Work in Sports
CNNSI.com's Morning Skate
Niedermayer's '95 experience bearing fruit in 2000
Posted: Tuesday May 30, 2000 07:15 PM
By Jamie MacDonald, CNNSI.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Back in 1995 (the last time the New Jersey Devils reached the Stanley Cup finals), Scott Niedermayer was considered a superbly talented and free-wheeling defenseman who could take the puck from end to end, make an opposing blueliner look bad -- remember how he spun Paul Coffey around like a top? -- then walk in on a goaltender and light him up.
Back then, however, Niedermayer was kept from displaying his full range of talent because of New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire's conservative game plan (which, by the way, was good enough to win a Stanley Cup).
Niedermayer still has the skills -- and the Devils aren't the trap-first system of old -- but he isn't so focused on scoring anymore.
"When you come in as a young guy, offense is kind of what you've been concentrating on since you started playing hockey," Niedermayer said. "Jacques was here for a long time and his thing was defense. And when you have a great, competitive team and you win a championship, you learn a lot from that, too."
These days Niedermanyer is more inclined to pick his spots when he gets the urge to score. He credits Lemaire, and some on-ice maturity, for his metamorphosis.
"I think my timing and those experiences have definitely helped me know when to join the attack and when not to," he says. And as the New Jersey trap has eased up, the Devils have also become more skilled at the forward position.
"There are definitely more [offensive forwards]," said Devils forward Randy McKay, another holdover from '95. "That team, it was a classic team. Every guy in the locker room did his little part. Some guys scored or chipped in goals. Some guys hit or set the tone. This time we have a little more skill."
This time there is a dangerous top line and a complement of gifted offensive players. (Could you have imagined Alexander Mogilny playing for the 1995 edition?) Most of these forwards hit, too, but there is no Crash Line. Each player can skate well, with and without the puck. This makes the transition game a little easier and relieves guys like Niedermayer from the pressure of having to lug the puck all over the place.
These Devils forwards are also more cognizant of the offensive weapons they have behind them.
"Before, maybe [the forwards] weren't as aware that a defenseman would jump up, and that their job was then to jump back on the blue line for a second," Niedermayer said. "But now the forwards are aware that there are a few of us -- [Brian] Rafalski and [Vladimir] Malakhov -- who like to jump up a bit. It makes [joining the play] a lot more effective."
Sim-ply happy to be here
Jon Sim is making a good impression. The Stars' forward made his playoffs debut in Game 7 of the Western Conference final. "Well, I've been working really hard," said the accommodating Sim, who twice moved equipment out of a reporter's way to make some room on a bench next to him. "I've been keeping a positive attitude . So when my chance came, or even if it didn't, I was ready to play."
Coach Ken Hitchcock is banking on that youthful exuberance, and even on Sim's inexperience.
"I think being naive is a real reward at this time of year," he says of players like Sim, Brenden Morrow and Ryan Lyashenko. "They haven't learned those hard lessons, the ones that they carry with them -- disappointment or the pressures that go with it. They just want to play."
Hitchcock also said the uncertain status of Jamie Langenbrunner had something to do with Sim's insertion in the lineup. "That is, quite frankly, why Jon Sim is in," Hitchcock said. "Because we feel like if we get down a goal or two we have the offensive push with our wingers to get back into a hockey game and Sim can do those things."
Despite the votes of confidence, Sim is still not sure what he'll be feeling when the puck drops Tuesday night.
"I'm a little nervous," he said after the morning skate. "Maybe I'll settle down around game time. Or maybe it will get worse."
While their systems may not be mirror images, penalty killing success is a trait these two teams share. Mike Keane led the Stars with four short-handed goals, while Mike Modano is always a man-down threat. New Jersey's John Madden tied an NHL rookie record this season with six short-handed goals. So neither team is looking to get into a special-teams battle. "The key is: we're not going to be able to go out and take any stupid penalties," McKay said Tuesday morning. "There are going to be penalties, but if we're killing too many, it's going to cost us."
Hitchcock says he expects Martin Brodeur to handle the puck between 40 and 50 times in Game 1. ... Guy
Carbonneau, Mike Keane and Kirk Muller most likely will not
attend funeral services honoring Maurice Richard on the off day. Stars GM
Bob Gainey, however, is expected to make the Montreal-New Jersey round
trip. Speaking of the Montreal-New Jersey connection, it's not just happenstance
that these two teams play such similar styles. The Canadiens are represented
here by Gainey, assistant coach Doug Jarvis and former players
Carbonneau, Keane, Muller. The only Devils player with ties to Les
Habitants is Claude Lemieux, but don't forget that coach Larry Robinson was a longtime great there. And it was Jacques
Lemaire who implemented the defense-first system New Jersey still employs
today. ... Brodeur allowed five goals in two losses against the
Stars this season. ... Keane played thespian Tuesday at the morning skate,
bringing down the house with his self-deprecating impression of players waiting
for the media to ask questions. "Just like baby birds," he said while
making chirping motions with his mouth.