Former Calgary Flames captain Joe Nieuwendyk gets honoured with his Forever a Flame induction prior to the Calgary Flames game against the New York Islanders Friday night at the Saddledome.
Photograph by: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald
Imagine walking out of the Montreal Forum with the Stanley Cup.
Imagine having reached hockey’s pinnacle with your best friend.
Imagine you’re only 22 years old.
“It was interesting for Gary Roberts and me … you’re thinking, ‘Life is good — we’re going to do this many times,’ ” Joe Nieuwendyk says of the Calgary Flames’ championship run of 1989. “When I look back now, you realize how difficult it was. The greatest lesson for me was to see what it meant to some of our older guys. Especially Lanny (McDonald). But (also) Jim Peplinski. Timmy Hunter. Brad McCrimmon. Joey Mullen. It was a big deal.
“We were young, but to see those lessons made me realize … because, after that, I went 10 years without tasting it again or even getting close.”
Nieuwendyk, of course, did again sip from the Stanley Cup. Two more times, in fact.
No one has to remind Flames coach Bob Hartley.
“Joe Nieuwendyk, I can tell you, killed us on many occasions,” says Hartley, whose Colorado Avalanche faced Nieuwendyk’s Dallas Stars more than once in post-season feuds. “I can see the goal many times — walking out of the corner, beating our defenceman one on one, putting a backhand past Patrick Roy in OT, I believe, in Game 5 one year in Dallas. Great playmaker. Great competitor. Great offensive skills.
“For us to be able to be part of his night? It’s quite an honour.”
The honour is Nieuwendyk’s, who — Friday before the game against the New York Islanders — became a member of the Forever A Flame club.
The jerseys of Mike Vernon and McDonald are actually retired.
Al MacInnis was granted first entry into the Forever A Flame program.
“Well, it feels great,” says Nieuwendyk, 47, chatting with reporters hours before the ceremony at the Scotiabank Saddledome. “So much of my early history, my start here with this organization … I’m very grateful. A lot of memories. A lot of former teammates that live in this area. It’s just a classy organization that’s rolling out the red carpet. It’s a little overwhelming.
“I’m thrilled. I see some familiar faces around here and we all shared in that time period of the late ’80s. It was a special moment for all of us. To be Forever A Flame with the three guys that went before me … is a thrill. And I’m sure there’s a handful of guys that are still to come.
“Obviously winning that Cup was real special. But bigger than that was just the feeling that we had within this city, within this Flames family.”
Plenty of Flames alumni were on the ice for the ceremony, including Roberts, who was moved by the night.
“That was pretty cool,” Roberts said. “When I got the invite I called my mom and dad and said ‘I need you again. To look after the kids.’
“I remember the first time we met, sure. We met at the arena (in Whitby). He was an Owl. I was a Wren. One hundred per cent. No lie. Our Squirt teams were named after birds. I lined up across from him. I was the centreman on the Wrens, he was the centreman on the Owls. I won the faceoff. The only faceoff I ever beat him — we were five.
“And I remember Joe tearing up on the line when they were handing the Stanley Cup to Lanny and I said ‘That was easy. How many more of those are we going to win? We’re only 23 buddy.’ I shouldn’t have said it. He went on to win two more. And I didn’t win another one.
“Back then, we thought we’d always be Calgary Flames. And looking back, we were both so lucky to have come to an organization like this when we were young.”
After leaving Calgary in 1995 — in exchange for Jarome Iginla and Corey Millen — Nieuwendyk captured NHL titles in Dallas (1999) and New Jersey (2003).
(As far as being wooed for the Flames’ general-manager vacancy, Nieuwendyk replied: “Well, I’m not here for that. I’m obviously here to be a part of this special event.”)
Compiling 1,126 points, including 564 goals, in 1,257 regular-season appearances — and being the winner of the Calder and Conn Smythe trophies — he has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 2010, Cornell University retired that familiar No. 25 sweater.
“What a great career,” says Hartley. “It’s great to see those players come back … where they started. Joe won a Stanley Cup here. We always kind of take this game for granted. But when you see the Joe Nieuwendyks around … many times, I’ll walk on the bench and see the alumni play and I look at those pictures (of the championship team). It’s great.
“Someone before us, they traced that line (of success) — and Joe Nieuwendyk did it in a classy way.”
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