ANAHEIM, Calif. - Less than four months after leading Canada to Olympic gold, Scott Niedermayer felt he could leave hockey on top.
After all, that's where the Anaheim Ducks' smooth-skating defenceman spent an incredible amount of his hockey career.
Niedermayer ended his 18-year NHL career Tuesday, retiring after winning four Stanley Cup titles and a wealth of medals and trophies earned everywhere from junior hockey to the Vancouver Games.
And after several flirtations with retirement in recent years, Niedermayer says he's "100 per cent committed" to his decision.
"We were joking on the way in that maybe I changed my mind on the way here," Niedermayer said.
Niedermayer will stay with the organization as a consultant to general manager Bob Murray.
The 36-year-old Niedermayer had 172 goals and 568 assists in the NHL, winning one Norris Trophy as the top defenceman while perennially holding a spot among the league's elite. After starting out as a hotshot teenage blue-liner for the New Jersey Devils, he spent the last five seasons with the Ducks, leading them through multiple post-season runs with flecks of grey and white in his playoff beard.
"I've been very lucky," Niedermayer said, reading from several sheets of handwritten notes at a news conference at the Honda Center with his wife and four sons in the front row. "I've had a lot of help and been supported by many great people, and I've made a lot of great friends. I couldn't have asked to be part of two better organizations than the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks. Both have treated me very well and have always been committed to winning."
And did they ever win with Niedermayer eating up minutes and running their offences from their blue line.
Niedermayer likely has won more championships at more levels of hockey than any player of his generation. In addition to his two Olympic gold medals and four Stanley Cup rings, he won a Memorial Cup title in junior hockey with the Kamloops Blazers and gold medals in the IIHF world championships and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
"It wasn't easy at the start, but I was put in situations to be able to have some success, and it's paid off," Niedermayer said. "What my legacy will be will probably be different for each person I've crossed paths with. I've done my best, and the teams I've been with have been the priority for me. That was preached to me from early on. Even in youth hockey, my parents would talk a lot about that."
Niedermayer capped his career with the gold-medal victory in his native British Columbia.
He only missed the playoffs twice as an NHL regular—in 1996 with New Jersey and again this spring with the Ducks, when he compiled a career-worst minus-9 rating for the struggling club.
Niedermayer has considered walking away from hockey for several years. After the Ducks won their only Stanley Cup title in 2007, he skipped the first 28 games of the following season while contemplating retirement before deciding to return.
While Niedermayer still will have a voice in the organization, coach Randy Carlyle has no idea how Anaheim will recover from losing its second cornerstone defenceman in two years, following Chris Pronger's departure last July.
"He was a player who came in here and performed at a very high level, represented our hockey club, led our hockey club both on and off the ice, and was a consummate pro," Carlyle said. "Now the torch will be passed to younger players like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan to lead other players who are coming into the fold."
Niedermayer has been among the best offensive defencemen of his era ever since he scored 40 points as a 19-year-old rookie with the Devils in the 1992-93 season. He won his first Stanley Cup in 1995 before adding championships in New Jersey in 2000 and 2003.
He won the Norris in 2004 and signed with Anaheim after the NHL lockout, choosing to play alongside his brother, Rob.
His arrival immediately elevated the Ducks, who won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with Niedermayer and Pronger playing nearly 30 minutes per game apiece, thoroughly controlling many games in alternating shifts on the blue line. Niedermayer won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the post-season MVP with 11 points in 21 games.
"To be honest, I never had a list (of goals)," Niedermayer said. "I mean, how do you say you want to win four Stanley Cups, or two Olympic medals, or things like that? I didn't when I was 14 or 15. Of course, you dream of playing in the NHL, but that still seems like a dream as well. My goal was just to get on the ice and work as hard as I could to help the team, and I tried to stick with that."
The Ducks traded Pronger to Philadelphia and allowed defenceman Francois Beauchemin to leave for Toronto last summer, and Anaheim immediately suffered. After getting off to a terrible start, the Ducks failed to make the playoffs despite having eight Olympians on their roster, finishing 11th in the Western Conference with 89 points.
"It's another time to change the makeup of the hockey club," Carlyle said. "I have my opinions, but in the end, it's management's decision to go out and fill some of the spots that are vacant. And defence is one of them."
AP freelance writer Joe Resnick contributed to this report.