Defining Moment for Young Devils?

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko touches on the terrific play of the Devils’ youngsters, the huge momentum-building OT win against the Rangers and facing an old friend in Toronto.

MSGNetworks.com: Normally, we start off with a question about the Devils, but this time we’re going to ask about something that hits even closer to home for you. Was it as nerve-wracking to see your son Shane perform the national anthem as it was to play a game?

Ken Daneyko: Well, I think it’s a different kind of nerves. Like any parent, you wish the best for your kids and I hope he follows his dream. But yeah, I was a mess before the game — even two hours beforehand! You try not to make a big deal out of it. I just didn’t want to see him falter. It went smoother than anticipated and I was very proud of him as his father. He was much less nervous than I was and he was settling me down. He was doing the sound check beforehand and there were some glitches there, but he told me, ‘relax, dad. I’m just trying to find my pitch!’ You want your kid to do well and I think he exceeded expectations, which made me very happy.

MSGNetworks.com: He proved to be a good-luck charm, the Devils won a thrilling game against the Rangers in overtime.

Ken Daneyko: Well, that’s always icing on the cake! He also performed four years ago in a duet with my daughter. The Devils happen to win that game as well, so they’re 2-0 when my kids perform. That’s a good thing!

MSGNetworks.com: The Devils played an intense, physical game against the Rangers and came out with the 3-2 OT win. A lot of folks pointed to the fight Miles Wood had with Nick Holden as a turning point of the game. Do you think that sparked the Devils?

Ken Daneyko: We don’t see enough physical play compared to my playing days of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. I love the game today, and the skill level has certainly gotten better since those days, but at times I do miss the passion and hatred between rivals. This was one of those games where even [Rangers] coach [Alain] Vigneault and [Rick] Nash called it a playoff atmosphere. The standings didn’t matter. We’re rivals, we don’t like each other and we’re going to play our tails off. It had a little bit of everything and that’s what makes it exciting.

I liked Miles Wood’s passion and emotion he displayed. He felt he was vulnerable when he took that hit and he took care of business himself. He got things going and both teams were emotional. That’s all part of rivalries. When you say ‘turning point,’ I wouldn’t go that far because the Rangers would end up scoring on the power play.

From the Devils’ point of view, I would have loved to see them kill off that penalty. Those are the types of aggressive penalties that as a player, you love to kill. The Rangers came out storming in the third and they showed why they’re the best road team in the National Hockey League.

This could turn out to be a defining moment for a lot of the young guys, and it looked like they truly want to be a part of the solution here. Guys like [Joseph] Blandisi, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, these are the young guys that are playing hard with emotion, and I think this win was a coming out party for them. This was a moment that the fans recognize that finally, we might be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Going into next year, you can build on these things.

I love the heart, soul and passion from these Devils, and they know they’re still playing for something.

MSGNetworks.com: You alluded to some of the young players’ contributions in [Tuesday’s] game. John Quenneville, a guy we talked about last week, had a major impact in the game with his first NHL goal and he even assisted on the game-winner. What have you seen from him in his second stint with the big club?

Ken Daneyko: I don’t care who you are, when you first get called up, it takes some time to even understand that it’s real being in the NHL. You have to pinch yourself. You’re playing in the National Hockey League. Even for guys that are skilled, they sometimes get caught up in watching the puck. In the second call-up, you want to go for it.

I remember mentioning that Quenneville is a big strong kid that can shoot and has good hockey skill. Boy, has he shown all that and more! He hasn’t disappointed in the slightest. If you listen to him talk before a game, you realize that he’s a confident kid. I like that. He believes in himself. In his first go-round, he was thrilled to be here and didn’t know what to expect. Now, he’s an integral part of beating a rival in a huge game. He’s even displaying maturity in his post-game comments!

MSGNetworks.com: Finally, the Devils take on the Maple Leafs [tonight] and we have to mention the fact that your former general manager, Lou Lamoriello, is now the GM of the Leafs. Do you see similarities in what Lou is doing in Toronto with what he did in New Jersey, and do you think the Devils can use the Leafs as an example for their retooling?

Ken Daneyko: I certainly hope that the Devils can follow the Maple Leafs’ blueprint. There are some guys Lou drafted and some guys were already there. The players they recently drafted like Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Auston Matthews have come on by leaps and bounds. We hope that the Devils can build like that. Lou did that here in ’88, the first year he came.

Lou has been rejuvenated in Toronto and for him, I think it has been the right move. Nobody is closer to Lou than I am over the years as a player, and I have the utmost respect for him. I look at him like an uncle or second father. He might be the most important person in the history of the Devils’ franchise along with the likes of Brodeur, Stevens and Niedermayer because he wants to win so bad.

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All things work out the way they’re supposed to and I know Lou is extremely happy in Toronto. They got a great young team and the Devils are trying to get there. General manager Ray [Shero] and Coach [John] Hynes will get there sooner rather than later. Lou respected and loved me, but he also said that I made him bald! I said, ‘ditto, that’s why I’m bald!’ The one common dominator we had was that we wanted to win so badly. I’ll give him a hug and I love the guy, but I want my New Jersey Devils to pound his team.