CALGARY – Joe Nieuwendyk’s fond memories of his time with the Calgary Flames came flooding back on Friday.
The three-time Stanley Cup champion, who started his NHL career with the team back in 1986-’87, was to be honoured by the club later in the evening at Scotiabank Saddledome. He’ll have a banner with his likeness and number (25) hanging in the rafters alongside fellow Forever a Flame honouree Al MacInnis.
“It’s just a classy organization that’s rolling out the red carpet and it’s a little overwhelming,” Nieuwendyk said.
Nieuwendyk spoke to the media on Friday afternoon in advance of the ceremony, which was slated to take place prior to Calgary’s home game against the New York Islanders.
“I’m so grateful to the organization,” said Nieuwendyk, who admitted to getting a little choked up when thinking back to helping the Flames win the Stanley Cup in 1989. “I’ve been told I have two minutes, so hopefully I won’t lose it within two minutes or they’ll kick me off.”
Nieuwendyk won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1988 after his first full season in the league when he scored 51 goals to go with 41 assists in 75 games. He won a Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989.
He will be the second player, after MacInnis, to have the Forever a Flame distinction bestowed upon him. Lanny McDonald and Mike Vernon previously had their numbers retired by the organization.
“I’m thrilled,” said Nieuwendyk. “We all shared in that time period of the late ’80s. It was a special moment for all of us. To be a Forever a Flame with the three guys that have gone before me—with Lanny, Vernie and most recently Al—is a thrill.”
Nieuwendyk was pleased that his family and several of his former teammates, including best friend Gary Roberts, could be on hand for the ceremony.
“It was quite a cast of characters we had back in those days,” he said. “We all feel the same way even though we all moved on and things change and we all continued our careers. You just don’t even have to say much. You just kind of know what we all went through together. It’s a nice bond to have.”
Nieuwendyk had 314 goals and 616 points in 577 career regular-season games with the Flames before he was traded to the Dallas Stars for Corey Millen and Jarome Iginla.
“Even when I left Calgary back in 1995, every time I came back it was a special feeling,” said Nieuwendyk. “You spend as many years as I did here, it stays with you forever.”
Nieuwendyk went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 when he was also awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. He helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City before capturing another Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.
After finishing off his playing career with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers, Nieuwendyk was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. Most recently, he saw his four-year stint as general manager of the Stars come to an end when he was let go at the conclusion of the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
When asked if he would speak to current Calgary interim general manager Brian Burke about a front-office position with the Flames, Nieuwendyk responded: “I’m not here for that. I’m obviously here to be a part of this special event that I’m very grateful for.”
He didn’t rule out the possibility of revisiting the idea in the future.
“Perhaps at some point,” he said. “I’m very happy right now being a dad. I never really took time off after my career, not that I needed too. I was very thankful for the opportunity to stay in front offices. I spent some time with Brian Burke who I have a lot of respect for.
“It’s just been a nice year for me to be around and engaged with my kids and their activities. I’ve had a good time.”