Former New Jersey Devil (a.k.a. Mr. Devil) Ken Daneyko is the master of storytelling.  As I was putting together his contribution to the Throwback Thursday series on his early beginnings growing up hockey, the first part of the interview was so long, it warranted its own piece.  That means…there’s a part two to this interview which you will find here next Thursday.Here’s Daneyko’s story…”We all take different paths,” Daneyko said.  “I did it not out of arrogance, but more out of belief and confidence that I wanted to play so bad. I told my mother 50 times a day since I was seven years old ‘I’m going to play in the National Hockey League.’ She used to pacify me and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, Kenny, I know.’ I used to annoy the heck out of her. It’s not a lie. It’s all I said. I guess back then, if I reflect, I believed it. As a kid, you’re gung ho, saying things and having dreams. It certainly was a dream.”My third grade teacher…I done pretty good in school. I finished my work quick[ly]. She told my mother that, called her up and she says, ‘You’ve got to tell him he’s really disrupting the kids, because he’s telling the kids he’s going to play in the National Hockey League. They’re not finished their work yet and that’s all he talks about.’ My mom said, ‘Don’t burst his bubble. Don’t burst his dream,’ (even though I knew she felt the same way). ‘It’s a small percentage. I’ll tell him to stop disrupting the class, but don’t tell him he can’t play in the National Hockey League.’

“I went to junior hockey right from Bantam. I played in Saskatchewan. I was the youngest kid in the league at 15. I wasn’t mature enough mentally, I certainly was physically. I wanted to do whatever it took.

“My father was born in Germany and was a soccer guy. He didn’t know a lot about hockey till he came to Canada. He always supported me and never said boo to me. He knew I had an inner drive. I had a day to decide if I was going to move 500 miles away at 15 years old. My mother said, ‘Over my dead body are you going to leave at 15 and go play with 18/19 year olds.’ My father said, ‘I’ll take care of your mother.’

Photo: TSN

Photo: TSN

“I got driven by the coach to the team in Saskatchewan. I didn’t tell my mom I was leaving. She wouldn’t have let me. My dad says, ‘Is this what you want to do?’ I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of your mother.’ So I took off.

“She never forgave my dad ever since. It all worked out fortunately. I was drafted in ’82, the original year. I didn’t know where New Jersey was.

“I would have ran 3,000 miles to get my chance. I just always believed. I knew it since I was seven. When I became maturer as a 14/15 year old, I just thought this is what I’m going to do. This is what I’ve got to do. This is all I want to do and know how to do. I have no clue if you had asked me what I wouldn’t have played hockey. I have no idea. I threw all my eggs in one basket. I don’t recommend that. Do different things.
“This was a dream of mine. I wanted to play. I would’ve ran 3,000 miles to New Jersey. It didn’t matter what team drafted me. I was pretty darn happy.

“Bert Marshall was the scout at the time, one of the head scouts for the New Jersey Devils. He used to drive a small beat up Winnebago through Western Canada to scout kids. He’d drive 12 hours through Saskatchewan to Spokane to Seattle. I played junior hockey in Seattle in the Western Hockey League. I had no idea the Devils were interested in me and I didn’t expect to go the first round. I was partially optimistic that I would get picked second or third, or maybe the fourth round. That’s when I got nervous. That’s when my confidence waned a little.

“I heard there was a good chance I could get drafted, but I wasn’t ranked nearly as high. There were 21 teams at the time. Bert Marshall had been following me around for a month and through the last month of the playoffs. I had seen Bert Marshall at the [2013] Draft. He still kept scouting for Carolina.

“He came up to me. I said, ‘Bert, I’ve got to thank you for putting a lot of faith and belief in me.’ He said, ‘You kidding me? You made my career, because the Devils didn’t want to draft you.’ He begged them. He said, ‘I’m telling you, if you had 18th pick. He’s not ranked in the first round. We’re not going to take him. That was Marshall Johnson…he’s just not ranked there. We don’t know enough about him. He said, ‘I drove my Winnebago around and watched this kid for one month. I watched him in the playoff. I’m telling you he’s going to play 15 years for you.’ Then Bert laughed at the Draft recently. He said, ‘I lied to them. You played 20 for them.’

“He stuck his neck out for me. They didn’t want to take me and then they were going to take me. Bert Marshall said, ‘You’ve got to take this guy. He’s there. I’m telling you…take him. He’s going to play a long time.’ I was very grateful to him and vice versa, because he’s still scouting in the National Hockey League. You hit some and you miss some. I’m very grateful that I had the drive and determination, because I know I wasn’t the most talented. I was more of a role guy. I like to believe I developed my game along the way and bring that physical presence. But to be able to fulfill that dream and to make sure Bert Marshall looked good. It makes you proud when you reflect when you get older. It was fine, because we had a big hug.

“He said I was one of the guys that started it for him, because he just started scouting. He stuck his neck out for me, and I’m just as grateful to him for believing in me.

“Fortunately it was here in New Jersey and for a guy that didn’t know where New Jersey was, I wear the logo on my chest (the NJ) and I’ve been here for 31 years now. I love the State. I’m very grateful I got to play on one team. I know I don’t take for granted that not many players get to stay in one organization.”

***

If you think hockey players are all a bunch of fearless, tough guys, that’s not always true.  Back in the 1980’s, there were teams that terrified the New Jersey Devils.

“In the early 80s, when we had to go out in Philadelphia and they had seven tough guys, we had to take the bus up the turnpike and you could hear a pin drop on our bus because we didn’t have any tough guys. Me and Joe Cirella would stand up for guys back then. It was nerve-wracking. Did I want to go out and play? Yeah. You know that threat of Philadelphia aura was the real deal. They were tough, nasty.

Photo: Devils

Photo: Devils

“I remember in the early 80s when we weren’t that good of a team, it was tough to want to go play there. We knew they were going to beat the crap out of us. The guys were really nervous once in a while going into Philly when I was in my early 20s.”

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Most players grew up loving a specific team.  Since the New Jersey Devils didn’t exist when Daneyko was a kid, what team did he cheer for?

“I grew up a Toronto Maple Leaf fan.”

***

There is always someone, when you look back on your life, that inspired you to become a greater person.  For Daneyko, that inspirational person gave him such a difficult time, he thought the guy hated him.  That person was Tommy McVeigh.

“He was very instrumental in my career. He was a very old, old school coach. He had that deep, gruffy voice. I thought he hated me. I know I played with him when I was an underage Devil. We played here, we’re playing well. I broke my leg 12 games into the season. He didn’t really say much to me when I was playing good hockey. Then the next year I came back, I felt like I [was doing] very good. They sent me down and I was pissed off and sulking. Tommy happened to be the coach down at the farm team then, so he’d bring me into the office every other day. He’d joke with me and I’d be very pissed off. He’d go, ‘Guess who called for you? Not a friggin soul.’ He knew I wanted to go up to Jersey.

“He was always hard on me… He went through the whole team [when] we were playing terribly. ‘Paul, you haven’t made a pass in a month. You suck.’ He was going through everybody, out in front of everybody. He goes, ‘Don…you might as well put two sticks together because all you do is poke check, poke check. You’re scared to death out there.’ Then he came to me, ‘Kenny, you want to play in the National Hockey League, you need to get beat by Todd Binger. He sucks. You got beat three times by him tonight.’

“Al Stewart was a little Looney Tunes, and [McVeigh] goes, ‘Al, what can I say about you, Stew? You’re just big and dumb.’ Because he fights everybody. ‘I can’t really say anything about you. You take on everybody and you’re not that bright.”

“I thought [McVeigh] hated me because he was always hard on me. Little did I know, I learned when I retired, I gave him lots of credit when they retired my number and he actually came to Jersey. He was tough on me because he believed in me. He said, ‘I’m not going to be tough on a guy I know is going to be a career minor leaguer. I thought you could play, but you had to learn a lot along the way.

“He made me do this 20 minute workout before every practice in the morning with weights where you’re punching them out. Tommy would come around. He’d take a step back and he’d sniff me, smell me. He goes, ‘Dano, do you need 50 bucks? Jesus. Do you need 50 bucks?’ I go, ‘What do I need 50 bucks for?’ He said, ‘Start drinking something with a label on it.’

“We’d been out the night before.”

“I was getting called up by the Devils and [the] captain, he couldn’t get a hold of me. I was out at restaurants and bars with a bunch of teammates. [He] leaves his house at one in the morning and comes to the bar and say, ‘Dano, get to a payphone. You’ve got to call Tommy.’ I think he’s playing a prank on me. He says, ‘I’m telling you, call him.’ I say, ‘Steve, I’ll kill you if you’re bullshitting me.’ He gave me a quarter and I call Tommy. In his deep gruff voice he says, ‘I’ll be at your house at 6AM. You’re going to the airport. You’re getting called up.’”

“Tommy was the only coach that picked up his players and brought them to the airport himself when they get called up to the National Hockey League. I go home. I get no sleep. I pack. I got eight bags out. I’ve got everything but the kitchen sink outside of my little condo there. He gets out of the car and goes, ‘What the hell is this?’ He said he’d never seen one player get called up and have more than a suit bag. I put them all in his car and said, ‘You’re not going to be seeing me back.’ He never said another word. He dropped me off. Lo and behold, I never came back. He told me when they retired my number, ‘I knew you were never going to come back. You were going to be there for 15 years. You were too determined. You wanted to play.’ It all started with Tommy being hard on me and these crazy stories, but I had every bag packed. He said he’d never to this day, every guy would bring one suit bag.

“I did ask him how long I would be going before. He said, ‘How the hell should I know?’ He goes, ‘You play good, you’ll be there 15 years. You play bad, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ He said he knew I wasn’t coming back.”

 

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