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Class of '11: Nieuwendyk earns place in Hall

Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 9:31 AM / News
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Class of \'11: Nieuwendyk earns place in Hall
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TORONTO -- Joe Nieuwendyk was eligible for the Hall of Fame last year. He didn't make it, but it doesn't matter anymore.

Nieuwendyk, the great two-sport athlete from Whitby, Ont., is now a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hey, the guy did score over 500 goals, register over 1,200 points and win the Stanley Cup in three different decades with three different teams.

Oh, and he was also a heck of a lacrosse player.

Nieuwendyk started his speech by adjusting the microphones. He talked about being blessed in his life because he has so many wonderful people who are responsible for him getting into the hall of fame.

"It simply has been humbling," Nieuwendyk said.

Nieuwendyk rehashed the crossing emotions he was having after receiving his call from the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee in June.

"I was packing to go on a trip to Calgary to pay my last respects to the most caring and kind man I ever had the privilege of meeting in hockey, Harley Hotchkiss," he said. "As I was flying out there I had time to reflect on my own life and all that was important. After seeing so many familiar faces and Harley's wonderful family, it made me realized that tonight is all about friends and teammates."

He thanked his parents, Gord and the late Joanne, who made sacrifices for their four kids -- Rick, Gil, Wendy and Joe.

Joanne died of cancer in 1996, but her passion stays inside of Nieuwendyk. He recalled the time after the Flames won the Cup in Montreal in 1989, when after the game Joanne grabbed Joe's hockey stick and started directly traffic in the streets so the team bus could get through.

"Mom was the nurturer and No. 1 supporter. She was always the hockey mom that led the cheers. I miss her everyday and I know she's proud tonight."

Nieuwendyk had a lot to say about his best friend and former teammate, Gary Roberts, who he grew up with in Whitby, Ont. They played against one another when they were five years old and eventually became teammates.

"When I played my first game with the Flames, Gary was by his side. Twenty years later when I laced 'em up for the final time as a Florida Panther, he was again by my side. He truly is a remarkable person and a terrific friend. I always knew throughout my career that he had my back. He always knew I had his back, too, unless Marty McSorley was chasing him around the ice. In those cases he was on his own."

Nieuwendyk said that he called his parents every night for a month after he went to Cornell because he wanted to come home. He was happy that they made him stick it out in Ithaca, N.Y.

"My dad told me to stick with it and I'm glad that he did because it was there I had an experience that far exceeded anything I could have imagined. Those truly were some of the best years of my life."

After Nieuwendyk played his final game at Cornell, he was with his teamamtes scrounging for money so they could get a pizza. The next night he was in New York City going out to dinner with Lanny McDonald as a member of the Calgary Flames.

"I truly learned what the term, 'Kid, you're in for the full share' meant," he said. "My life in the National Hockey League started."

Nieuwendyk talked at length about Cliff Fletcher, the GM in Calgary who drafted him and then served as his mentor when he decided to start a managerial career.

He thanked McDonald for being his teammate and friend.

"The greatest lesson I received winning the Cup at the age of 22 was to see what it meant to you and some of our wonderful veteran players," he said to McDonald during the speech.

Nieuwendyk thanked Bob Gainey and Tom Hicks for bringing him to Dallas "at a stage of my career where I was asked to provide some of that guidance."

He went on to thank the Devils and Lou Lamoriello, the Maple Leafs for fulfilling his childhood dream of wearing the blue and white, and the Florida Panthers.

"I thank you all for the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the greatest game in the world," he said.

Nieuwendyk then talked about his family, including his wife Tina, who he called "the backbone of our family." He had this to say to his three children: "You all have big dreams. Work hard and follow your dreams, and know that your mom and dad will be there every step of the way to support you just like my mom and dad were."

He nearly broke into tears. Nieuwendyk also had this to say for his son, Jackson.

"My children didn't have an opportunity to see their dad play too much, but this is special to me because hopefully I'll gain some credibility with my son and he'll listen to me when I tell him how to win a faceoff."

Finally, Nieuwendyk closed an emotional speech with this:

"Many people are responsible for me being here tonight. Two things I have realized -- One, five minutes is not enough time to properly thank all of you. And, second, there are simply no words to express how grateful I am to have each and every one of you in my life. Thank you."

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