Christmas wish turns out to be Niedermayer

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

The question was plaguing the Anaheim Ducks all season.

Would Scott Niedermayer return to the lineup before the end of the year?

Just before Christmas, the team got their answer. And yesterday Niedermayer was in the lineup for the first time against the Edmonton Oilers.

"It's big for our hockey team," said Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger. "With all the questions about it, I think we were a little distracted by it, but now that he's back, we kind of turned that corner and now picking up Dougie (Weight) helps solidify that second line and now we're moving in the right direction now."

Last night Niedermayer played his fifth game for the Ducks this season.

WINNING RECORD

Heading into the contest the Ducks were 3-0-1 with their all-star defenceman in the lineup.

"I'm probably at around 80% right now," Niedermayer said. "You can train all you like and do all the physical things, but it's one thing to be out in a game so you have your head in the game, know where to position yourself, where to look and things like that. That's the most difficult thing."

Last season, Niedermayer helped the Ducks capture their first Stanley Cup.

It was his fourth to go along with Memorial Cup championships, World Junior Hockey Championship gold, World Championship gold and Olympic gold.

Following the season, Niedermayer contemplated retirement, but the Ducks left the door open for his return.

When he did decide to come back a couple of weeks ago, the team had to make a trade to free up space under the salary cap, which brought Weight over from St. Louis.

"It's what I wanted to do. It's a decision I had made, I had a change of heart as time passed and I'm pretty thankful for the organization to allow me that time," Niedermayer said.

"I wasn't mentally prepared to start the year. I didn't want to be there and I didn't think I should be there if I didn't want to. But I feel good now, I'm excited to be here and that's important."

Despite winning practically everything there is for a hockey player to win, Niedermayer missed the game.

PART OF THE GAME

"It's hard to pick one or two things, but some of the things I missed were things that I would be complaining about in game 50 or 60 of the regular season," he said. "It's all in perspective of where you've been I guess. You learn to appreciate maybe some of the things that maybe aren't the most comfortable things, but are part of playing in the NHL."

"The difference between good players and great players is that great players make other players around them better," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "He has that ability. He's not only going to help them from his position in the lineup, he's going to help everyone else around him.

"There is probably seven or eight players in the league that you can build 15 years around and he's probably one of them."


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