(July 14, 2003) This is not a story about an ordinary Joe. In fact, this man is rather extraordinary. His name is Joe Nieuwendyk.
Joe is one of but a handful of NHL players to have won the Stanley Cup with three different teams. The Oshawa, Ontario native won the Stanley Cup in 1989 as a member of the Calgary Flames, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable playoff performer when his Dallas Stars captured the Cup in 1999 and played an integral role with the Devils this Spring when New Jersey collected hockey's most cherished trophy. Only five other players have accomplished the same feat since the NHL's formation Gord Pettinger (Rangers in 1933, Red Wings in 1937 and Bruins in 1939), Al Arbour (with the Wings in 1954, Chicago in 1961 and as a Leaf in 1962 and '64), Larry Hillman (with the '55 Red Wings, '64 and '67 vintage Maple Leafs and as a Canadien in 1969), Claude Lemieux (with Montreal in 1986, New Jersey in 1995 and Colorado in 1996) and Mike Keane (Montreal in 1993, Colorado in 1996 and with the Stars in 1999).
But Nieuwendyk was injured in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Senators and was forced to sit out each of the games in the Stanley Cup final. As classy a player as Joe is, he is a fierce competitor, and having to watch the team with which he has lived and died over the past two seasons was a terrific challenge. "I have been as emotionally involved in this series not playing as some guys who are playing," Joe stated. "I feel a part of it and the guys have made me feel a part of it."
Nieuwendyk received the Stanley Cup late on Thursday night after the trophy had spent the afternoon on the set of the (bam!) 'Emeril Live.' Emeril Lagasse is a world-renowned chef with several restaurants and cookbooks to his credit. On Thursday afternoon, Emeril mentioned, "Mmm, there is nothing better than a hot bowl of chili on a cold winter night when you're watching hockey!" With that, out strode Devils Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko with the Stanley Cup, which they placed on the counter beside Emeril. Captain Stevens and the recently retired Daneyko gave the celebrated chef a Devils' sweater with his name on the back. Although Scott Stevens is considered by his teammates a very good cook ("Especially when it comes to game," mentioned Daneyko), his colleague is not quite as adept in the kitchen. "At one time, I could make a pretty mean Kraft Dinner with wieners," laughed Daneyko. "Now, I'm strictly on grill duty during barbecues."
Mike Bolt, the Cup's Keeper at the moment, drove the four and a half hours from New York City and arrived in Ithaca, New York at midnight Thursday. Riding shotgun was his companion, the Stanley Cup. Joe Nieuwendyk had decided to spend his day with the Stanley Cup visiting Cornell University. Nieuwendyk starred with the Big Red during three seasons, the latter two (1985-86 and 1986-87) in which he led the team in scoring and was chosen to the NCAA East First All-Star Team. Joe was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as top collegiate athlete in 1987.
The Stanley Cup spent the night in the Nieuwendyk's boathouse on Cayuga Lake, then was prepared for an itinerary jammed with activities. First, to the Falls Restaurant and Tavern, where all the locals go for breakfast, then back to the house where Joe, his wife Tina and their kids Tyra and Jackson had their portraits taken with the Stanley Cup. A few friends joined the festivities, including Mike Schafer, Cornell's hockey coach. A limousine then took the party to the Glenwood Pines Restaurant where Joe happily posed for a stream of photos with fans and the Stanley Cup. The 'World Eating Tour' continued with a brilliant meal of Sugarcane Grilled Shrimp and Cinnamon Grilled Pork Chops at the BoatYard Grill, right on the water at the end of Inlet Island.
|Nieuwendyk on his local
eatery tour with the Cup.
But the reason Nieuwendyk is an extraordinary Joe is not because of his abilities on the ice. Joe is recognized as one of the most selfless players in the National Hockey League. In 1989, he was selected winner of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership on and off the ice. So therefore, it should come as no surprise that Nieuwendyk would devote much of his time with the Stanley Cup to a benevolent cause. Last weekend was Cornell Alumni Weekend in Ithaca, and Joe saw the opportunity to share his time with his alma mater. But the visit with the Stanley Cup had a much greater relevance for Nieuwendyk.
On April 24 this year, Mike Tallman was playing a game of pick-up hockey when he crashed into the boards. Only this time, he didn't get up. Mike suffered a spinal cord injury and is paralyzed below the waist. Nieuwendyk and Tallman, an Ithaca native, played together with the Big Red in 1986-87 and have remained friends. Tallman is being treated at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, New Jersey. In a letter to Cornell alumni, coach Mike Schafer wrote, "Mike is one of the toughest and most determined individuals you will ever meet. Rest assured, Mike will meet this most difficult challenge with the same fierce determination he has brought to all of his past endeavors."
Joe Nieuwendyk brought the Stanley Cup to Ithaca, not merely for Alumni Weekend, but predominantly to help raise funds for the Tallman Family Fund. Money raised provides Mike Tallman, his wife Kristen and their daughter Brodie with the resources to purchase a wheelchair and to make the necessary renovations to their home for Mike's rehabilitation. But even Joe was shocked to step out of the car at the Lynah Arena at 7PM to see 3,500 people in line to see him and the Stanley Cup. Admission was $5 for the game and to meet Joe Nieuwendyk with the Stanley Cup. The bad news is, Joe didn't see any of the game. The amazing news is that the lineup lasted for three and a half hours, and every penny of the admission went to the Tallman Family Fund. By the way, the alumni game featured Cornell players from several decades, including each of the school's ten ECAC championships and both of The Big Red's national championships 1967 and 1970.
|Nieuwendyk (front row, second from the right) is accompanied by fellow Cornell Alumni at the Lynch Arena.
On the ice during intermission, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer introduced Joe Nieuwendyk and the Stanley Cup to a thunderous ovation. After all, Nieuwendyk is a Cornell Hall of Famer as well as a three-time Stanley Cup winner and an Olympic gold medal winner from the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He actually had his gold medal hanging around the Stanley Cup.
Once the game was over and each of the fans had visited with Joe and the Cup, Nieuwendyk decided to visit Dunbar's, the bar at which he hung out during his days at Cornell. Not much had changed the beer was still cold and the graffiti was still on the walls. Except, on Friday night, 500 people were jammed shoulder to shoulder to be in the same proximity as the Devils' star and the Stanley Cup. Before anyone realized, it was 3AM and time to pack the Cup up for the night back at Joe's home. It was time for the Stanley Cup to head off on the highway for its day with Brian Gionta.
On Wednesday, the Stanley Cup Journal chronicles the trophy's weekend visit to Greece.
Kevin Shea has never won the Stanley Cup, but is happy to write about hockey history from his home in Toronto.