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Nieuwendyk Doubts That He Can Play

June 05, 2003|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Joe Nieuwendyk skated onto the ice at Continental Airlines Arena on Wednesday full of hope.

He skated off less than 25 minutes later full of doubt.

In what is shaping up as the most trying time in his 16-year NHL career, the injured New Jersey Devil center strongly indicated that he will remain sidelined when the Stanley Cup finals resume tonight with Game 5.

"It's the first time I've been on skates in quite some time," said Nieuwendyk, who left practice early while his teammates continued their workout. "I was pleased with the progress; I just don't think I'm where I need to be right now....

"They indicated to me at the beginning of this that it would be a week-to-week thing. I think we're kind of treating it as an hour-to-hour thing now, but I would say my status for tomorrow would be doubtful."

Nieuwendyk suffered what the Devils have said is a hip injury late in overtime of a May 21 loss to the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. He tried to play in Game 7 two nights later but left after three shifts.

He had not skated since.

"There was no reason to push it today," he said. "I just think we wanted to get a barometer of where I was because it's been quite some time since I skated. The trainer kind of indicated that I should come off....

"Certain parts of my game that I have to be effective in, whether it be faceoffs or anything, if I don't feel that I can do those things the way I can, then I don't want to be a liability out there."

He is still hopeful that he'll be able to play in the championship series against the Mighty Ducks. But, as he said, "The days are getting shorter."

Asked if this were the most frustrating moment in his career, Nieuwendyk said, "I would have to say it probably is. One year I got knocked out [because of a knee injury] in the very first round. But this is way above that.

"It looks exciting from where I'm watching it from, and I would certainly like to be a part of it. But I still think I can be effective for my teammates in the locker room and show my support and help them out that way."


After Nieuwendyk left practice, hulking rookie Michael Rupp, 6 feet 5 and 230 pounds, changed into a red jersey and took Nieuwendyk's place on a line with Jamie Langenbrunner and Jeff Friesen. This was two days after Rupp made his NHL playoff debut, logging 9 minutes 4 seconds in Monday's 1-0 Devil loss.

"I thought he was terrific," Nieuwendyk said of Rupp's play in Game 4. "He came out with a lot of fire, energy, was using his size and banged some bodies around. I thought he was a real good spark for us."

Said Langenbrunner: "Especially this time of year, that extra energy always comes in handy."

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