INGLEWOOD, CALIF., JAN. 13 -- There is no question that, barring serious injury, Joe Nieuwendyk of the Calgary Flames will be named National Hockey League rookie of the year. There is some doubt, however, as to what team Nieuwendyk will be playing for in February.
Nieuwendyk was a standout as Canada won the Calgary Cup a year ago and Coach Dave King wanted him to stay with the team until the Olympics. Instead, Nieuwendyk signed with the Flames when his season ended at Cornell University.
Now there are persistent, but unconfirmed reports that Nieuwendyk's contract contains a clause allowing him to join Canada for the Olympics. NHL teams are permitted to release players, supposedly ranked from their 10th best to their 20th best, for Olympic play. Although Nieuwendyk obviously is one of Calgary's top 10 players, his status as a rookie could affect that stipulation.
Asked about the situation Sunday, Nieuwendyk replied, "I'd rather not comment about anything to do with the Olympics. Right now I'm definitely concentrating on the Flames."
Cliff Fletcher, the Flames' general manager, also has declined to discuss the possibility of Nieuwendyk taking a leave of absence at a time when Calgary is battling Edmonton for first place in the Smythe Division.
Nieuwendyk currently has 32 goals, two more than Wayne Gretzky, and a figure topped only by Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman. Nieuwendyk has at least one point in his last 12 games and he leads the NHL with 19 power-play goals.
The Flames were able to select Nieuwendyk in the second round of the 1985 entry draft(the 27th player overall) only because the three teams ahead of Calgary selected goaltenders.
Jack Ferreira, director of player development for the New York Rangers, was the Flames' college hockey expert at the time and recommended they choose Nieuwendyk. However, Fletcher wanted a goalie and stayed firm until the top three players at that position available went on the three previous picks -- Sean Burke to New Jersey, Troy Gamble to Vancouver and Kay Whitmore to Hartford.
Calgary's first-round choice was Chris Biotti, a Massachusetts high school defenseman currently attending Harvard. Only 10 of the 26 selected before Nieuwendyk are playing in the NHL and none has made half the impact he has.
Washington Coach Bryan Murray, who once asked the Capitals' scouts to look at Nieuwendyk and was told he was not strong enough for the NHL, said after Calgary's 8-2 victory Sunday, "He really jumps into the hole and he's much quicker than I remember. He has great moves around the net." Ciccarelli in Trouble
Between Monday's preparation and Friday's publication of last week's Notebook, Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars wrecked his wonderful season. Ciccarelli not only drew a 10-game suspension for repeatedly slashing Toronto's Luke Richardson, but police in that city have obtained a warrant and plan to arrest Ciccarelli on the North Stars' next visit, Feb. 24, and charge him with assault. Richardson, who cross-checked Ciccarelli to precipitate the incident, said, "He swung his stick like a baseball bat right over my head. The impact on the helmet gave me a flash of lights in front of my eyes."
Said Ciccarelli, unrepentant: "If it happened again, I'd do the same thing."
Incredibly, the suspension does not take effect until Friday, so Ciccarelli played a home game against Toronto Wednesday night. . . . There is precedent for civil action over hockey assaults in Toronto. In 1977, Bob Kelly and Joe Watson of Philadelphia were fined a total of $950 for common assault as a result of incidents in which Watson's stick struck a policeman and Kelly's glove hit an usher during all-out brawls. The same year, Toronto's Dave (Tiger) Williams of Toronto was acquitted of an assault charge after his stick cut Pittsburgh's Dennis Owchar.
Wilson Out for Season
Chicago defenseman Doug Wilson likely will be voted to the Campbell Conference team for the Feb. 9 NHL All-Star Game, but he will not be playing. Shoulder surgery has ended Wilson's season. . . . The Winter Olympics will force the Calgary Flames to play on the road for a full month, from Feb. 2 to March 2, during which time they have 11 games. There is no guarantee it will cost them the league's best record, because their road record is 12-5-1, best in the NHL. . . . When the Edmonton Oilers held a golf tournament after a game here, the winner was Moe Mantha, newly arrived from Pittsburgh. Kevin Lowe commented: "Having been a Penguin, Moe would have more than a little time to refine his golf game while we were busy winning Stanley Cups." . . . Referee Kerry Fraser, who missed the first half of the season because of hepatitis, went back to work last week. He issued 41 penalties in his first game, between Buffalo and Hartford.