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NHL's home cooking

Following tradition, Niedermayer family opens door to Ducks rookie Cam Fowler.

December 12, 2010|HELENE ELLIOTT

The Rob Niedermayer poster in the garage is a clue someone in this Orange County home likes hockey. Otherwise it seems like any home on the street: past heaps of sports gear and through an entryway is a kitchen decorated with photos and crayoned pictures and fragrant with chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven.

The difference is that in this home are symbols of the Ducks' greatest triumph and their hope for a better future.

Scott Niedermayer, who signed with the Ducks in 2005 and shared their 2007 Stanley Cup victory with younger brother Rob, lives here with his wife, Lisa, and their four sons, ages 2 to 11. It's a happily busy place: During a recent visit the kids came home from school and dived into their homework before hockey practice, the cookies were at the mouthwatering stage and the dog was woofing for a treat from housekeeper/babysitter Veronica Bech.

Into this whirlwind Scott and Lisa invited rookie defenseman Cam Fowler, the Ducks' first pick and the 12th overall selection in the NHL draft in June. They give him broccoli at dinner, company when he wants it, privacy when he needs it and a haven while he explores his new world.

"It feels a little weird for me sometimes, having a Hall of Fame guy take my car in for an oil change or something like that, but that's just the kind of guy that he is," said Fowler, who was born in Windsor, Canada, but grew up in Farmington Hills, Mich.

"It's just awesome for them to be around and help me with whatever I need."

It's a hockey tradition for older players to give shelter to youngsters, and Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, in his sixth NHL season, still spends most of his time in the home of owner Mario Lemieux. Scott Niedermayer lived with a family during his first season with the New Jersey Devils and is paying the favor forward.

"It's a huge adjustment coming from junior hockey and from a small town in Canada, or wherever, moving to a new city and playing in the NHL. That's enough to worry about," Scott said.

Lisa Niedermayer, who baked a Ducks-themed cake for Fowler's 19th birthday last Sunday, said she was receptive when Scott suggested having the youngster move in.

"I said, 'I think it would be wonderful. I think the kids would enjoy it, and it would be fun to have a different dynamic in the house,' " she said. "And it helps us follow the Ducks even more now that Scott's retired."

Dad is old news to the boys. When Lisa asked what they want for Christmas the eldest, Logan and Jackson, asked for Ducks jerseys with Fowler's No. 4 on the back.

Fowler said the kids are occupied with school and sports and don't disturb him if he needs rest. Scott spends his time surfing, scouting for the Ducks and being a hockey dad, but he's available to lend an ear and his expertise.

"He's a pretty easygoing guy, so I feel pretty comfortable being able to ask him anything, anytime," Fowler said. "We haven't really gone over that much, but just from him watching a few of my games he has been able to point out a few things and just little things that can help me out along the way."

Fowler has his own bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, away from the kids, and has made good use of the swimming pool and tennis court. After he scored a seeing-eye goal teammates teased him about it.

"In practice they were saying I learned how to shoot on the tennis court," he said. "I don't have the most dangerous shot. I could bring some pucks out there and shoot."

He also has his own garage-door opener and a car with a GPS, though he proudly said he doesn't need the help much anymore. Scott Niedermayer, a green-living advocate, has tried to elevate Fowler's environmental consciousness.

"He's been pushing me to take the hybrid once in a while so I can get in the carpool lane to go to games, but I haven't taken him up on the offer yet," Fowler said, smiling.

Fowler also has his own shelf in the walk-in pantry, and that's where the Niedermayers have made their biggest adjustment.

They avoid sugary stuff and favor fish and health foods, but Fowler loves Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, chocolate syrup and chocolate milk.

Lisa didn't allow them in the house. Now she buys them. Often.

"I'm trying to teach him how to eat and educate him how to take care of himself. I guess I'll take over for his mom while he's here," Scott said.

Fowler seems open to suggestion. "Looking at it, I do need to clean up my diet a little bit," he said.

He's so poised on the ice, with three goals and 14 points through 26 games, that it's easy to forget he's still a kid in many ways. He misses his sisters, 11-year-old Peyton and 9-year-old Emily, "like crazy" and enjoys getting Peyton's text messages.

Lisa said that Fowler, after his initial shyness, has bonded with her sons and has special chemistry with baby Luke.

Logan, though, said he didn't need a big brother. "It kind of stinks for me. I liked being the oldest," he said.

But he has warmed to Fowler, who joined the boys in an energetic game of mini-sticks in the family room one recent afternoon. Logan kept score while the others took shots at goalie Fowler. "I have to jump in with Cam. He's not doing so well," Joshua announced.

Fowler lost that game, but he's gaining relationships that will last for years.

"It is almost a family away from my family," he said. "I can just hang out with the kids and talk to Lisa and Scott about whatever. It's been awesome so far."

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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