One of the most recent Cornell grads to find success in professional sports is NHL veteran Joe Nieuwendyk ’88. Nieuwendyk played three years of collegiate hockey before signing a professional contract with the Calgary Flames. In his final year at Cornell, he was named the ECAC Player of the Year and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s highest honor.
Nieuwendyk was the NHL Rookie of the Year for the ’87-’88 season. He also won the Conn Smythe as a member of the Dallas Stars’ Stanley Cup winning team in 1999. He earned a gold medal at the Olympics in 2002 as a member of Canada’s National Team. Nieuwendyk was most recently traded to the New Jersey at the end of last season to help the Devils going into the playoffs.
The Sun got a chance to speak with him after his team’s victory at the annual Cornell alumni game:
Sun: Do you tune in to Cornell’s hockey season while you’re busy playing in the Pros?
JN: Yeah, very much so. I usually skate with these kids in the summer so I get to know them a bit. And of course I’m very good friends with Schafe, so I follow what’s going on, and I know that they had a great year. And hopefully they’ll have an even better season next year.
Sun: We’ve heard that you have a house in Ithaca. Why did you buy a house here, and what brings you back every summer?
JN: I loved my years here, I loved playing hockey in Lynah Rink in front of the crowds — to me they’re the best crowds in hockey. I really enjoyed my Cornell experience. When I turned Pro, they gave me a little money and I thought ‘Well what am I going to do with it?’ I bought a house in Ithaca, and I’ve been here 16 years. It’s a great place for a guy to come back and visit
Sun : Then were you glad to be closer to Ithaca after you were traded from the Dallas Stars to the New Jersey Devils?
JN: It came as a shock, we had just bought a house in Dallas and we spent one night there before I got traded, so that was hard to take. Being close to Ithaca is great. It’s been an adjustment, but I think having a good start in September is going to be a positive thing.
Sun: What do you remember best about your Cornell experience?
JN: I’ve played a number of years now in the NHL, but I still have so many good memories of my three years that I played here. Some of the bonds with the guys that I played with here are some of the strongest bonds I’ve made in all of hockey. You get together with these guys every summer and you talk about about old times. It’s a real special bond you don’t always get.
Sun: What’s the biggest difference between college hockey and the Pros?
JN: I think its the speed and the pace of the game. Guys are very fast in the Pros and you might have think quicker too. There are big boys in college hockey now. They’re a lot bigger than when I used to play here, that’s for sure. So from a physical standpoint it’s not a lot different, but the quickness and decision-making is probably the biggest difference.
Sun: When you work out with the Cornell hockey team during the summer, what kind of knowledge and experiences do you impart to the players?
JN: Not too much. I try to come up here and have a good time with them. I’m always impressed every summer at how solid the kids are. They come from such good families and I think it’s a credit to Schafe and the program he runs here. They really do a good job, and he’s pushed the level of Cornell hockey to a new level.
Sun: How is college hockey different from when you were playing at Cornell?
JN: The kids are bigger and stronger now and just hockey in general gets better as the years go on. These kids don’t look to me to be any different than some of the pros I play with. They have all the skills and size. I think the development of young players in college hockey is much better than when I played.
Sun : How did it feel to win a gold medal at the Olympics this year?
JN: It was a great feeling. Canada hadn’t won a gold medal in 50 years and to be a part of that wasn’t the greatest experience in my NHL career, but that one was right up there among the top. And to have my little daughter right up there after the game is really something I’ll never forget, and I’m glad to be a part of that.
Sun: What was more memorable, winning the gold medal or winning the Stanley Cup?
JN: I think winning the Stanley Cup… Winning the gold medal is awesome because the whole country is watching and that’s a great thing. When you have a team together for as hard as it is to go through four rounds and ultimately win a Stanley Cup, I think it’s pretty incredible.
Archived article by Amanda Angel