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Family helped push Dunne to reach the highest level

Blue Jackets rookie had plenty of support in his quest to make the NHL

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Imagine growing up as one of six siblings, all of whom have the competitive edge of Michael Jordan. 

OK, it might not be quite that intense, but when the Dunne family gets together to do anything, it's going to be competitive. From the oldest child, Jessica -- born March 1, 1996 -- to the youngest, Joy -- born June 13, 2005 -- there is an understood reality that if the Dunnes are going to do something, the goal is to win. 

"We all hate losing," Jincy, the second-oldest child, told CBJ Radio's Bob McElligott earlier this year. "Board games were contact sports." 

Tammy Dunne, mother of all six kids -- including Blue Jackets center Josh Dunne, who just finished his rookie year with the club after signing in March -- confirmed.  

"Oh my gosh. People end up crying," Tammy said. "Nobody likes to lose in the family. Everything always had a competitive edge, to say the least." 

Video: #CBJin30 (4/23/21)

Perhaps that's one reason why the Dunne family, then, has become synonymous with hockey in the St. Louis area and is starting to make noise on a much higher level. Both Jessica and Jincy suited up for Ohio State's women's hockey program, and Jincy, 24, could be a 2022 Olympian for Team USA as she has made the first cut for players announced last week. Josh, meanwhile, was a three-year standout at Clarkson University before playing six games with the Blue Jackets this season at age 22. 

The fourth-oldest Dunne child, 19-year-old Josey, just finished her freshman season at the University of Minnesota, a longtime women's hockey powerhouse at the collegiate level. James Dunne, age 17, just finished his third high school season, while rumor has it Joy could be as good as any of her siblings at age 15, already standing out for the St. Louis Blues AAA program. 

So surely the Dunnes have to come from good hockey stock, perhaps a parent or two that played the sport growing up? But as Josh says, "The irony is my parents never played," with father Tom standing out at such sports as golf, soccer and baseball and Tammy playing volleyball, basketball, track and softball while growing up in Pickerington, Ohio.  

Because of their love of sports, the Dunnes wanted their kids to be exposed to just about everything, with Jessica and Jincy starting with soccer and figure skating. But if the family went to a hockey game, Josh always had an eye on the action, so the parents signed him up for a 4-and-under shoe hockey league. 

Suddenly, the Dunnes were a hockey family. 

"It was a three-rink facility and on the adjacent rink was roller hockey, and both of the girls even at an early age were like, 'That looks like a lot more fun than figure skating. Can we try this?'" Tammy remembers. "We said sure. We wanted them to be well-rounded and exposed to lots of different things, so they started playing. It took them a couple of years, but they continued to get better, then the girls made the transition into ice." 

While there's a three-year gap between the three oldest siblings and Josey, once the older siblings were in, the younger ones followed. It helps that, to quote Tammy, "I always joke when the three younger ones came along, it was cheaper to put them in hockey than let them spend the money at the concession stand and in the game room." 

But as Josh told CBJ Radio's Dylan Tyrer earlier this year, "We all fell in love with the game individually. It worked out really well. We just kept sticking with it, and we still enjoy it." 

It wasn't always easy, as any hockey parent can attest. There are tournaments across the country as players get older and better, and Tammy said the family went through four vehicles, including one that had more than 300,000 miles on it.  

"People used to ask me if I was a stay-at-home mom," she said. "I said, 'No, I stay in the car.' I'm a star-in-car mom. I raised them in the car." 

All joking aside, though, it's fair to say things have worked out. Each Dunne sibling has had his or her moments in the game, from Josh's NHL debut to Jincy's college and pro successes to the young players finding their own way in the game. 

The most public accomplishment, though, might have been when Josh played his first game with the Blue Jackets on April 15 in Dallas. Dunne was called up in the days leading up to the game, giving the entire Dunne family time to put together an impromptu trip to Big D.  

Because social distancing rules were still in effect, the Dunnes had to sit in three different spots in American Airlines Arena, leaving Jessica, Josey and Joy -- all clad in blue CBJ shirts with the Dunne name and number on the back -- to all the television time as they celebrated Josh's first game. 

Tweet from @jdunne33: Started the day hauling it from stl ������ 🚘 Dallas. Watched @dunnej21 dream come true. Finished the night w/ some cheers and @Whataburger One of the best moments for the Dunne fam no doubt. We couldn���t be more proud of & excited for you Josh! Go @BlueJacketsNHL

After all, if one Dunne is doing something, the rest of the family is there to support them in the biggest way possible. 

"For me, as a sister, there is nothing in the world better than seeing my siblings live out their dream come true," Jincy said. "People are like, 'What's your dream?' I'm like, 'My dream is to see my siblings' dreams come true.' 

"I know how badly from a young age Josh has wanted this. If you had looked at Josh as a hockey player from a young age, you'd have been like, 'No way.' To see where he's gone over the years and how hard he's worked because he loved something and he wanted to do it, my sister and I have been able to see the behind the scenes in Josh's journey and he really has gone through a lot." 

For Josh, he was never one of the most highly touted players coming up through the youth ranks, as he went through his draft year without being selected. He was a good player on St. Louis Blues AAA teams with the likes of NHL players Trent Frederic and Brady Tkachuk -- even playing one year on the U-16 squad with Jincy -- but ended up spending four years with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. 

He was a depth player for the first three years, totaling 26 points in his first 80 games, before a breakout 2017-18 when he earned an "A" and had a 21-27-48 line in 60 games. Learning how to use his big body to his advantage, Dunne ended up at Clarkson, where he was captain this past season and totaled a 29-26-55 line in 78 games for a resurgent Golden Knights program. 

Intrigued by his combination of size and effort with some scoring skill mixed in, Columbus signed him once Clarkson's season ended in March. He totaled eight goals and 10 points in 15 games with Cleveland of the AHL, while the NHL debut of six games was the cherry on top, all with the family in tow. 

"It's been surreal (to see Josh's success)," Tammy said. "It's such a wonderful opportunity, and it's so nice to see everybody celebrating it.  

"I think my heart is the fullest when we have all six of them together. It's a wonderful thing to have your children be close to each other. I would say that they have a very solid unit that they depend on each other and really rely on each other a lot."

But in many ways, that's the Dunne story. Together, it feels like they can do anything.  

"We all push each other," Josh said. "It's a very healthy competitiveness, and I think it definitely is a big part of the reason why I am here today." 

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