Could it have been true? Was Rob a bust at age 20? "It was the low point of my career," he says. "It got to where I said, 'Can I play?' I had a real negative feeling when I came to the rink, and it showed on the ice. I couldn't give up the puck fast enough. I had no confidence."
Rob went home for the summer discouraged, but in late July he received encouraging news: The Panthers had replaced veteran coach Roger Neilson with Doug MacLean. "He was pretty excited when they made the change," says Scott. "Roger was not a big fan of young players, and some games Rob would get only one or two shifts. Unless your name is Mario Lemieux, you're not going to score many points with that kind of ice time."
MacLean immediately promoted Rob to the first line, and Rob has responded. He has played with more confidence and more fire, trusting his instincts and using his speed, strength and size (6'2", 201 pounds). He has backed down from no one and, when necessary, has dropped the gloves without hesitation. The bust has busted out. "From the beginning of training camp, he's been a different player," says Rob's teammate and close friend Brian Skrudland. "All that potential we heard about is coming out. He's shooting better, skating better, hitting better."
The season did not start on the same up beat for Scott. Last spring he asserted himself during the Devils' run for the Stanley Cup. He scored four playoff goals, including a game-tying tally in the finals against the Detroit Red Wings that clued the hockey world in to his vast skills: Scott rushed into the Red Wing zone, shot wide of the net and then scored on his own rebound. On that play he beat defense-man Paul Coffey, the man Scott hopes to replace someday as the NHL's premier offensive defenseman. Scott, a restricted free agent, hoped to spend the summer sifting through lucrative contract offers, but he didn't receive any because the cost of signing a restricted free agent can be steep (depending upon the player's salary, up to five first-round draft picks). Then he stayed out of the Devils' camp until he signed a three-year, $4.2 million deal on Sept. 27.
Scott has two nagging gripes about life in New Jersey. First, as an unabashed country boy, he is averse to tall buildings, toll booths and traffic jams. Second, he isn't fond of the Devils' tight defensive system. He wants the freedom to rush into the offensive zone more often. Devil coach Jacques Lemaire, however, wishes he could wire the opposing team's blue line so it would give his defensemen a shock if they wandered into the offensive end.
"I love the offensive part of the game—I like to rush, and I love to score," says Scott. "But Jacques' system has worked—you can't argue with that. We won the Cup. Someday I'll get the chance to play a more open style, but for now I'm happy here."
Rob is happy, too. He makes $900,000 a year. And at the end of this season, both Niedermayers will reach a significant moment in their adult lives. They will bid farewell to the rumpus room. Scott and Rob bought three acres of land on Kootenay Lake, about 90 minutes west of Cranbrook, and there they will build their first home together. They will share the house with Harley, their new bull mastiff, whom, naturally, they bought together.
It has always been this way for the Niedermayers: They have the same friends, the same hobbies, the same interests. They climb mountains together, they fish together and they ski together. Two years ago, they bought their parents a Lexus for Christmas. They split the price down the middle, to the penny. "I just wish they'd pay my speeding tickets, too," says Carol.
There is one obvious difference between Scott and Rob: Rob is the fighter in the family, and he has a capped tooth to prove it. Scott, who is two inches shorter and a pound lighter than Rob, admits if he and Rob dropped gloves and squared off, he would probably get the worst of it.
Bob Niedermayer, a general practitioner at Cranbrook Regional Hospital, often served as team doctor for his boys' youth-league teams. But it was Carol who drove them to excel in hockey. When they were boys, she signed them up for figure skating to develop their skills, and she even taught a power-skating class to get them more ice time. "The city rec department asked if I wanted to be paid," she says. "I said, 'No, just find some time for my kids to skate.' "