Niedermayer brings Stanley Cup to tired firefighters at a Cranbrook fire camp
CRANBROOK, B.C. (CP) - With blackened hands and faces, hundreds of firefighters battling a wildfire near here were overjoyed to put their grimy hands on the Stanley Cup Saturday night.
Defenceman Scott Niedermayer brought the pride of the NHL to his home town Saturday as a morale booster for the hundreds of fatigued firefighters who have been battling the Lamb Creek fire about 15 kilometres southwest of Cranbrook.
Many of the 400 firefighters were laughing and cheering when Niedermayer took the Cup out of a blue velvet case from the back of his truck at a fire camp near the blaze. "This is great man, this is my dream," said Pete Jagodnik, a B.C. Forest Service firefighter from Prince George who's been battling fires for 25 years. "It's unbelievable, what a morale booster. All these guys had dreams like this." Like a pied piper, Niedermayer paraded the Cup around the camp followed by firefighters, sometimes stopping for group pictures with fire crews clicking their disposable cameras.
As whirling helicopters loaded their buckets with retardant nearby, Niedermayer said it was a joy for him to help the fire crews who have been battling the fire since it started two weeks ago. "They're pretty excited to see it after a long day's work for sure, a lot harder than any day I've worked in my life probably," said Niedermayer.
The uncontrolled, uncontained Lamb Creek fire 15 kilometres southwest of Cranbrook has forced about 200 residents from their homes and gobbled up more than 100 square kilometres of forest. For the past few days, pilots have been dropping chemical retardant on the blaze and fire crews have been busy snuffing spot fires and clearing fallen trees and power lines.
Some fire personnel were more enthralled with the NHL star than the Cup. "I touched him - not the Cup," said a laughing Maria Boldt, a B.C. Forest clerk from Port Alberni. "It just makes my day, it's great, it's great, I'm so excited."
Earlier Saturday, Niedermayer said he brought the Cup to put smiles on firefighters' faces. "That's tough work they're doing, long days, so we owe them a lot of thanks for the work that they do," he said.
Many of the tired firefighters who have been battling the blaze for almost two weeks were thrilled not only to have a chance to grip the Cup, but also to meet Niedermayer.
"I think it's great, we're pretty happy," said Tristan Powell, a B.C. Forest Service firefighter from Houston, B.C. "It gets a little monotonous after 14 days on the fireline. We're starting to go a little crazy and it's nice that he's doing this."
Niedermayer, a key player for New Jersey in clinching the 2003 Stanley Cup against Anaheim, said it's unsettling watching flames attack the area where he grew up. "It's not very comforting, that's for sure," he said, as hundreds of locals lined up in a hockey arena to have a snapshot taken beside their home town hero and the Stanley Cup on Saturday afternoon.
The hockey star not only feels for the firefighters, but also residents who have been evacuated from their homes. "We knew a few people who had to evacuate from Munroe Lake and apparently their houses are OK as of right now," he said. "Your house is important but it's the family that is most important and I'm sure most people realize that as well."
It just happened to be that Niedermayer was taking the Cup to Cranbrook to share with hockey fans. His mother asked him if he would also take it to the nearby Moyie fire camp late Saturday evening to motivate and thank the exhausted firefighters.
There are about 320 firefighters trying to snuff the blaze in surrounding forests and 150 structural firefighters who are putting sprinklers and spraying retardant on homes and lake cabins.
While the cup was paraded around the fire camp, Ian Desjarlais, a firefighter from Buffalo Narrows, Sask. choose to line up at a pay telephone to talk to his sweetheart back home. "She's pretty special," he said of his girlfriend. "I've been with her for four years."
After the Cup was pawed by firefighters, Mike Bolt, a Hockey Hall of Fame official, put on his white gloves to haul the Cup back to the truck, gentling laying it to rest in its velvet case.
The Stanley Cup is on an annual summer odyssey as New Jersey players, coaches and staff take turns doing what they want with the NHL's championship trophy.
So far this summer, the Cup has been to Alaska by Devils centre Scott Gomez and it even travelled to Greece. Forward Brian Gionta took it to a mall in Greece, N.Y., for thousands of fans to visit last month, then put it on display in his father's hardware store, where he worked as a teenager. Defenceman Ken Daneyko displayed "Lord Stanley" on Emeril Lagasse's TV cooking show.
Niedermayer has had another night with the Cup, when in June he and his wife got had a party with their Montclair, N.Y., neighbours.
Niedermayer has spent most of his summer at his Cranbrook home with his two wife and two sons, ages 2 and 4.
The Canadian Press, 2003
08/31/2003 1:01 EST