Nieuwendyk spent that summer working out in the Dallas heat like an old-time prizefighter. He trained with team conditioning coach J.J. McQueen in the 100° weather, performing one routine on a sizzling asphalt parking lot. McQueen would strap a harness to Nieuwendyk's back and hook the other end to an automobile tire. Then Nieuwendyk would drag the tire around the lot or up a hill. When the Stars began training camp in Vail, Colo., Nieuwendyk went with them and took his harness along. He returned to the lineup on Oct. 22, a month ahead of schedule, and he scored 28 goals in 67 regular-season games.
For all the Stars' dominance (51-19-12 last season), they were a team that lived on the edge. Two thirds of their regular-season victories were decided by a goal or two, and they won eight playoff games by one goal. Nieuwendyk is not the only go-to guy on the team—right wing Brett Hull and center Mike Modano are both accomplished scorers—but when a team relies on a strategy that Hitchcock describes as "trying to win every game 2-1," the margin for error can be as thin as the ligaments in a man's knee. "Joe gives us immeasurable confidence," says Hitchcock. "When he's putting the puck where he wants to, it makes the whole team feel like we can get a goal when we need one."
Last summer, when it was his turn to keep the Stanley Cup for a couple of days, Nieuwendyk took it to Whitby. He lugged it to Iroquois Arena, where he and his brothers had played hockey and box lacrosse, and he invited the townsfolk to see it. The town had a brochure printed commemorating the Cup's appearance.
Nieuwendyk also took the Cup to the burger joint he haunted as a kid and ate french fries with gravy out of it. He brought it to bars and restaurants and hosted a party for 300 people who drank enough beer to flood a backyard. At that celebration Joe whispered to Gordon that he should consider the part)' a wedding celebration as well. A month later, in a private ceremony on the deck of his summer home in Ithaca, N.Y., Nieuwendyk married Tina Gemmell, his girlfriend of six years.
Nieuwendyk says that his favorite moments with the Cup were "watching how other people reacted to it." When he gave it to Rick and Gil, they took it into the middle of an intersection in Whitby and held it aloft. Traffic couldn't move, but the drivers didn't care. Horns tooted in appreciation, and joyous shouts could be heard as the brothers pranced about. Joe, who was watching them, began to laugh and laugh. He had won a Stanley Cup, and traffic was at a standstill. The Nieuwendyk spirit was very much alive.
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