SUN Hockey Pool

Niedermayer in need

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Scott Niedermayer's 2002 Olympic gold medal has been put under the supervision of his mother Carol, who has tucked away the cherished keepsake in a safety deposit box.

Might there be room for a second one in there, even if big names such as Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman aren't part of Canada's quest to repeat?

Niedermayer, the defending Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's top defenceman, certainly sounds like a man who thinks Team Canada can overcome the recent losses of those two respected superstars.

"Once the team is named (on Dec. 21), I think you'll still see quite a few guys who were on that winning (2002) team in Salt Lake," said Niedermayer, whose Anaheim Mighty Ducks meet the Maple Leafs tonight at the Air Canada Centre. "We are still going to be a strong team to deal with.

"Even if Mario and Steve are not there, look at guys like Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Chris Pronger. They've won big games and went through the experience of Salt Lake.

"Hopefully,I'm selected."

Not to worry, Scott. We suspect Team Canada officials already have stitched your name on the back of a jersey.

"The Olympics are so much fun, but it's going to be a lot different experience in Europe. If I go, it will be exciting."

Niedermayer knows what it is like to be on the top of the hockey world.

Several years ago, he was featured in a famous photo in which he stood on the peak of a mountain near his home in Cranbrook, B.C., and held the Stanley Cup over his head.

It was one of three times that he won the Cup with the New Jersey Devils.

Nevertheless, the time had come for a change in his life, both on and off the ice, this past summer.

Turning down a lucrative offer from the Devils, Niedermayer opted to sign a multi-year deal with the Mighty Ducks. Part of the allure was the opportunity to play with brother Rob, who also was inked as a free agent by incoming general manager Brian Burke.

The Ducks have endured some growing pains, but come to Toronto on a bit of a high after defeating the Canadiens 5-3 on Saturday in Montreal.

"I feel both myself and the team could do better," Scott Niedermayer said. "We've given up some leads and we need to get confidence.

"(Leaving New Jersey) was a tough decision to make. But it's fun having Rob around. He comes over to our (Newport Beach) house for dinner.

"In past years I might only have seen him once or twice during the season."

REELING ROBERTO

Considered a shoo-in to be one of Canada's Olympic goalies at the start of the season, Roberto Luongo's inconsistent play has cast some doubts concerning his inclusion on the 23-man roster.

"They know what I can do," Luongo said of Team Canada officials. "It would be a shame if I wouldn't make the team because of a few bad weeks."

It's obvious Luongo misses his former goaltending coach, Clint Malarchuk, who was replaced with Phil Myre at the start of the season. Luongo and Myre have not always seen eye to eye.

NIK WHO?

As for the Olympic goaltending situation with Team USA, John Grahame of the Tampa Bay Lightning seems to be peaking at the right time.

Grahame is serving notice that he would like to challenge the New York Islanders' Rick DiPietro for the starters' job after stringing together nine consecutive wins, eclipsing the Tampa Bay mark held by Nikolai Khabibulin.

"We try not to have individual records on this team," Grahame said after Tampa's 4-3 win over Nashville on Saturday. "I think that's what makes us successful."

SURGING SHARK

The 12 Days of Christmas have come early for the San Jose Sharks.

In the 12 days since Joe Thornton was acquired in a blockbuster deal from the Boston Bruins, the Sharks have reeled off five consecutive victories. Thornton expected to be successful in his new surroundings, but even the St. Thomas native has been caught off-guard by the impact he has had on the franchise.

"I just came in hoping to help the team win some games," said Thornton, who has 12 points since coming to San Jose.

As most hockey poolies will tell you, Thornton's arrival has caused the point total of winger Jonathan Cheechoo, his new linemate, to balloon.

"He's a gifted passer," Cheechoo said.

"He always gives it to you flat. You just have to tee it up."

THE WEEK AHEAD

Two Canadian Olympic hopefuls, Curtis Joseph and Jose Theodore, face off against each other when the Phoenix Coyotes visit the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow ... The NHL's board of governors will convene Wednesday and Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz., where it likely will discover that the 2006-07 salary cap is expected to be higher than the $39-million US this season ... Paul Kariya makes his final push to land an Olympic spot, although he is said to be on the outside looking in. "(Canadian officials) had better keep him on their lists," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.


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