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Back problems forced Joe Nieuwendyk out of NHL but he has no regrets

The Canadian Press
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Canada\'s Joe Nieuwendyk. (CPimages /Tom Hanson) Author: The Hockey News

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Back problems forced Joe Nieuwendyk out of NHL but he has no regrets

The Canadian Press
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Standing on the ice watching a cherished Calgary Flames teammate hoist the Stanley Cup in 1989 came to mind first. "Seeing what it meant to somebody like Lanny McDonald to go out the way he did, that was inspirational," Nieuwendyk recalled. The second Stanley Cup ring earned, in 1999 with the Dallas Stars, rolled out of the memory banks next.

"Having been out (of a championship celebration) for 10 years then to see a franchise build like we did in a city like Dallas where hockey wasn't the most popular things in the newspapers, that was a great thrill," said Nieuwendyk.

Being on two Olympic teams was a unique accomplishment, and winning gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City left an indelible impression on the guy teammates adored, and called Newy.

"I've certainly had my share of great times," he said in offering during an NHL-organized conference call Thursday a summary of his most coveted recollections. "Most importantly, it's been the relationships I've made with teammates on different teams around the league.

"I cherish those things the most."

Back pain forced him to quit the Florida Panthers. He'd missed 14 of 29 games this season. The end was inevitable. He'd had knee problems earlier in his career.

"These things accumulate over the years," said the 40-year-old native of Oshawa, Ont. "It's a rough game.

"I really don't have anything to be upset about. I've gone as hard as I can for this long, and I have no regrets."

Nieuwendyk earned a third title ring in 2003 with New Jersey. He finished his career with 564 goals - 19th all-time - and 562 assists in 1,257 games.

He'd like to remain involved in the sport.

"I've thought a little bit about it," he said. "The game has certainly been great to me and if the opportunity was right I'd certainly like to pursue it."

He'll kick back and relax for now. He and his wife, Tina, have three children under the age of five, and they'll look forward to a Christmas holiday together.

In the 1980s, Nieuwendyk helped the Whitby Warriors win the Minto Cup as Canadian junior lacrosse champions. He'd have loved to have had the option to make a career in lacrosse.

"It would have been a tough decision for me," he said. "I loved the game of lacrosse, and I attribute a lot of my success in hockey to lacrosse."

His hand-eye co-ordination made him one of the best boxla players in the country, and helped him become a goal machine in hockey by parking in front of opposition creases and deflecting pucks. But there was no money in lacrosse.

"The opportunity was there for hockey and I jumped all over it," he said. "My brother-in-law (Derek Keenan) is coach and GM of the Portland team (in the National Lacrosse League) and I still keep an eye on what's going on in lacrosse."

His 2003-2004 season with Toronto was a disappointment. He and buddy Gary Roberts were reunited and had high hopes of winning a championship in the blue and white near where they grew up. But after knocking Ottawa off in the first playoff round, the Leafs were eliminated in six games by Philadelphia.

"We had a good group of guys and a competitive team," he recalled. "It was disappointing.

"Sometimes there's a fine line between winning and losing, and it was close with Philadelphia that year. It was one of the greatest experiences in my career, having grown up in the Toronto area and getting to play there. It was a thrill to have the excitement of the (Air Canada Centre) every night. You felt everybody living and breathing hockey in southern Ontario so it was a great experience."

The NHL's future is bright, said Nieuwendyk.

"The game has made great strides with some of the rules changes," he said. "It's opened it up and made it faster.

"The young kids coming in, the Sidney Crosbys and the (Alexander) Ovechkins, it's fun to watch those kids play.

"They play at such a high level and with such great speed that I'll be a fan for many years."

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Back problems forced Joe Nieuwendyk out of NHL but he has no regrets