Player Profile: Ken Daneyko, “Mr. Devil”

I knew I wanted to start doing occasional player profiles here on the blog and knew exactly where I wanted to begin: with the man who holds the club record for games played (1,283) over his twenty year NHL career (spent entirely with the Devils) – Ken Daneyko. Over the last 30-plus years, no one has embodied the New Jersey Devils franchise and represented the team better than “Dano.” Whether it was as a rock-solid defenseman patrolling the Devils’ blueline or as a broadcaster on MSG Devils telecasts giving insight into the current team’s play, no one person is more tied to the Garden State’s entry into the National Hockey League than Ken Daneyko.

Although born in Windsor, Ontario, on April 17, 1964,  Daneyko actually grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. Taken with the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 1982 NHL Draft, Daneyko was the second draft pick in Devils history, taken behind only Rocky Trottier (brother of Islanders star Bryan Trottier) who was drafted 8th overall by the Devils. Interestingly, Scott Stevens, a man who would play an important part in Devils history, as captain of three Stanley Cup teams, and be intrinsically tied to Daneyko’s career, as well as a fellow defenseman, was taken 5th overall in that same draft by the Washington Capitals. The Draft was held on June 9, 1982 at the Montreal Forum and, thus, the team had not yet chosen a new nickname. But make no mistake, Daneyko was not chosen by the Colorado Rockies. When notified of his selection by the as-yet-unnamed New Jersey team, he turned to his mother and, as the story goes, asked her where New Jersey was located. Although Daneyko was not exactly sure where he was going to be lacing up his skates geographically, he has gone on record as saying that he was just happy to be drafted and to get a chance to play in the NHL.  Daneyko’s junior career had taken him from the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League to the Great Falls Americans, Spokane Flyers and Seattle Breakers of the WHL. He would make his Devils debut on October 5, 1983 against, appropriately, the New York Rangers in which he had his first NHL assist and point. He would score his first NHL goal a few weeks later on October 30, 1983 against Pittsburgh’s Michel Dion. Unfortunately, Daneyko would break his leg in a game against the Hartford Whalers and miss most of the 1983-84 season. Once his leg healed, he would be sent back to the Kamloops Junior Oilers of the WHL. Dave Hutchison had worn the number three for the 1982-83 season. Daneyko would claim it in 1983-84 and would never relinquish it, becoming the last Devil ever to wear it.

The following season was spent with the American Hockey League’s Maine Mariners, where Daneyko would refine the defensive skills he became known for. Daneyko would be called up to the Devils to start 1985-86, but would be sent back to Maine that November. He was recalled in January and spent the rest of the season (and his career) in the NHL with the Devils. He would represent Canada at that year’s World Championships, where the team would win a bronze medal. The 1986-87 was Dano’s first full year in the NHL and he would miss only one game that season.

Nineteen Eighty-eight was a magical year for the Devils and their fans and for Ken Daneyko. In an MSG documentary about the Devils’ Stanley Cup run that year called “MSG’s Vault: Devils on the Rise,” Al Trautwig said that all he has to do to get Daneyko to smile is say “1988,” and there is little question why that is the case. Daneyko would score five goals in the 1987-88 regular season, but none bigger than one he scored on April 3, 1988 in Chicago Stadium. The last game of the season and the Devils need a win to get in to the playoffs for the first time. The Rangers, with whom the Devils were competing with for that last spot in the Patrick Division, had won earlier in the day against Quebec. Daneyko would score the opening goal of that game against the Blackhawks, getting the team started on their way to an overtime win that would give them a spot in playoffs. Although Dano beat Darren Pang early in the first, it was that goal that set the pace for the Devils all night. Daneyko would finish that season with 12 points total and had seven points that postseason. For several years, until the Stanley Cups would come for the team, it was this year that Devils fans would look to as their “championship” season. This was the year that put the Devils on the map, the year that took the “Mickey Mouse” label, laid on them by Wayne Gretzky in 1983, off the team. It was apropos that Daneyko would play such an integral part in it then, as he was quickly becoming the face of a young franchise on the rise.

Although the Devils could not follow up on the magic of 1988 (the team would miss the playoffs, disappointingly, in 1989), Daneyko personally set a then franchise record of 283 PIMs, breaking his own record set the season prior. In 1989-90, he would become the first Devil to top 1,000 PIMs and would win the Ray DeGraw Memorial Award for cooperation with the media. Other career highlights in the years between 1988 and winning his first Cup in 1995 include scoring his only goal of the 1991-92 season on March 7, which was also his 100th career NHL point. He would play in his 500th game that year on February 6. March 20, 1993 saw Dano play in his 600th NHL game. In 1993-94, he began the year as the NHL’s ironman, starting the season in his 311th straight game. He would also claim a franchise record from Kirk Muller when he would play in his 322nd straight game that year.

The 1994-95 Stanley Cup season would see him play in his 700th NHL game and would see the Devils pull off the impossible in their four game sweep of the powerful Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. For players such as Daneyko and John MacLean, who were there in the early “Mickey Mouse” days and grew with the team through 1988, winning the 1995 Stanley Cup had to be the ultimate accomplishment. Daneyko would go on to win two more Cups with New Jersey, being the only player along with Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur, Sergei Brylin and Scott Niedermayer to be a member of all three of the Devils’ Stanley Cup teams in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

One of Ken Daneyko’s biggest accomplishments, though, would be his struggle with alcoholism in the late-1990s and 2000. He would check into rehab in 2000 with the help of General Manager Lou Lamoriello and team owner Dr. John McMullen. Daneyko recovered and played in every game during the Devils Stanley Cup run in 2000. He was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy that year for being the NHL player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.” That award is selected by a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association from a group of nominees from each team. Daneyko has remained sober to this day.

Ken Daneyko’s career would come to an end after the 2002-03 season when he announced his retirement from the Devils. He could not have picked a better note to go out on, as the Devils defeated the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final to win their third Stanley Cup. Coach Pat Burns would have a tough decision to make during that postseason, as Daneyko was benched or scratched altogether several times during the playoffs. But the coach knew what the man known as “Mr. Devil” meant to the team and at a team dinner the night before game seven, pulled Daneyko aside and told him he would be playing the following night. Daneyko had to go into another room, away from his teammates, in order to compose himself, the situation was that emotional for him.

Daneyko would be honored by the Devils on March 24, 2006 as the second Devil to have his jersey number retired. His number “3” has hung from the rafters of the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford and, now, in the Prudential Center in Newark. He became a naturalized United States citizen, because, as he pointed out, he has spent more time living in the U.S. than in Canada during his lifetime and his kids were born in the country. In retirement, “Dano” has worked for MSG broadcasts of Devils games and represents the team on the network’s “Hockey Night Live” panel show. There is much speculation that he will replace Glenn “Chico” Resch as the Devils’ TV color commentator following Resch’s retirement after this past season.

Time will tell what is next for a man who has represented the Devils so well not only on the ice and on TV, but also in the community. Ken Daneyko is a true Devils legend, and for someone who could not locate the state on a map when he was drafted, has become one of us, a true New Jerseyan.

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