Niedermayer: There will be some ups and downs for Sundin

December, 18, 2008
A year ago this week, Dec. 16 to be exact, Scott Niedermayer played his first NHL game of the season after a half-year layoff.

Few people are in a better position to know what Mats Sundin has ahead of him.

"I think initially you're obviously excited to be back on the ice," the Anaheim Ducks' captain told "You made a decision, and that feels good. You're excited to get back with the guys, get on the ice and playing again.

"As time went on, there were definitely challenges. It's tough to step in and be going full speed no matter what you do off the ice. It's not easy. There is training camp for a reason."

It takes time to get into game shape, Niedermayer said.

"You kind of have to do it on the go. My groins got sore," he said. "All the usual things that happen in training camp happened when I came back. I definitely found there were ups and downs, almost for the whole time I was back -- physically, emotionally and mentally. The whole thing."

That's coming from a guy who played 21 or more minutes a night in nine of his first 10 games back last season. But it also shows you just how difficult it is to miss half a season and expect to come back and dominate. Niedermayer admitted it was harder than he thought it would be.

"The only thing I can compare it to is that one time I held out for a contract with New Jersey," said Niedermayer. "But I was quite a bit younger, though. That makes a pretty big difference. As you get older, your body does need the conditioning and things like that to keep up. It was harder than what I remember being when you compare it to the New Jersey situation."

Sundin has been an amazingly durable player throughout his career. He's rock solid. So we wouldn't be that worried about injury. And from all accounts, he is in terrific shape right now. He's been working out hard since August and skating a bunch of late. But being in great shape off the ice and being in game shape on it are two different things.

"There's a lot of different elements to be ready to play at your best, no question," Niedermayer said. "It's one thing to have a good V02 score; it's one thing to be out there skating, having strong groins. It's also a whole other thing to mentally having the timing down, to get your hands feeling good, as well.

"There's just so many different elements to playing hockey, which I think makes it a great sport. It also makes having preparation time important."

Advice from one veteran All-Star to another?

"I guess I would say a little bit of patience and realizing that there will be some ups and downs, which I'm sure he's aware of," said Niedermayer, who picked up 25 points (8-17) in 48 games last season. "I don't think there's any magic thing that's going to make it easier. It's going to be a challenge and that's just the way it is."

Niedermayer himself will need to make another decision after this season. The 35-year-old blueliner will be an unrestricted free agent. Does he retire or come back for another season and play in the 2010 Olympics in his native province of British Columbia? He laughed when we suggested Canadian hockey fans were praying he'd come back and play for Team Canada in Vancouver.

"There's a lot of good, young D-men around, so I don't know if they're praying that hard," said Niedermayer. "But nothing has changed really on that front. I haven't thought about it. We're giving ourselves enough challenges here with Anaheim just with our up-and-down play. That's really where my concentration has been."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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