[WashingtonCaps.com continues the summer series "Alumni Spotlight," where WashingtonCaps.com interviews former Washington Capitals players. Previous Alumni Spotlights include Ken Sabourin, Michal Pivonka, Kevin Kaminski, Dennis Maruk, Scott Walker, Brian Pothier, Chris Clark, Ken Klee, Matt Pettinger, Ben Clymer, Bryan Muir, Jamie Heward, Brendan Witt and Anson Carter.]
WashingtonCaps.com (WC.com): You were traded to the Capitals during the 1993-94 season. What was going through your head as you changed teams midseason?
Joé Juneau (JJ): I do remember that like it was yesterday actually. I was in Boston; things were going very good for me obviously, as a player, in my career. I didn’t want to leave Boston. I was pretty happy there on a good team. When it was announced on the deadline that I was traded, I was going through contract negotiations with the Bruins. Things were not going the right way I guess. What was going through my mind was I was very, very down. I was sad that I had to leave Boston. Then eventually, when I did arrive in Washington, I saw that as a new start you know. Obviously it was asking me to adapt to this new team, and this new environment and everything. I guess it’s just a part of being a hockey player, you know. It’s a business. I got traded to Washington for business reasons really because on the ice the results were there. When you have 100 points per season it’s obviously not due to poor performance.
WC.com: What was the locker room like when you first came to the team?
JJ: It was very different than what the locker room was like in Boston. What you have to know is at that time, the Caps had just had a coaching change. I think they had just brought Jim Schoenfeld in a few weeks before I got traded there and I was traded for Al Iafrate, who was a big part of this Caps’ team. I was coming into a team that was going though some major, major changes. It was very awkward to come into the locker room at first, but that’s how I felt. What I’m saying is that that’s not the situation, but it’s how I felt as a player coming in. Also, what you need to know was we were battling to make the playoffs so when I was traded to Washington we were just trying to make it into the playoffs, battling all the way until the end. If I remember right, we secured the spot in the last couple games of the season to enter the playoffs. It was a good stretch. It required the team to come together, to gel and to play good down the road that year. Actually what happed, the players that were there under Jim Schoenfeld ended up battling, playing pretty good and opening in the first round against Pittsburgh and actually beating Pittsburgh. That’s what I remember from my first few months in Washington. It was actually pretty exciting and it was something that marked my career as a professional player, just going from one team to another going down the stretch and having to battle for a playoff spot. Then after earning that spot, facing Pittsburgh, beating Pittsburgh and eventually losing to the New York Rangers who won the Cup that year. It was very special. It was not an easy thing to beat Pittsburgh. We did that obviously by playing very, very hard and everybody contributed to that run. Eventually facing New York, with Mark Messier and company in the second round, we just got beat by a better team. New York ended up winning the Cup that year so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
WC.com: You scored the game-winning goal in overtime to get the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup finals in 1998. What was that moment like for you?
JJ: The whole playoff run was very, very special. You know we ended up, Washington ended up, building an unbelievable team. In the 13 years of my NHL career, that team in Washington was probably the most talented team that I was ever on. It was a matter of getting all these talented players to gel and play together. It was amazing really. You’d look around the locker room and go down the roster from line one to line number five and all the eight or nine defensemen and the goaltending starting with [Olie] Kolzig, it was really an amazing group of guys, very talented. What happened obviously going from the very defensive-minded coaching of Jim Schoenfeld to the coaching of Ron Wilson that kind of brought, not maybe, but obviously brought a different offensive dimension to playing the game. It was very good for the players that we had in place. It didn’t take much from the defensive part of our game. By going that far and reaching the Stanley Cup finals you obviously have to play very good hockey both ways, but the offensive game that Ron Wilson brought obviously was very positive for that group of guys. Like I said, the whole experience that year was very, very positive and scoring a couple big overtime goals, including the one in overtime that allowed us as a team to move on into the finals, was really, I look at it today as doing my part to contribute to the team’s success. You score a goal and there are a lot of other people who made that goal happen. All my life I was a playmaker, setting up goals for others, that was the way that I played. I was way more of a playmaker than a finisher and it’s funny that one of the biggest goals in Caps’ history was one I got and not set up. When I talk about that goal I always talk about the work that Brian Bellows did. Adam Oates and I had exchanged the puck in the neutral zone and coming in the zone, driving the net. It was Brian Bellows that did everything, crashing the net. I just followed for rebounds like we’ve been taught since we were very, very young and the puck was there. I give a lot of credit to Brian Bellows for that goal.
WC.com: Do you still keep in touch with any of your former teammates?
JJ: You know my life is pretty busy doing all kinds of different things and I’m very rarely in the environment of big cities in the NHL and all that stuff. I live out in the country, north of Quebec City, which is not an NHL city anymore. I don’t have the occasions to see guys and to stay in touch and stuff like that. When I make it to Montreal, I really try to make it to the morning skates that way I have a chance once in a while to see guys that I played with like a few years ago running into Jonesy [Keith Jones], running into Brian Bellows. It’s always very good to see these guys after the years, but it’s not like I pick up the phone and call them every month. It’s great though when I do get a chance to run into them, bring back memories and talk about the old times.
WC.com:Can you tell me a little about what you have been up to lately both on and off the ice?
JJ: Since I retired pretty much I’ve been involved in this project to help the kids up in Nunavik [Quebec]. It’s a program that uses hockey to help with social and community development. It’s fun. It’s fun for me to be involved in such things. It’s very rewarding. I see the kids are getting a lot from that. It’s a great way for me to remain in hockey, to use the sport that I love, that I practiced all my life, to still be involved in it today, but to give back in a way to the children using my background, everything I’ve learned through my life in this great game. I’m trying to use it and give as much as possible to these kids that need it so badly. You can probably read about this program in different media and articles that have been done through the years. It’s good for the kids. It’s fun for us adults who re-involved too as professionals to help and try to bring up youth hockey, to develop youth hockey in respect to education in this part of the province of Quebec. It’s really, really nice. It’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last seven years and there’s also my family with our two daughters that are 11 and 12 and involved in all kinds of things: cross-country skiing, speed skating. We’re busy.