Hale cheers, fears ex-teammate's return to action

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

It was his first NHL game and David Hale realized just how special of a talent Scott Niedermeyer is.

"He went end-to-end, split the defence and scored," Hale recalled of his then New Jersey Devils teammate. "I remember looking at Paul Martin on the bench, who was supposed to be compared to him, and said, 'That's what you've got to live up to. Good luck.' "

At least Hale's forte is on the defensive side of the game, otherwise he would have had to live up to those standards as a first-round draft choice in New Jersey.

Last night, Hale faced his old teammate for the first time this season when Niedermayer and the Anaheim Ducks faced the Calgary Flames at the Saddledome.

Part of him was thrilled to see that Niedermayer had ended his possible retirement after only a couple of months. At the same time, though, Hale was keenly aware he and the Flames had three more games on the schedule this season against the Ducks, a team greatly improved with the standout defenceman in the line-up.

"Those are some big three games because they're one spot ahead of us, and he's one of those players who can take over a game," Hale said.

"I think you've got to do everything against him to be physical -- even though it might now look like it's affecting him.

"But it's great for hockey he came back."

Not many people know just that better than Hale. After all, they were on the same squad through his rookie season of 2003-04, and Hale saw game-after-game just how much talent Niedermayer possesses.

Even if it he didn't get much opportunity to skate alongside him in games.

"With him? Not so much," Hale said with a grin. "I had the prime seat on the bench watching him."

That's sight to marvel at for the fan, and a font of information to learn from for a young player.

"You know a player's good, that he's good at this and that, but you don't really know how good until you play with him," Hale said. "Some of the plays he makes are so smooth, but he makes them so easy you don't realize the difficulty level of some of the things he does.

"There are a lot of little things to watch. He doesn't really react, he reads the plays and is there before anybody else. I'd say the biggest things I learned from watching him were reading the plays and poise. You can't really watch and learn poise, you have to get it through experience, but he's got so much poise and experience and all around game."


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