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Ten Years After

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Ten years ago today, Capitals center Joé Juneau netted what remains the most important goal in the 34-year history of the Washington Capitals. At 6:24 of overtime, Juneau beat Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals to give Washington a 3-2 victory and push the Capitals to the Stanley Cup finals for the first and only time in the team’s history.

Although you won’t find Juneau’s name among the team’s top 10 in playoff games played, he ranks 11th on the team’s all-time playoff scoring list. Juneau scored goals and points more frequently during his 112 Stanley Cup playoff games than he did in the 828 regular season games in which he appeared over the course of a 13-year NHL career with Boston, Washington, Buffalo, Ottawa, Phoenix and Montreal.

Although he played for five other organizations, Juneau played more games with Washington (321) than he did with any of those other clubs.

The goal in Buffalo on June 4, 1998 was the biggest goal he scored for the Caps, but it wasn’t the only big goal he scored as a Capital. Only Peter Bondra (six) has more career postseason game-winners than Juneau’s five, and Bondra played in 73 playoff games with Washington compared to Juneau’s 44. Juneau scored the game-winner in the first ever playoff game he played in with the Caps, Game 1 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps ousted the Pens in six games that spring, the only time Washington has beaten Pittsburgh in a Stanley Cup playoff series.

Now 40, Juneau lives in Kuujjuaq in the Nunavit region of northern Quebec where he runs an ambitious youth hockey program. On the day before the 10th anniversary of his momentous goal, Juneau graciously agreed to spend some time with Washington hockey media via a conference call. What follows is the portion of the call that relates to Juneau’s goal 10 years ago and his hockey career in Washington.

We’ll have more on Juneau’s career in Washington and his current post in Kuujjuaq later today.

Joé, 10 years later, is it accurate to claim that your goal in overtime against Buffalo in Game 6 ranks as the biggest of your entire hockey career?

“Biggest of my NHL career, I would say, yeah. It was obviously a very exciting time.”

Do you own a tape of the game and have you watched it with your family and maybe watch it tomorrow night on the 10th anniversary?

“No. Actually, what happened before I was reached by [the Caps for the conference call] – it was actually a day before I was reached by [them] – a good friend of mine just sent me a link I guess on and I was able to actually see it that way. It was the first time since 10 years ago that I actually saw it.”

Joé, what was so special about that ’98 Caps team in that postseason?

“Well, it was a great mix. Late in the season the team added some experienced players in Esa Tikkanen and Brian Bellows. Those guys with the experience, they just brought something very special to the team. Although we did have an older team and a team with players with many years of experience within the league, we didn’t have guys that had actually had won the Stanley Cup or had gotten very far in the playoffs.

“So those guys obviously brought a pretty interesting element and were able to transfer their knowledge and experience of actually winning and what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.”

Joé, can you take us back to what it was like at MCI Center, the way that the crowds reacted [in the games] against Buffalo and Ottawa? A lot of people said that DC was not a hockey town, and the way that the people kind of embraced the team during that two-month period?

“Yeah, it was obviously the most exciting time that I had in Washington during my five years there. The whole playoffs it was so much fun. [After] going through some average years I guess, tough years where the crowd was not always there and then moving downtown, it seemed like it got worse. It’s not like the people in Virginia followed.

“We found ourselves in a brand new building with people I guess finding it very hard to go to hockey games downtown. But for some reason when the playoffs started in ’98 and we started winning starting with Boston, Ottawa and then Buffalo, it was very, very exciting. Obviously we were filling out the building until the situation got worse in the finals when our home crowd decided to sell their own tickets to the Detroit fans that were coming into town.

Joé, if I could follow up on the question of crowd reaction. A radio personality here in Washington, Ken Beatrice, after the game that night urged his listeners to go out to the Piney Orchard training facility and welcome the team home. I was out there and I remember miles of cars parked along Piney Orchard Parkway. Can you share with us your recollection of being with the team on the bus when you guys came home at like 2:30 in the morning and found thousands of people waiting for you at Piney?

“That’s something else that I do remember very well, it almost seems like it was yesterday. Getting back in town, we heard right away that there were some people waiting for us at the practice facility. It was very special in the middle of the night to get there when usually it was just a dead area with just us around to unpack our stuff and take our cars to drive home.

“Getting there that night and seeing that many fans waiting for us outside and inside the building, it was something else. It was great. It was obviously the high point of my time in Washington and probably it would be fair to say that it was the high point of many guys that played in Washington for so many years, like the Dale Hunters and those guys. Kelly Miller.”

You’re one of those guys who made a really successful transition from being a very offensive player early in your career to being one of the better defensive forwards around the league late in your career. How important was being able to kill penalties and being put in those [penalty-killing] situations towards that transition from an offensive to a defensive style of player?

“It’s part of the evolution. Killing penalties was something that I was doing a lot with my college team, obviously. And then I was playing a big role with the Canadian Olympic team as well. When I became an NHL player with Boston I never killed. I was always used offensively on the power play and in 5-on-5.

“When I came to Washington the team was not as offensive as Boston. Obviously [then-Caps head coach Jim Schoenfeld] had a different approach than the two coaches I had in Boston, Brian Sutter and Rick Bowness. Those two guys were more offensive-minded than Schoeny was. At one point in Washington I felt that it was just too much defensive and we didn’t have as much freedom as players to create something offensively. That’s the beef that I had with Schoeny. But again, later on in your life and later on in your career you realize that it was not all bad. It’s something that you have to learn as a player.

“Something else that I realized is that when I had the chance to be on the two teams that played in the Stanley Cup finals, we had very good defensive teams. And obviously at that point I was playing a very important defensive role on each of those teams. Therefore those years on those teams under Jim Schoenfeld were good for me as well.”

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