I’ve been a bit behind in my hockey lately and I was sad to discover that my favorite hockey player Joe Nieuwendyk had recently retired because of back issues.
Nieuwendyk was part of the Dallas Stars roster that became perennial Stanley Cup contenders and finally won it all in '99, with Joe getting the Playoff MVP Award.
I was a rabid Stars fan around that time. There are still vivid recollections of staying up late in my dorm room in Lubbock trying to listen to games being streamed on the internets because there was no TV coverage (the bane of U.S. hockey fans). Even more conveniently, the Stars finally won the Championship in triple overtime at 2:00 in the morning. I was so bleary-eyed that my only reaction was a brief fist in the air and then clicking off the TV.
Nieuwendyk had come off serious injuries to both his knees the previous season, raising speculation that his ability to play the game was gone. It was a classic underdog story.
From the start of the playoff run, I could sense his focus and determination to win. That playoff season was a rollercoaster ride of triple overtime games and a memorable seven game clash against the Avalanche, with Nieuwendyk scoring game-winning goals in several.
Mike Modano will always be considered the superior talent and the face of the Stars, but Nieuwendyk to me was the heart. I was angry to hear that he was traded a few years later, but happy that he won another cup in New Jersey and a Gold Medal playing for Canada.
What a class act and a fearless player. He’ll be missed.
A better article on Joe’s impact in Dallas can be found here (but you need to sign-up though it’s free).