They look as if they should be sitting on a couch with Courteney
Cox every Thursday night, sipping latte and complaining about
all the boring clothes in their closets. Between the two of them
they have just one damaged tooth and no noticeable facial scars.
They are polite, articulate and Gap-ad handsome. If they weren't
playing in the NHL, they would be posing for those big pictures
that hang on hair-salon walls.
So far no one has mistaken the Niedermayer brothers for the
Hanson brothers, those maniacal siblings in the movie Slap Shot,
and you can bet no one will. Scott and Rob Niedermayer are two
of the bright young stars in the NHL, but the only thing
outrageous about them is their talent. They are the soft-spoken
sons of a country doctor and a retired schoolteacher, and while
they enjoy life in the NHL, they sure do miss Mom and Dad.
Scott is a 22-year-old offensive defenseman for the reigning
Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils. Rob, who turned 21 on
Dec. 28, is a first-line center for the Florida Panthers, the
team with the second-best record in the NHL. They are image
boosters for a league that can only wonder why Carol and Dr. Bob
Niedermayer of Cranbrook, B.C., had to stop after just two sons.
Didn't they ever hear of the Sutters?
"They're good kids, but they were typical boys growing up," says
Carol. "Believe me, they got into plenty of mischief."
We believe you, Mom, but could you give us an example?
"Well, we have a rumpus room in our house," says Carol. "And the
boys would go down there and take all the cushions off the
chesterfield, pile them in the middle of the room and jump on
Ah, the rumpus room. Isn't that where all the trouble started
for NHL ultrabad-boy Bob Probert? Fortunately, the Niedermayers
survived the mean streets of Cranbrook (pop. 17,000) and the
ruinous temptations of the rumpus room, and now they appear to
be following parallel courses into hockey stardom. Scott, in his
fourth full season in the NHL, was an integral part of the
Devils' storybook finish last spring, and through Sunday he led
New Jersey defensemen in scoring, with 15 points in 36 games.
Rob, in his third season, had 14 goals and 28 points in 38 games
at week's end, and he is one of the reasons the Panthers were
25-10-2. Some people are surprised by Rob's sudden emergence,
but they shouldn't be. If Scott does something, Rob has to give
it a try, too. "The way I look at it is, my brother had his
coming-out party last year. Now it's my turn," he says.
Rob had a close-up look at Scott's success one August morning.
Rob, who, like Scott, still lives at home in the off-season, was
munching on a bowl of cereal and watching TV when he noticed a
new item in the living room. "I looked next to me, and there it
was, the Stanley Cup," says Rob. "That was an interesting way to
start the day."
Each player on the championship team gets to spend a little time
with the Cup, and Cranbrook was the trophy's last stop before
returning to the Hall of Fame in Toronto. "It was such a special
feeling to see Scott with that Cup in his hands," says Carol.
"We've been very lucky, but our one wish now is to see Rob
experience that same sense of accomplishment."
Rob has already experienced a strong sense of accomplishment
this season. This has been, after all, the year he realized he
could play in the NHL. In 1994-95 Rob was Florida's fourth-line
center, and he often played just two or three shifts a game. He
saw action in all 48 games of the lockout-shortened season, but
he had just four goals and six assists, painful numbers for a
player who was selected fifth in the 1993 draft. At the end of
the season the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported,
"Niedermayer has shown flashes of brilliance but has overall
been a bust."
Could it have been true? Was Rob a bust at age 20? "It was the
low point of my career," he says. "It got to where I said, 'Can
I play?' I had a real negative feeling when I came to the rink,
and it showed on the ice. I couldn't give up the puck fast
enough. I had no confidence."
Rob went home for the summer discouraged, but in late July he
received encouraging news: The Panthers had replaced veteran
coach Roger Neilson with Doug MacLean. "He was pretty excited
when they made the change," says Scott. "Roger was not a big fan
of young players, and some games Rob would get only one or two
shifts. Unless your name is Mario Lemieux, you're not going to
score many points with that kind of ice time."
MacLean immediately promoted Rob to the first line, and Rob has
responded. He has played with more confidence and more fire,
trusting his instincts and using his speed, strength and size
(6'2", 201 pounds). He has backed down from no one and, when
necessary, has dropped the gloves without hesitation. The bust
has busted out. "From the beginning of training camp, he's been
a different player," says Rob's teammate and close friend Brian
Skrudland. "All that potential we heard about is coming out.
He's shooting better, skating better, hitting better."
The season did not start on the same up beat for Scott. Last
spring he asserted himself during the Devils' run for the
Stanley Cup. He scored four playoff goals, including a
game-tying tally in the finals against the Detroit Red Wings
that clued the hockey world in to his vast skills: Scott rushed
into the Red Wing zone, shot wide of the net and then scored on
his own rebound. On that play he beat defenseman Paul Coffey,
the man Scott hopes to replace someday as the NHL's premier
offensive defenseman. Scott, a restricted free agent, hoped to
spend the summer sifting through lucrative offers, but he didn't
receive any because the cost of signing a restricted free agent
can be steep (depending upon the player's salary, up to five
first-round draft picks). Then he stayed out of the Devils' camp
until he signed a three-year, $4.2 million deal on Sept. 27.
Scott has two nagging gripes about life in New Jersey. First, as
an unabashed country boy, he is averse to tall buildings, toll
booths and traffic jams. Second, he isn't fond of the Devils'
tight defensive system. He wants the freedom to rush into the
offensive zone more often. Devil coach Jacques Lemaire, however,
wishes he could wire the opposing team's blue line so it would
give his defensemen a shock if they wandered into the offensive
"I love the offensive part of the game--I like to rush, and I
love to score," says Scott. "But Jacques' system has worked--you
can't argue with that. We won the Cup. Someday I'll get the
chance to play a more open style, but for now I'm happy here."
Rob is happy, too. He makes $900,000 a year. And at the end of
this season, both Niedermayers will reach a significant moment
in their adult lives. They will bid farewell to the rumpus room.
Scott and Rob bought three acres of land on Kootenay Lake, about
90 minutes west of Cranbrook, and there they will build their
first home together. They will share the house with Harley,
their new bull mastiff, whom, naturally, they bought together.
It has always been this way for the Niedermayers: They have the
same friends, the same hobbies, the same interests. They climb
mountains together, they fish together and they ski together.
Two years ago, they bought their parents a Lexus for Christmas.
They split the price down the middle, to the penny. "I just wish
they'd pay my speeding tickets, too," says Carol.
There is one obvious difference between Scott and Rob: Rob is
the fighter in the family, and he has a capped tooth to prove
it. Scott, who is two inches shorter and a pound lighter than
Rob, admits that if he and Rob dropped gloves and squared off,
he would probably get the worst of it.
Bob Niedermayer, a general practitioner at Cranbrook Regional
Hospital, often served as unofficial team doctor for his boys'
youth-league hockey teams. But it was Carol who drove them to
succeed in the sport. When they were boys, she signed them up
for figure skating to develop their skills, and she even taught
a power-skating class to get them more ice time. "The city rec
department asked if I wanted to be paid," she says. "I said,
'No, just find some time for my kids to skate.'"
Both boys left home for junior hockey at 15, Scott to Kamloops
and Rob to Medicine Hat, both in British Columbia. Each was a
star, but at times Rob had difficulty living up to his brother's
lofty standard. "He was a great student, he won the Memorial Cup
[the junior hockey championship], he was the MVP of the Memorial
Cup, he won all kinds of awards," says Rob. "People would look
at me and say, 'Why can't you be as good as your brother?' "
Last year Scott helped his team win the NHL championship, and
now it's Rob's turn to bring the Stanley Cup home. It will be no
easy task, but the Niedermayer brothers know what it means to
overcome adversity. They survived the rumpus room. They can