- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
This is the strange thing: You spend all your life preparing to win a trophy, thinking about it, dreaming about it, tiptoeing around it when it appeared in your mother's parlor three times, its glory illuminating your older brother but casting a shadow on you. Looking at that iconic hardware wistfully, you wonder if your turn to cradle it will ever come. Then . . . . � After all the striving and stitches and concussions a piece of hockey's soul is finally yours, and you see how woefully unprepared you are to be inducted into the brotherhood of the Stanley Cup. You win. But you are at a loss. � As your brother, the captain of the Anaheim Ducks and the best player in the playoffs, hands the trophy to you--confetti fluttering and fans roaring--you riffle through the Rolodex of memory, hoping to retrieve something stirring, or at least something that doesn't sound silly, to mark this indelible moment of your hockey life. "It was tough coming up with something," Rob Niedermayer says. "I think I said, 'Thanks for winning the Cup for me.' And I know I told him that I loved him."
Rob Niedermayer looks a mess. In a good way, of course. The mountain-man playoff beard has been trimmed to Clooney-like stubble, but there is a nasty welt on the outside of his right eye caused by an errant stick the previous night and there are bags under both eyes that beg for a redcap. At this moment Scott Niedermayer, his better-known brother, is in Los Angeles displaying the Cup on Jim Rome's TV show, but Rob is happy to be basking in the natural light of a glorious afternoon, gazing at the Pacific Ocean from the patio of a Starbucks in his tony coastal neighborhood, unrecognized by the latte set. After the Ducks had defeated the Ottawa Senators 6-2 in Game�5 to become the first California team to win the Cup, Rob had lingered around the Honda Center and didn't get home until almost 3:30 in the morning. By 5:30, he was awake. When his mother, Carol, saw him a few hours later, she blurted, "Oh, you're a Stanley Cup champion!"
Maybe you remember Carol. During the 2003 finals, when Rob and the Ducks played Scott and the New Jersey Devils, she became a Joan Crawford Mother of the Year award nominee by saying that she was rooting for Anaheim. Her logic was unimpeachable: Scott, 16 months older, had already won two Cups while Rob had lost in his one trip to the finals. But the favoritism drew some raised eyebrows. "Most mothers understood," Carol said, as she celebrated on the ice last week with the families of other Ducks players. More important, her boys grasped the intent.
The Stanley Cup is about will and trust and goaltending--never forget goaltending--and it is also about family. In Canada, hockey is less a game than an heirloom, passed from generation to generation or, occasionally, between members of the same generation. (Scott and Rob became the 15th set of brothers to share the Stanley Cup since the NHL's formation in 1918. The most recent were Brent and Duane Sutter with the 1981-82 and '82-83 New York Islanders. The most famous remain Maurice and Henri Richard of the 1956-60 Montreal Canadiens dynasty.) Carol, a trim woman with a steely gaze, had bequeathed her boys the gift of skating. She taught power skating in Cranbrook, B.C., a city of 20,000 in the Rockies. In lieu of salary she was paid in ice time. At least twice a week she would pick up her boys at lunch, give them skating lessons and then deliver them back to school. Scott, a defenseman, would become one of the NHL's most ethereal skaters, a graying ghost whose blades barely skimmed the ice, while Rob, a relentless winger, would develop a purposeful stride that he displayed in Game�5 when he lugged the puck 120 feet down the wing and backhanded it past Senators goalie Ray Emery.
Scott, who as captain would receive the Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman if Anaheim won, was asked throughout the playoffs if he would first pass the trophy to his brother. (Typically the captain passes the Cup to the most senior alternate captain, in the Ducks' case, defenseman Chris Pronger.) Scott repeatedly said he had not given it a thought, a response as harmless as it was mildly disingenuous. Scott thinks about everything; he is among the most socially aware athletes, a 33-year-old who ponders the world and his place in it. "Scotty's a thinker," says Dr.�Bob Niedermayer, their father, who also was on the ice for the celebration. (The Niedermayers have been divorced since Scott and Rob were teenagers.) "Very organized." And having played on four NHL champions, more than any other active player, Scott did not plot the Cup's path--he is captain, not social director--but was keenly aware of protocol. If the laws of physics don't apply to his skating, there was no reason he had to be all Miss Manners about playoff etiquette. With his teammates nudging him on, Rob, the other alternate, skated over to take the Cup.
"Obviously it seemed like the right thing," Scott said after the game of what, in other circumstances, might have appeared to be queue jumping. "I didn't stop to check who had played more games, but I didn't think anyone would hold this against me. I was using a captain's prerogative.
"People sometimes ask you to rate [Cups]. I've never done that, and I'm not going to start now. But you can only dream of passing it to your brother. And to be able to do that is definitely a highlight of my career. It was tough to enjoy the Cup [in Cranbrook] when one has won it and the other hasn't. Now we'll get to keep it for two days." He paused, smiled. "Maybe three." Captain's prerogative.
Niedermayer family fun fact: Scott hasn't called his brother "Rob" and Rob hasn't called his brother "Scott" for maybe 17 years. Rob is "Cliff" to Scott, and Scott is "Norm" to Rob. "I had a friend who was calling his buddy Norman, which I thought was a horrible name, so I started calling my brother that," Rob says. "And with him being Norm, my friends started calling me Cliffie from Cheers."
On the brothers' own terms, then, the Ducks' sprint through the playoffs was the Norman Conquest--with a sturdy assist from Cliff. In Game�5 of the second-round series against Vancouver, Rob wallpapered Canucks rookie Jannik Hansen, who coughed up the puck along the boards, allowing Scott to fire a 45-footer past a surprised Roberto Luongo for a series-winning double overtime goal. In Game�2 of the Western Conference finals in Detroit, on Mother's Day, Rob made a neat pass to a pinching Scott, who scored another overtime game-winner. Said general manager Brian Burke after the match, "Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Niedermayer." And in the clincher against the Senators, Rob, who scored five goals during the regular season, scored his fifth of the playoffs while Scott assisted with a memorable dressing-room speech.
After the Ducks had allowed Ottawa to twice creep within a goal during the second period--"That period was a mess, a real gong show," Rob said--Scott calmed his suddenly jittery teammates with a straight but soothing talk. For once in his singularly decorated career (he is the only person to have won a world junior championship, a Memorial Cup, a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal, a world championship and the World Cup) Scott was the most voluble player. And he was a clear choice for the Conn Smythe trophy (the winner with the fewest playoff points by a skater--three goals and eight assists--since Canadiens defenseman Serge Savard in the 1969 playoffs), underscoring his place among hockey nobility. Lord Stanley of Preston, meet Lord Scott of Cranbrook.