January 14, 2016
It could not have been easy for Rob Niedermayer.
His whole hockey life was seemingly lived in the shadows of his Hall of Famer brother, Scott. The great defenseman was one of the most talented players in the game. And, of course, he is hockey's winningest man, winning including four Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003, 2007), two Olympic gold medals (2002, 2010), gold at the 2004 World Championship and gold at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey as well as Memorial Cup and World Junior titles as a junior player.
Rob, younger by a little more than year, followed along and became a very good player himself, but he seemingly never lived up to expectations cast upon him simply because of his last name.
"He was a great student, he won the Memorial Cup, he was the MVP of the Memorial Cup, he won all kinds of awards," said Rob. "People would look at me and say, 'Why can't you be as good as your brother?' "
A top-five draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 1993, Rob scored 26 goals in his third season with the team. That was also the year the Panthers went on their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup final, losing to the Colorado Avalanche.
A knee and groin injury set him back soon thereafter, and he never emerged as a top power center. He was a powerful skater but more of a natural passer than a drive-the-net shooter.
The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel even declared Rob to be a draft bust.
"Could it have been true? Was Rob a bust at age 20? "It was the low point of my career," he said. "It got to where I said, 'Can I play?' I had a real negative feeling when I came to the rink,and it showed on the ice. I couldn't give up the puck fast enough. I had no confidence."
In 2001 Niedermayer was traded to Calgary for Valeri Bure and Jason Wiemer. It was a rocky start for Niedermayer in Calgary, as unhappy Flames fans booed him as they expected him to be more of a top end scorer.
But, as Niedermayer explains, he was assigned a defensive role by coach Darryl Sutter and began excelling in it.
"When Darryl took over, I think he was pretty black-and-white about what I was supposed to do," Niedermayer said. "He said, 'This is your role. When the coaches kind of spell it out for you, you have to accept it."
Bryan Murray, manager of the Anaheim Ducks, was one of the few to note Niedermayer's strong play in the defensive role. He traded for Niedermayer at the trade deadline in 2003.
"Rob Niedermayer is a huge man, strong on his feet. Good skater. Very willing to do whatever the coach asks him to do. And playoff time, that's when he's most noticed," said Murray.
Niedermayer proved his new boss correct, as he became a two-way tower of strength along the boards in that postseason. And he chipped in three goals and 10 points as the Ducks improbably advanced to the Stanley Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils, Scott's team.
Of course Scott's team won, leaving Rob back in the shadows yet again.
"You dream of winning the Stanley Cup, and both of us wanted it very much," Rob recalled. "And yet here was my brother standing in the way of my goal. It was a pretty tough situation."
Rob's mother, Carol, a retired school teacher, openly cheered for Rob only because Scott had already won.
"It makes perfect sense to me," said Scott.
Two years later the brothers made things a whole lot easier for mom and dad, Bob, a doctor. Scott joined Rob in Anaheim as a free agent. This time the brothers worked in tandem in bringing the Stanley Cup to California. And though Scott got lots of the media attention, Rob also played a significant role in the post-season. He was a force throughout the spring, joining linemates Samuel Pahlsson and Travis Moen in shutting down opponents' high-scoring lines.
Rob, 32, also had five goals and 10 points, including a goal in the Cup-clinching Game 5.
"April and May are Rob Niedermayer's months," Ducks General Manager Brian Burke said. "His whole career, he's been a money player. When the game is more important, he plays better."
Needless to say, winning the Stanley Cup was the highlight of Rob's career.
"I don't think anything in my career will ever top Scott passing me the Stanley Cup!"
And even though he had won every championship a hockey player could win, winning the Stanley Cup with his brother was Scott's career highlight as well.
Niedermayer continued playing in Anaheim through to 2009. He made brief appearances in New Jersey and Buffalo before leaving the NHL in 2011. He retired with 1153 career games played, 186 goals, 283 assists and 469 points.
Rob is married to rock legend Barney Bentall's daughter Jessica.