Scott Niedermayer has number retired

NEWARK, N.J. -- Former New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer became the third player in franchise history to have his number retired Friday, when the team honored him in a ceremony before the Devils' 6-3 win while raising his No. 27 to the rafters of Prudential Center.

The 38-year-old, whose elite skating ability and winning legacy defined an illustrious 18-season NHL career, received a rousing ovation before thanking the organization, former coaches and teammates, the fans and his family on the momentous occasion.

"To put this jersey on again feels right," said Niedermayer, who played for New Jersey from 1992-2004 before joining the Ducks in 2005.

Niedermayer, who won three Stanley Cups with the Devils (and a fourth in Anaheim with brother, Rob, in 2007), joined fellow defensemen Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko as the vaunted trio of players to receive the ultimate honor.

Current goalie Martin Brodeur, Stevens, Daneyko and former assistant coach Larry Robinson combined to give Niedermayer his Devils jersey during the ceremony.

"It was an honor and a privilege to be a New Jersey Devil all those years," he told the crowd. "These are memories I will cherish all my life."

The pre-game ceremony, emceed by legendary Devils announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick, included a video tribute and gifts from the Devils and team owner Jeff Vanderbeek. Niedermayer received a mountain bike, engraved plaque, mounted jersey, and a fully loaded Lincoln Navigator.

Niedermayer was accompanied at the ceremony by his parents, his wife, Lisa, and their four children and his brother Rob.

"I thought it was great, first class," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "Brings back a lot of memories, obviously watching from afar. You're reminded of how great a player he was, and to hear him speak and to see his family reminded me of how special a person he is."

Emrick took time to commemorate Niedermayer as the most decorated hockey player of all time. Among the 5,619 retired NHL players and 690 active, Niedermayer is the only one to have won a Stanley Cup championship, Olympic gold medal, World Cup, World Championship, World Junior Championship and a memorial Cup.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, who drafted the then-17-year-old Alberta native third overall in 1991, watched from a suite with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"In a day and era that athletes are singled out for a lot of different reasons, this is a special individual," Lamoriello said Friday. "And going along with [Stevens] and [Daneyko], it's really unique and we're delighted."

Niedermayer amassed 172 goals and 568 assists in 1,263 games played before retiring in June 2010.

It was a career, Niedemayer said, that surpassed all expectations.

"I really didn't have any idea of what I was getting into. I probably didn't know exactly where New Jersey was, little did I know how great the journey would be -- how many great people I would meet and experiences I would have, so it was better than my wildest dreams," he said during a news conference Friday. "To have this honor is obviously the icing on the cake. And it feels pretty good."

Niedermayer vividly recalls the first of the Devils' Stanley Cup championships in 1995. In Game 2 of the final series versus heavily favored Detroit, he scored a memorable goal in which he skated end to end, and fired a shot off the back boards, which caromed right back to his stick. He then deposited it past Red Wings goaltender Mike Vernon en route to a 4-2 win. The Devils, who trailed in that game, 2-1, at the time of the goal, won the series in a dominant four-game sweep.

"I was still young enough at the time that I really didn't appreciate it," Niedermayer said. "I was just out there, having a good time and we were fortunate to win a championship that early in my career."

The coast-to-coast goal was shown several times on the jumbotron's highlight reel.

"Everyone loves scoring a goal," he said. "Winning that first championship was amazing. We truly believed in ourselves. Skating always allowed me to have some success. It would sometimes get me into trouble, but it would also get me out of trouble. My skating was my strength and it helped me in all areas of the game. I took advantage of it when I could."

In 2000, Niedermayer and the Devils defeated Dallas, the same team that was at The Rock for the ceremony, in six games to win the Cup. In 2003, the team's last championship, he and New Jersey defeated Anaheim, the organization he'd eventually leave for, in seven games.

"We had so much depth on those teams, I think sometimes it allows a player of Scott's caliber to get lost a little bit," said Stevens, the captain on all three Stanley Cup teams who was the first player in team history to have his jersey retired. "But he had it all, and he was able to develop at a time when the culture was changing under (former coach) Jacques (Lemaire) and Larry, and we just continued to build confidence. It's a good feeling.

"There were some bumps along the way, like there are with all teams, but we ended up becoming a championship team. Scott, obviously, had a lot to do with that."

That season in 2003, Niedermayer was a teammate of Hall-of-Fame forward Joe Nieuwendyk, who is now the general manager of the Stars and was proud to be on hand for such an event.

"There's not many defenseman who play this game, who can seemingly play any style and adjust their game to whatever that team, whatever that season called for," Nieuwendyk said. "He was one of those types of players.

"Scotty is one of the best defensemen I ever played with. There's no question."

Niedermayer retired young, but he does not regret walking away from the game last year.

"I open the gate for my kids to get on the ice and I pick up the pucks after practice," Niedermayer said of his new career. "I'm helping my sons' teams, coaching a little, and I enjoy that. It's one of the reasons why I decided to retire was to be with my sons.

"I definitely miss the game, but I enjoy doing what I do now."

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.