Nearly 10 years removed from his last NHL game, Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer is probably consuming even more hockey now than he did during his 18-year professional career as a defenceman for the New Jersey Devils and the Anaheim Ducks.
Three of his four sons are currently playing hockey at different levels in Penticton and he’s there to watch as many games as humanly possible.
“I find it definitely more difficult sitting up there,” said Niedermayer. “You’re watching them competing and just wanting them to do well. On the flipside of that, it’s a great thrill to watch the fun they have and when they’re able to overcome challenges and have success as a team, it’s probably more rewarding than when I was out there.”
His youngest son Luke plays minor hockey in Penticton, his second-youngest Joshua is at the Okanagan Hockey Academy and his second-oldest Jackson is in his second season with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL.
Jackson, like the rest of his brothers, grew up around the rink, getting the chance to visit the Anaheim dressing room whenever he had the opportunity while his dad played there.
He recalls forming a bond with some of the younger players on the team at the time – guys like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry who went on to become two of the best players in the league over the next decade.
“It’s nice just to be able to have guys like that to lean on and talk to if you need advice,” said Jackson, “Just taking everything that they teach you and talk to you about and applying it to your game. I would just take in a as much as I could from guys that are there.”
“They would just love to come into the dressing room after the game on the weekend and play some mini hockey,” added Scott. “The young guys would get down on their knees and play with them and that sort of thing. I remember as a kid growing up, going to an NHL game was this huge special occasion. I imagine for my guys it was just a trip to where dad did what he did.”
During his playing career, Scott won pretty much every team and individual award possible. In total, he won: four Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, one Memorial Cup, two WHL championships, one World Cup, one World Championship, one World Junior gold medal, one Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP and one Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman.
For Jackson, having a dad that is widely considered one of the most successful hockey players of all time and one of the best ever at his position didn’t affect him all that much growing up.
“You just look at him as a dad,” said Jackson. “But as you get older you kind of realize the accomplishments he has. It’s pretty cool seeing what he did and the mark he left on the game. Growing up, I just looked at him as my old man and didn’t see him as this guy who was kind of running the hockey world.”
Growing up in that kind of environment, it wasn’t long before Jackson was lacing up the skates himself, but unlike his dad, he wanted to play forward.
“I like scoring goals and playing offence, so I don’t think he could really change my mind on that,” said Jackson. “I’ve got two other brothers that are both defencemen, so they’re taking after him. I’ll take after my uncle [Rob Niedermayer].”
“That’s one thing that you’re fascinated by as a parent,” said Scott. “Each one of your kids is quite different. They’re coming from the same parents and were raised in the same environment, yet their personalities and characteristics are very different. It’s fun to watch them become their own people. With Jackson, there was never any doubt that he wanted to be a forward.”
After playing a few years in the Anaheim Jr. Ducks system, Jackson decided he wanted to play college hockey, which led to his decision to come to the BCHL to play for the Penticton Vees.
“Both my parents are from here and we would always come back here every summer,” he said. “It’s like a second home for me. It’s a great spot. I wanted to go play college hockey and I think that Penticton was the best option for me.”
Although he never played in the league, Scott was well aware of the benefits of having his son play in the BCHL long before the decision was actually made for Jackson to play in the league. His ties to the league are even deeper now that he is part of the ownership group of the Cranbrook Bucks, the newly-awarded BCHL franchise which will begin play next season.
“It has a great reputation,” said Scott. “You don’t have to really dig too far to understand that it’s a good league and a lot of good players move on from it to NCAA Division I schools down in the U.S. It’s pretty obvious it’s been a good springboard for those players for as long as I can remember. It also doesn’t hurt the fact that it’s right at home for me.”
Scott won two WHL championships and a Memorial Cup with the Kamloops Blazers in the early ’90s, so he understands the merits of the major junior route to the pros, but for his son, he recognized that college hockey was probably the best option for him to accomplish his goals.
“From the time I was a young guy in that situation to now, the level of hockey has gotten quite high,” he said. “As people recognize that there’s more players coming from there, it sort of adds momentum. The amount of time they can train off the ice with the college schedule is helpful for certain players. I think the opportunities are there on both sides, but I think college is a great choice.”
Just a few months into his first season with the Vees, Jackson accomplished a major goal of his when he set out to play in the BCHL, he earned an NCAA Division I scholarship to Arizona State University.
“It’s a growing school and I think it was just the best option for me after talking with the coaches there,” he said. “What they’ve got going and what they’re building is something I want to be a part of. I can’t wait to get down there and get things started.”
Jackson is enjoying a solid sophomore campaign with the Vees this year. Through 31 games so far this season, he has seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points, already surpassing his total from his rookie year.
The 18-year-old Nidermayer is appreciative that his dad lives close by and is able to come to so many of his games, but, like most kids, he doesn’t necessarily always want the fatherly advice, even when it comes from a Hockey Hall of Famer.
“He gets in your ear occasionally and gives you advice when maybe you don’t want it or you just don’t want to hear your dad harping on you,” he said. “But it’s always constructive criticism. You take it and you learn from it because he’s been through it and has gone where I’m trying to go, so he knows what it takes. Everything he says, I just soak it in and try to apply it to my game.
Even with all the traveling and trips to the rink that occur with three kids playing hockey competitively, Scott has still been able to take a step back and appreciate the situation him and his family are in.
“It’s good to get back close to home,” he said. “The kids are enjoying it with the friends they’ve made and the opportunities that are there for them hockey-wise have been really good.
“It was a good fit for our family, being from British Columbia, so we were more than happy to get back here.”