Article written by special contributor, Kristina Klopp.
Joe Nieuwendyk spent the summer of 1998, under the blistering hot Texas sun, in a parking lot, working out with the Stars strength trainer JJ McQueen. He’d just had reconstructive surgery done on both knees. He threw tires. He pulled football tackling dummies. He spent a summer in rehab hell to be able to play hockey again. He could’ve retired after a great 10 year career, which included a Stanley Cup and numerous other accolades.
But he never took the easy way out, on or off the ice. McQueen has said that his job was mostly to keep Nieuwendyk from doing too much. In fact, Nieuwendyk worked so hard that summer, he was playing hockey six weeks sooner than what doctors expected.
Nieuwendyk spent the following summer, under the same blistering hot Texas sun; but this time he was on a parade route, hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head. Almost a year to the date of his surgeries, not only was Joe Nieuwendyk back playing hockey, he had just lead his team, our team, to win hockey’s ultimate achievement, the Stanley Cup. He’d played so well in fact he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the playoffs.
I like the 1999 Version of How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Joe Nieuwendyk much better than 1998.
Possessed and fearless are the two words most commonly used to describe how Nieuwendyk played during that Cup run. I’d throw in reckless too. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t have done to win. He pushed his body and his mind further than most thought possible and then some. He showed younger players, such as Mike Modano and Jamie Langenbrunner, just what it took to win a Cup, how to play through the pain, how to give more when your tank is empty.
That one season, 98-99, is why I love Joe Nieuwendyk as a hockey player. It’s the reason for me, he will always be a Dallas Star. He achieved more honors, scored more points and even was captain with the Calgary Flames, his first NHL team. But, in my opinion, it will never add up to what he accomplished in that 98-99 season. To come back and achieve that level of success after what was potentially a career ending injury is inspiring. That’s the stuff dreams are made of. It motivates me to this day to believe that I can achieve more than I think is possible.
His playing career was cut short in Dallas. I wish he could’ve finished his Hall of Fame career as a Star. But he went on to win his third Cup with another team and then accomplish a childhood dream, to play for his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. His back finally gave out on him when he was a member of the Florida Panthers. And through it all, he remained the same classy, determined, driven player we grew to love here in Dallas.
Congratulations on being named to the Dallas Stars All 20 Year Team!