NEWARK, N.J. — Saying it felt right to be wearing a Devils jersey again, a humble Scott Niedermayer saw his No. 27 jersey retired on Friday night by the New Jersey franchise that he helped win three of his four Stanley Cups.
"It was an honor to be a New Jersey Devil," Niedermayer said near the end of the 35-minute ceremony held more than an hour before the Devils played the Dallas Stars. "These memories, I will cherish the rest of my life."
The swift-skating Niedermayer is only the third Devil to have his jersey retired by the franchise, joining fellow defensemen Scott Stevens (No. 4) and Ken Daneyko (No. 3), the trio who along with goaltender Martin Brodeur formed the backbone of those NHL championship teams in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
Brodeur, Stevens, Daneyko and former assistant coach Larry Robinson combined to give Niedermayer his Devils jersey during the ceremony. The only other member of all three teams who was not present was forward Sergei Brylin, who is playing in Russia.
"To put this jersey on again feels right," Niedermayer said, drawing a roar from the packed crowd at the Prudential Center.
Niedermayer was accompanied at the ceremony by his parents, his wife, Lisa, and their four children and his brother Rob, who joined Scott in winning a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, and played with the Devils in 2009-10.
During a short speech that was interrupted by cheers of 'Scotty,' 'Nieder-mayer' and 'Nieder,' the Edmonton, Alberta native thanked the Devils owners, general manager Lou Lamoriello, who drafted him third overall in 1991, his teammates, the fans and even the Stars, who showed a lot of class sitting on the bench for the ceremony.
"We had so much depth on those teams, I think sometimes it allows a player of Scott's caliber to get lost a little bit," said Stevens, the captain on all three Stanley Cup teams who was the first player in team history to have his jersey retired. "But he had it all, and he was able to develop at a time when the culture was changing under (former coach) Jacques (Lemaire) and Larry, and we just continued to build confidence. It's a good feeling.
"There were some bumps along the way, like there are with all teams, but we ended up becoming a championship team. Scott, obviously, had a lot to do with that."
The ceremony came two decades after Niedermayer was drafted to play in a place that he was clueless about .
"I didn't even know where New Jersey was," Niedermayer said. "I had no idea what I was getting into. I actually had a green-and-red Devils' jersey when I was a kid and I remember watching one playoff run (1987) where I really got caught up in the excitement. I also knew some of the players. But when I got drafted, I was totally young and green.
"It was a whole new world to me."
But Stevens and Daneyko would become Niedermayer's mentors, and helped pave the way for what figures to be a Hall-of-Fame career. He will be eligible after next season.
"I got the chance to watch and learn from those veteran defensemen," Niedermayer said. "I got to room with both of them at one point. I had very little pressure or expectations and because I played with those guys, it made it a lot easier. They were both great teammates and friends. I was never afraid to go onto the ice with them. It's a great honor for me to join those guys, for sure."
Lamoriello, who is also the Devils' president, could have never predicted that Niedermayer would develop into a three-time All-Star and Norris Trophy recipient (2004) as the top defenseman in the NHL.
"I don't think anyone could have imagined the success Scottie had," Lamoriello said. "You never know how things would work out. He absolutely exceeded our expectations. He's a special player, but he's just as good of a person as he was a player."
Lamoriello said that it's no coincidence that the first three Devils to have their uniform numbers retired were all defenseman. Not to mention, the obvious next one to go to the rafters, future Hall of Fame goalkeeper Martin Brodeur, were all on the defensive side.
"I never really thought of it, but we've become synonymous with our defense," Lamoriello said. "That's the way we think and that's the way we are. It's just the way it worked out."
In 13 seasons with the Devils, Niedermayer collected 101 goals and 364 assists, posting career bests of 14 goals twice in 1998 and his final year in New Jersey (2004).
After that season, Niedermayer signed as a free agent with the Ducks and played his final five years there, leading Anaheim to the Cup in 2007, his fourth and final one. He won the Stanley Cup along with his brother, Rob. Niedermayer continues to do some part-time public relations and consulting with Anaheim after he retired in 2010.
But Niedermayer was happy to be back in New Jersey Friday.
"When I got the call from Lou that they were doing this, I was honored," Niedermayer said. "It really meant a lot to me. The time I spent here was amazing. We were able to win championships. It brings back so many of the memories. It's hitting home now. I'm seeing so many familiar faces. I'm sure the emotions are going to start to flow. It's a great honor. Joining this organization was great. It was better than any of my wildest dreams."
Niedermayer vividly recalls the first of the Devils' Stanley Cup championships in 1995. In Game 2 of the final series vs. heavily favored Detroit, he scored a memorable goal in which he skated end to end, and fired a shot off the back boards, which caromed right back to his stick. He then deposited it past Red Wings goaltender Mike Vernon en route to a 4-2 win. The Devils, who trailed in that game, 2-1, at the time of the goal, won the series in a dominant four-game sweep.
"I was still young enough at the time that I really didn't appreciate it," Niedermayer said. "I was just out there, having a good time and we were fortunate to win a championship that early in my career."
The coast-to-coast goal was shown several times on the jumbotron's highlight reel.
"Everyone loves scoring a goal. Winning that first championship was amazing. We truly believed in ourselves. Skating always allowed me to have some success. It would sometimes get me into trouble, but it would also get me out of trouble. My skating was my strength and it helped me in all areas of the game. I took advantage of it when I could."
In 2000, Niedermayer and the Devils defeated Dallas, the same team that was at The Rock for the ceremony, in six games to win the Cup. In 2003, the team's last championship, he and New Jersey defeated Anaheim, the organization he'd eventually leave for, in seven games.
That season, he was a teammate of Hall-of-Fame forward Joe Nieuwendyk, who is now the general manager of the Stars and was proud to be on hand for such an event.
"There's not many defenseman who play this game, who can seemingly play any style and adjust their game to whatever that team, whatever that season called for," Nieuwendyk said. "He was one of those types of players.
"Scotty is one of the best defensemen I ever played with. There's no question."
Niedermayer retired young. And at age 38, he does not regret walking away from the game last year.
"I open the gate for my kids to get on the ice and I pick up the pucks after practice," Niedermayer said of his new career. "I'm helping my sons' teams, coaching a little, and I enjoy that. It's one of the reasons why I decided to retire was to be with my sons.
"I definitely miss the game, but I enjoy doing what I do now."