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What Joe Nieuwendyk lost for love of the game

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There’s a reason that every year the Ontario Junior A lacrosse hands the Joe Nieuwendyk Award to the league’s most outstanding rookie. Because that’s what the award is named. Besides that, Joe Nieuwendyk was really, really good.

Five years before the 1989 Calgary Flames captured the Stanley Cup, Nieuwendyk and teammate and friend Gary Roberts won the Minto with the Whitby Warriors. Nieuwendyk was named MVP. But in 1985 pro hockey came calling, and even if Wayne Gretzky himself once wondered aloud why Nieuwendyk didn’t stick with lacrosse, the choice for Nieuwendyk was obvious. And not just for the reason$ you’d think it was.

Another major reason Nieuwendyk dropped lacrosse was that he lost weight while playing that strenuous sport. The weight loss hurt him on the ice. Lou Reycroft, then the Cornell hockey coach, remembers his delight when Nieuwendyk weighed in at 195 pounds for his sophomore year. “He looked great,” says Reycroft. But after registering for classes, Nieuwendyk flew to Whitby to play for the Minto Cup. “He lost 20 pounds in eight days,” says Reycroft, now a scout for the Flames. To this day Nieuwendyk must eat till it hurts to maintain weight.

Ward began covering lacrosse for The Lacrosse Journal in 2005 and became its editor-in-chief a year later. Email her at lauren.ward@nllinsider.com.

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