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No Average Joé

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Joé Juneau enjoyed a 13-year NHL career in which he played 828 regular season games for six different clubs. He also skated in 112 Stanley Cup playoff games and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals two seasons in a row with two different teams. Here in Washington, he’ll always be remembered for what remains the biggest goal in franchise history, 10 years after the red light went on.

On June 4, 1998, Juneau beat Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek in overtime of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. That goal gave Washington a 3-2 win in the game and propelled the Capitals to their first – and still only – Stanley Cup finals appearance. The Caps have not won a playoff series since, and until someone nets a goal that gives the Caps a victory in a Stanley Cup finals contest, Juneau’s tally is still trumps in these parts.

Juneau was no ordinary hockey player, and he is no ordinary guy, either. Like most of his old teammates and the other players around the league, Juneau enjoys golf, tennis and fishing. He is also proficient at those endeavors. But he has always had a hunger for more.

“There’s only one life to live,” he told me more than a decade ago, “so you should try to do as many things as possible.”

He continues to live by that creed.

A licensed pilot with a degree in aeronautical engineering (try finding another hockey player who doubles as a rocket scientist), Juneau and his father built a plane in the family’s backyard in Quebec during the first NHL lockout in 1994.

Juneau played the drums in a rock band called Offwings. The group played a few live gigs locally – one of which featured Olie Kolzig sitting in on bass for one song – and released a CD. The proceeds from sales of the disc went to the Cam Neely Foundation in Boston (where Juneau played until a Mar. 21, 1994 deal brought him to the District) and Children’s Hospital in Washington.

During his five-year tenure in Washington, Juneau developed an interest in sled dogs.

“I have three huskies, and I’m reading some books right now,” he told me in the spring of 1997. “I’d love to have a dog team and to train them and see if I can do one of those long races like the Iditarod. That would be a big challenge.”

With Juneau, that’s the key phrase: big challenge. He was never content with the status quo, and always looking to push the envelope a bit and move off into the next direction. It’s ingrained in his personality, and it has served him well on and off the ice over the years.

Now it’s serving some others well.

Juneau and his family have moved to Kuujjuaq in the sparsely populated Nunavit region in the far northern reaches of Quebec, above even the northern-most borders of Canada’s western provinces. For the last year, Juneau has been developing and running a youth-hockey program that serves 200 kids in Kuujjuaq area and a total of 1,000 kids over a wider spread of the region.

“I was always attracted by big challenges,” he admits, using the same phrase 11 years later. “It’s been that way all my life.

“A good example is when I was 17-18 years old. I didn’t speak English at that time and I was recruited by a few American colleges. I could have just decided to stay in Quebec and go to school in French, but I decided to go to the States and go to school and learn [English] at the same time. On top of that, I was crazy enough to pick one of the toughest schools to attend in RPI. And on top of that, probably the toughest curriculum at that time at RPI was aeronautical engineering and that’s what I picked.

“I guess I was never afraid of big challenges, or maybe I was just too crazy. It’s pretty much the way I go about things in my life. Coming here to Kuujjuaq, I feel that I’m lucky to have that chance to do that. I feel that it’s a chance for me to have the people here in Nunavit putting their confidence in me and taking care of their kids and trying to solve some big problems, using hockey as a tool to fight criminality and to prevent the kids from dropping out of school at a high school level. So that’s where I am today. I’m very happy with what I’m doing here. I feel that it’s very rewarding, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Juneau’s desire of participating in the Iditarod has been shelved, at least for now, because of greater priorities. Raising two daughters and doing his work in Kuujjuaq are on the front burner for Juneau for now.

“That’s something that I still find very interesting,” he says, when queried about the dogs. “But at some point in your life when you become a father and you have a family, things change. Having dogs, having huskies is very much time demanding. Now that I live in Kuujjuaq in Nunavik, there are a few friends of mine here that have sled dogs. I go with them once in a while, but that’s about it. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself having the time and being able to put the energy towards something like that, although I would absolutely love it.”

During the course of his hockey playing career, Juneau played at the collegiate level for four seasons (he completed his degree in just three years), and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in each of his last two seasons. The Bruins drafted him in the fourth round (81st overall) of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, at the conclusion of his freshman season. Juneau spent a season skating for the Canadian National team, and he was a member of the silver-medal winning Team Canada at the 1992 Olympic Games. He led Team Canada in scoring in both the pre-Olympic tour and in the Games themselves.

While with the Canadian National team, Juneau played for noted coach Dave King, who later coached in Calgary, Columbus and in the Russian Super League.

“I always said that the one coach that actually influenced me the most or did the most for me throughout my career is Dave King with the [Canadian] national team,” says Juneau. “Although I spent less than a year with the national team and the Canadian Olympic team, I feel that Dave King as a coach gave me the knowledge that I was lacking from going from my college years to starting in Boston [with the Bruins]. He was a very good coach, for me anyway.

“Saying that, he’s obviously not the only one. There was a lot of positive that came from each coach that I had. Some of them were able to teach more than some of them. That’s just normal, I guess.”

Juneau went directly from the Olympics to the Bruins’ lineup, joining the team late in the 1991-92 campaign. He totaled five goals and 19 points in just 14 games and added four goals and a dozen points in 15 playoff contests.

In his first full season with the B’s, Juneau piled up 32 goals and 102 points in 84 games in what would prove to be his best season as a pro. He set an NHL mark for assists by a left wing (70) that still stands, and tied the league mark for assists by a rookie. Juneau was a runner-up for the Calder Trophy that season.

The Caps dealt defenseman Al Iafrate to Boston for Juneau, and the deal paid instant dividends in D.C. Juneau finished the 1993-94 season with five goals and 13 points in his 11 games as a Capital, and then added four goals and nine points in 11 playoff games. In his first playoff game in a Caps uniform, Juneau supplied the game-winning goal.

He was a Capital for five years and two days, and he’ll always be remembered fondly for going to the net and tucking that Brian Bellows rebound behind Hasek to send the Caps to the promised land for the first time.

In a recent Sports Illustrated article by Michael Farber, Juneau noted that he had always ranked getting his degree from R.P.I. as a greater accomplishment than anything he did in his playing career. And he also acknowledged that the work he does in Kuujjuaq has now superseded his R.P.I. degree on that scale.

It’s his hockey background that enables him to connect with the kids and their families, and not surprisingly, he finds himself telling the kids some of the same things his coaches told him along the way.
“That’s obviously the situation,” he admits. “I find myself a lot of times telling something to those kids that I heard from one of my coaches. It’s funny. It’s only a few years later when you become a trainer or a coach and you start thinking a different way, I guess. For some reason, at some points of my NHL career when one of my coaches was telling us something, it did not always make sense to me. When things don’t make sense right away when you go on the ice and you’re asked to play and to do something, I guess it can create some frictions and stuff like that.

“What I’m saying now is that now that I’m a coach, I find myself repeating some things that Jim Schoenfeld or other coaches I had were telling us as a team. It’s weird because back then I didn’t respond that way to the coaches. I guess the way you look at the game as a coach or as a player very often is different. It’s the reasoning behind it as far as I’m concerned.”

The man who has always sought out the big challenges is in the midst of his biggest one right now, and at the moment he is not able to see past his current situation to what might be next on the horizon for Joé Juneau.

“As of now, this is what I do,” he declares. “I’m not thinking about anything else. This is very demanding in time and in effort. I think about [my work] constantly; it’s all I do. What is great is that it’s about hockey. That way I don’t miss the game of hockey; I use my knowledge of it to provide some fun for the kids and to get the people in the community behind this, behind this hockey movement so the kids that play have to deserve it. The way they deserve it is by going to school, by giving a good effort in school and by having good behavior as well.

“It’s pretty much just the same stuff that I had to do in my life. I felt that hockey was very important for me when I was at the time of my life when I had to combine the school education and hockey. I felt that hockey was a big boost for me to stay in school and to do well.

“I’m just using the same thing over here and it’s working very well.”

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