I retired from hockey, I thought hockey would be a much smaller part of my life but I was really, obviously wrong on that. My kids have enjoyed playing so I’ve kind of helped coach and get them around to their practices, their games and different things like that. It was one of the reasons to come back was just the opportunity to be here for the kids to sort of play some good hockey at different levels, and they’ve really enjoyed it.”
Jackson has committed to Arizona State University while his brother Josh was drafted by the Vancouver Giants in last year’s WHL Bantam Draft.
It’s safe to assume that a member of the 100 Greatest NHL Players club has plenty of tips to offer his four young hockey players, but Niedermayer strives for that ideal balance.
“There’s a kind of complex situation; you definitely want them to do it because they love it because that’s what they want to do and that’s number one. We feel that we have some advice and good information to give them, having been a professional player and played a lot of hockey myself but at the same time, you don’t want to be too overbearing. You try and balance all those sorts of things. The best thing that I love is just watching them have fun and compete with their teammates. Those are my best memories as a player and I imagine it will be theirs as well.”
When he isn’t occupied by the hectic life of a hockey parent, Niedermayer has continued to dabble in a number of roles with the Anaheim Ducks. After winning the Stanley Cup in Anaheim in 2007 with his brother Rob, Niedermayer played two more seasons for the SoCal club before hanging up his skates in 2010.
“Since I retired, the Ducks have been great. They’ve sort of let me feel my way around. I’ve had some different roles over the years — as an assistant coach to development to a little bit of scouting now — and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s nice to learn and see a different side of the game.”
Niedermayer’s 1,263 NHL games spanned 18 seasons and two franchises. His collection of trophies is nearly unmatched. The rearguard is one of only two players in history to win a Memorial Cup, Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, World Junior Championship, World Cup of Hockey and World Championship.
Hockey has taken Niedermayer on an impressive journey and Kamloops is one stop he’s happy to revisit.
“It’s funny, now I’m catching up with a lot of guys that were a little bit older and are now scouts and professional scouts that maybe worked for the Blazers when I was first here. So, it’s a small world in some respects and it’s fun catching up with a lot of old friends like that.”