Imagine stepping into the batters box to find left-handed pitcher Ken Daneyko staring you down—which almost happened—as baseball meant just as much and maybe more to the inevitably beloved New Jersey Devils defenseman growing up.
Fortunately for major league batters and unfortunately for hockey players on the receiving end of a punishing Daneyko check, "Mr. Devil" chose the ice over the diamond.
"People didn't know anything about it because the joke is we got two months of summer [in Canada]," Daneyko said.
But I played baseball from a younger age than I started hockey, believe it or not. Baseball was my other love. I was a lefty pitcher, they always were in demand of left-handed pitchers, so when I was 14, 15, 16, I had looked for colleges and different things because lefties were in demand. I chose my hockey path because I knew I'd get a better opportunity quicker, or not the opportunity I would know.
Clearly he made the right decision, as Daneyko spent 20 years in the red, white and black from 1983 to 2003.
Now, he doles out his time as opposed to bone-crushing hits.
Sunday, March 24, the great No. 3 will be lacing up the skates in the "Rivals for Relief" charity hockey game at Madison Square Garden, which will be presented by The Stan Lee Foundation, a public charity promoting literacy, education and the arts across the United States.
Islanders great Benoit Hogue will be one of the participants Sunday and made a statement on behalf of the ex-players.
The devastation of Sandy that has hit areas of NY, NJ, PA, and other states on the east coast has left many people, and some close friends, homeless and others in the dark and with no heat for weeks. We have seen people from all over the U.S. who have come together in so many ways to help one another during this hard time and now it’s time for us former professional hockey players to get together and give back.
Some of the former players that Hogue is talking about include, Pat LaFontaine, Bruce Driver, Dan Blackburn, Ron Duguay, Jim Dowd, Pat Flatley, Vladimir Malakhov, Grant Marshall, Brian Mullen, Krzysztof Oliwa, Michel Petit, Mick Vukota and of course, Ken Daneyko.
These days you can catch Daneyko on MSG+ where he serves as the Devil's analyst and as a contributor on “Hockey Night Live” every Saturday night on MSG and MSG+ during the hockey season.
I had the pleasure of speaking with "Mr. Devil" on the phone, and Daneyko can talk about his generosity, MSG memories, former players, Devils Hockey and family life until he's as blue in the face as the blue line on the ice—and we did.
Benjamin J. Block: Did Hurricane Sandy affect you and your family, or anybody that you knew?
Ken Daneyko: Not me directly per se because I was very fortunate obviously living in North Jersey, but nothing too badly. Everybody was touched in some way I think, literally in the tri-state area. You knew somebody or were friends of people and regardless if you weren't, it was a hurricane so you were affected by it just by seeing everything on TV.
I've lived in New Jersey for years, and I knew a few people, but like I said, seeing what went on was a catastrophe. Anytime you can do anything in a small way or whatever way to help out, is great.
BJB: You've been honored with awards like the "unsung hero award," the "good guy award" as well as the Bill Masterton Trophy, so what does it mean to you to be asked to participate in this "Rivals for Relief" charity hockey game?
KD: I feel very fortunate to have been in this area for so long, and stay in one area. Obviously when you retire and get old and grey (laughing), I certainly like to give back as much as I can, and it's always an honor when you can give money and help out.
I think you see that with a lot of hockey guys. A lot of guys stay in the area, and anytime they can lend a hand, they do.
BJB: Upon your return to the Garden on Sunday, what memories come back to you?
KD: Well, we had some great playoff series in 1994, some great games over the years, especially in the early '90s. Even though we lost in '94, it was one of the greatest playoff series ever played, and it helped the organization move to the next level, and we won a Stanley Cup after that, so that certainly is in my memory bank.
That's what the playoffs are all about, and it couldn't get any more dramatic than Game 7 in Madison Square Garden, and regardless of losing, it was a great experience. One of the epic series of my lifetime, even though we lost.
You gotta learn to lose in tough situations before you can win it all, and fortunately for us, we won it all the following season.
BJB: Of all the former Rangers, Islanders and Devils players that you will be teaming up with for this charity game, is there anyone specific you are looking forward to seeing?
KD: A lot of the guys attending, I've either played in some kind of golf charity with or what have you, but nobody in particular.
I might be an old fart, I'm older than a lot of these guys, but I always love seeing guys like Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom, and even though I know they're not playing, those are players who I looked up to and respected when I was a kid and coming into the league.
The guys now, I've seen a lot of them, and Malakhov who was a former teammate—we won a cup together. So it's always special when you see guys who you have some sort of bond with and the bond is even a little stronger when you win something together, that's for sure.
Anytime you get us former players together, you tend to have a lot of good times. The juices are still flowing, even though it doesn't flow quite as good as when we were playing (laughing). The heart's dead but the legs play on. There are still some guys who can move out there, it's all good so should be fun.
BJB: Are you looking forward to seeing special guest, Boomer Esiason, out there on the ice?
KD: I love it. He's a die-hard hockey guy, and he gives it some exposure. I'll give him a little bit of a whack if I'm dancing with him (chuckling).
BJB: Switching gears, do you ever see yourself moving into coaching or the front office?
KD: Good question. I never say never in anything. I don't think coaching so much. I've always been intrigued with being involved with the development side of the game.
Having said that, I love what I do and I just always keep my ears and eyes open and my options open. If the opportunity ever arose, then yes, it would certainly be something to consider.
Never rule anything out.
BJB: Put on your GM hat, how do you evaluate the Devils this season.
KD: It was a long time ago when I played in the last shortened season, and our team had some good fortune and won our first cup, but the schedule seems even more compact now then it was back then.
The hockey has been terrific, and if you go on any kind of slump it makes it tough. I know our team went through a tough time, but all the locals at times have, and that's what makes it great.
For the Devils, I just think that they have to do what has made them successful over the years. They have to stay healthy, they got Brodeur coming back, and he's a big difference for them—when you don't have Marty, it makes it difficult.
Are they the best team on paper? Probably not, but that's why you play the game. In the playoffs, you always have a chance, and we saw that with the Kings and Devils last year—six and eight seeds.
With the Devils, it all starts with their forechecking and team defense, and if they do that successfully, they can make the playoffs and possibly make some noise.
There are only a select few teams that can turn the switch off and on, and I think the Devils are one of them because they have a veteran group that's been there before and been there recently—last year.
The Nearly 50-year-old Daneyko still talks hockey like he eats, sleeps and breaths it, but his passion these days are split between chasing the golf ball, spending time with his family and supporting his 14-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter.
Don't pass up the rare chance to see "Mr. Devil" mix it up with all the other ex-NHL greats on Sunday at the "Worlds Most Famous Arena," as funds raised will support immediate aid needs including food, cleaning materials and hygiene supplies, as well as long-term relief and restoration.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.