|By IRA PODELL|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 01 February 2008 22:24|
Suiting up for All-Star weekend was hardly in Scott Niedermayer's plans when he decided to delay retirement and return to the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in December.
Scoring a goal for the Western Conference ... well that thought was really off the charts.
If there was any question whether making a comeback was the right decision, it is gone from Niedermayer's mind.
``I've enjoyed being out there competing and trying to help our team,'' the 34-year-old defenseman said. ``That sort of validates my decision, that feeling that this is where I want to be.
``It was a just a gut feeling I had. I was ready to come back and I wanted to be on the ice with my teammates and out there meeting the challenges of trying to defend a championship. It took a little bit of time to get that feeling, but watching a few games and as the season progresses it got stronger.''
Injuries and defections opened up several All-Star spots in the days leading up to the game, and Niedermayer received one despite recording only two goals and nine assists in 19 games.
He made the selection look even better when his second-period goal cut the West's deficit to 5-3. It wasn't quite enough as the East went on to win 8-7.
Still, the experience was totally positive for Niedermayer, who has given a lift to the Ducks upon his return.
``Everybody has been playing hard and trying to play as a team which is important,'' Niedermayer said of the Ducks, who entered the weekend three points off the pace in the Pacific Division. ``You don't have success without doing that. I don't think I really have too much to do with that. Just good timing on my part really.''
That is typically understated for the steady and humble defenseman, the 2004 Norris Trophy winner and a four-time Stanley Cup champion.
His impact on the Ducks is hardly lost on his teammates.
``Everybody knows the story behind him, the accolades and the kind of player he is,'' fellow defenseman Chris Pronger said. ``Just having him back in the room, having that resolved and really just having that type of player back ... we welcomed him with open arms.''
Now with Niedermayer and the return this week of heart-and-soul forward Teemu Selanne, who also said no to retirement after thinking long and hard about it, the Ducks could be setting themselves up for another run at the Cup.
Although the names are the same, this version of the Ducks is not looking to mimic the makeup of last season's club - just the results.
``I think we're trying to create our own identity,'' Pronger said. ``I don't think we're really trying to reinvent the same team or reinvent the wheel.''
BYE-BYE BLAKE? With the Los Angeles Kings languishing at the bottom of the NHL standings and his two-year deal close to expiring, veteran Rob Blake might soon be saying goodbye again to Southern California.
The 38-year-old defenseman, who spent most of his first 12 NHL seasons with the Kings before being dealt to Colorado in 2001, didn't expect his return to go quite like this.
Granted free agency after 4 1/2 seasons with the Avalanche, Blake came back to Los Angeles before last season when he signed a two-year deal worth $12 million.
The Kings are dangerously close to missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season, so they could use the veteran defenseman as trade bait before the deadline later this month.
``I signed here for a purpose, to come back and help this organization,'' said Blake, who won a Stanley Cup ring with the Avalanche in 2001. ``That has been my thought from Day One right on through. As far as I'm concerned, that's the direction I take.''
The Kings entered the weekend last in the 15-team Western Conference, 12 points and seven places below the playoff cutoff. A huge rally might be necessary to keep Blake in Los Angeles.
``We've got to establish something with our team, and whenever that starts is as good a time as any,'' Blake said after the Kings earned three points in two games at the start of an eight-game road trip. ``With the points situation and where we're sitting right now, we're a long way out. We haven't been in the playoffs in five years and we haven't had any meaningful games.
``We've got to create that atmosphere around here.''
OLYMPIC-SIZED QUEST: Jim Craig is on a mission.
The goalie for the U.S. team that won gold at the 1980 Olympics is spearheading an awareness campaign about Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, the disease that killed his father.
``It's called the 'Silent Killer,''' said Craig, who attended Tuesday night's Buffalo at Tampa Bay game. ``That's why it is so important that we have an awareness program now. Fifteen-thousand people die of this a year, 250,000 don't even know they have it, and it's totally curable.''
Craig only became aware of what killed his father after the fact.
``Your question was the best question. How did you find out your father had it? He died,'' Craig said. ``I had it checked, and everything was fine. Everybody should have it checked. It's painless. What we need to do is make people aware of it.''
Approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. each year are diagnosed with AAA, the swelling or ballooning of the abdominal aorta. Left untreated, it can lead to a rupture, which is the 13th leading cause of death in the country.
``If you're 60 years old, you smoke, you drink or have high blood pressure, you're at risk,'' Craig said. ``If a family member has had an aneurysm, you're really at risk. So what you do, you go get an ultrasound. If the ultrasound says you have an aneurysm, they watch it. If it gets too big, they fix it.''
Craig's stop in Tampa was part of ``Ultimate SAAAVE'' awareness campaign
BUGGING OUT: The New York Islanders returned from the All-Star break holding onto a playoff spot and fighting off the flu.
A lackluster loss to the lowly Los Angeles Kings dropped them to the wrong side of the postseason chase and did nothing to cure the ills of the dressing room.
No fewer than five Islanders were hit by the bug this week, and forward Ruslan Fedotenko and defenseman Andy Sutton missed the first two games after the break. All-star goalie Rick DiPietro dressed for the loss to the Kings, but sat on the bench as Wade Dubielewicz's backup.
Mike Sillinger and Bryan Berard missed a practice, but made it to the ice on Thursday night. Berard even scored, yet the Islanders were beaten 3-1 by Los Angeles - the team with the fewest points in the NHL.
``I don't know if it was the flu bug or what, but we were playing just unacceptable,'' Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. ``It was lethargic and there was no energy, and you can't win hockey games playing like that.''
The defeat dropped the Islanders to last place in the Atlantic Division and into ninth in the tightly bunched Eastern Conference.
``You don't want to use (the flu) as an excuse because you have to find ways to dig down,'' Berard said. ``It's no excuse to lose like that at home.''
On the other side of the rink, Kings coach Marc Crawford seemed impressed by New York's effort. Maybe that was a product of watching a lot of losing hockey from his own club this season.
``They've outworked a lot of teams this year, and they were very close to outworking us,'' he said. ``I thought they worked their tails off. We know there is some sickness on that team right now and they battled like crazy.''