FRISCO, Texas -- Joe Nieuwendyk admits that growing up in Oshawa, Ontario, the fact that he was able just to get the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League was what he considered the ultimate thrill.
Well, the three-time Stanley Cup champion and 1999 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is clearly on cloud nine after Tuesday's announcement that he had been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"Yeah, I think the ultimate was to play in the NHL. I don't think anybody goes through their career thinking about maybe being a Hall of Famer one day," he said. "If you're fortunate enough to be in there, that's a great thrill, but we played the game because we loved to compete and we loved it. Days like today were out of our control, but nonetheless very rewarding."
A second-round pick of Calgary in the 1985 Entry Draft, Nieuwendyk spent most of the next two decades in the League, playing on championship teams for the Flames, Stars and Devils, making him just the fourth player in NHL history to win Cups with three different teams.
Joining him in the 2011 class are two former teammates in goaltender Ed Belfour -- also part of Dallas' 1999 championship team -- and Doug Gilmour, whom he played alongside in Calgary, and Mark Howe.
The current Stars GM gained entrance into the Hall in just his second year of eligibility. He knew it was getting close to the time of year when the next class would be named but he admitted Tuesday kind of snuck up on him.
"To be honest, I wasn't even aware of it. I should have been, but I wasn't even aware until yesterday that this day was coming," Nieuwendyk said. "There was a lot of talk last year in my first year of eligibility with me, but it didn't come to fruition. This is a thrill. I'm really happy with the class I'm going in with. I have a lot of history with Dougie Gilmour and Eddie Belfour, so I couldn't be more happy."
By the time he called it quits in 2006, he had amassed 1,126 points in 1,257 regular-season games. Those are rock-solid, Hall of Fame worthy numbers in their own right, but when one considers that he also had 116 points in 158 playoff games, it's easy to see why this former offensive standout got the call.
His best playoff performance came in 1999, when he had 21 points in 23 games for Dallas, rightfully earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP as the Stars beat Buffalo in six games for their first Stanley Cup.
Belfour was also on that team and Nieuwendyk admits getting inducted with his former Dallas teammate definitely adds to the thrill of knowing he'll be taking his rightful place alongside other hockey immortals in Toronto.
"It's just a thrill for both of us because we had something real special here, a group of players. You have that memory forever," he said. "For both of us to go in with Brett Hull and Mike Modano one day and maybe some of those other guys that we talked about, it's just a reminder to us as players that maybe even people around here in Dallas that group we had and what we accomplished was a special thing."
Tuesday's announcement obviously snuck up on the former playoff MVP but he had good reason. That's because in the last week, the Stars have announced a new head coach (Glen Gulutzan), been to St. Paul for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and also named a new assistant coach earlier this week.
But with the start of free agency looming on Friday, Nieuwendyk knows that his work is far from done. That makes Tuesday's announcement an even more welcome diversion for him.
"There's a lot going on and it's busy all the time. Like I said, this is a real special diversion," he said. "My kids, even though they don't understand it, they were happy. I talked to them. It's very special."
So, who did he tell first? Well, the answer to that one is fairly obvious.
"I texted my wife right away. I haven't had a chance to talk to my dad yet but yeah, it's all cool," Nieuwendyk said.