Love of hockey isn't about geography

The Ducks have contributed more than $12 million to youth hockey in the past six-plus years, and Trottier thinks there's room for three or four more sheets of ice if someone wanted to develop them.

Niedermayer, a four-time Stanley Cup winner and two-time Olympic gold medalist, figures that between his work with the Ducks and ferrying his boys around, he is on the ice far more now than he ever was as a player. He acts as an assistant coach on the three older boys' teams and helps out his youngest as he learns the basics of the game.

But Niedermayer's small-town Canadian upbringing is more similar than than one might expect to the experiences his sons are having playing the game a world away from the mountains of British Columbia.

"I think in some ways, in some important ways, they're having a similar experience," Niedermayer said. "I get a lot of good memories come back to me when I see certain situations. I mean you go on the road for a tournament and the kids are running around the hotel getting into trouble and having fun together. We did that, and those are great memories. We made great friends. We see that with the kids playing with their teammates and making friendships, which is a great thing."

There are differences, of course. Niedermayer notes that his boys have traveled to places like Colorado and Phoenix for tournaments.

"I don't think I ever got on a plane to play hockey until maybe I flew to the Memorial Cup when I was playing junior hockey," Niedermayer said. "So that's a difference. There's good hockey I guess, but at the highest levels there's not as much depth obviously and that, I guess that's why coaches and parents feel they need to travel a little bit."

He added: "My 12-year-old is on one of those teams. They're out East probably four times a year. That seems a little excessive, but you know they love it. They don't know any different, and I guess we're willing to do it as parents, so away we go."

And maybe that's the key: Embracing the game at its fundamental levels, working at a set of skills with your peers, sharing in the responsibilities of being a teammate, working together toward a common goal and having fun in the process has nothing to do with geography.

It probably never has.

Of course, the teammates of Niedermayer's son, and certainly their parents, understand that their hockey world is different from the one occupied by their hockey peers in Toronto or Michigan. But so what?

"They've been to a couple of tournaments in Toronto and I think they, everybody for that matter, because hockey is a bigger deal and you turn on TV and you've got hockey highlights more than you'd ever want, and these are real hockey people, they love the game. That's one of the things too, the passion the people here have for the game is as good as anywhere. It's not maybe as broad-based or widespread, but the people that are involved love it," Niedermayer said.

Although he is reluctant to draw parallels between the Gretzky impact and the impact of a second wave of NHL stars like him, Niedermayer does revel in the idea that what draws people to the game is in many ways constant.

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