Getting To Know: Don Waddell

This week’s Q&A session is with the former Atlanta Thrashers GM and current Pittsburgh Penguins scout, who talks about playing in the world junior championship, the strangest game he’s been involved in, and more.

Status: Pittsburgh Penguins scout. Former President and GM for Atlanta Thrashers. Former AHL, IHL, CHL and NHL defenseman from 1980-1988. Played one game for Los Angeles Kings.

DOB: August 19, 1958 In: Detroit, Michigan

First Hockey Memory: “I started skating when I was two. My first memory is when I was four or five I got to play with my three older brothers. And we all got to play in the backyard rink. So growing up with three older siblings, we played a lot of backyard hockey and those were great memories.”

Hockey Inspiration(s): “As far as people that have helped me in this business, there’s been several. Jimmy Devellano. Kenny Holland. They gave me my first chance in the NHL. It provided me an opportunity to get the job in Atlanta. So I’d say those two guys are definitely the top of the list.”

Last Book Read: “Good question. Not a big book reader to be honest with you. I read a lot of magazines. I don’t read a lot of books. I’m struggling with that one.”

First Famous Hockey Player You Met Or Encountered: “Gordie Howe. I played with Gordie Howe’s youngest son Murray in Detroit area as a kid, pee-wee, 11-12 years old. First time I met Gordie I can remember because he picked me up off the ground by my ears. And my ears still hurt from that moment. So I’ll never forget that.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “Playing or management? (Both.) Management, certainly was when we finally won our division in 06-07. To be able to hoist that banner and win your division was something that was a great accomplishment at that time. Getting the opportunity to start a franchise in Atlanta was certainly a tremendous opportunity. But as a player, I was fortunate to play on some championship teams. Probably representing our country in the World Championships in ’83 (Tokyo, Japan) was a great thing that I always look back on. And probably playing in the world juniors tournament. I played two years in a row in the world juniors tournament. At that time, ’77, ’76, the Americans were pretty far down on the list but it was a great experience.”

Most Painful Moment: “Well, we had some tragedies in Atlanta. We had a player that was killed in a car accident. So, certainly, living that, living that with the family was something that was very difficult for everybody to get through.”

Most Memorable Goal: “Probably the college hockey goal (with Northern Michigan University) to put us into the NCAA finals against North Dakota. The semifinal I scored against Darren Eliot.”

Fiercest Competitors Players Encountered: “When I was playing in the minors – spent my whole career playing in the minors (except for one game in the NHL with Los Angeles in 1980-1981), I used to have to go up, play against Archie Henderson. I thought he was the meanest, biggest, not the friendliest player that I played against. “

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Closest Hockey Friend(s): “Well we have a committee of the GMs that work with the US program, I would say David Poile, Ray Shero on there, along with Kenny Holland is a very good friend of mine. Who am I leaving off that list? Those three guys are probably top of my list.”

Embarrassing Hockey Memory: “Played at the old Olympic as a kid, and pulled the old skate-guard trick coming out on the ice with my skate-guards on and in front of about 10,000 people for the pee-wee championship, of course with all my family there.”

Current Car: “I drive an SUV Mercedes.”

Favorite Uniforms: “I work for Pittsburgh now so certainly I have to admire their uniform. But I like a lot of the traditional Original Six. Being a Detroit guy, growing up in Detroit and then winning a Stanley Cup being the assistant manager, I really like the Red Wing.”

Strangest Game: “We were in Philadelphia one night. This is about ’03-04, that year we went through nine goaltenders. We just called up a kid from the East Coast League, that played three games in the East Coast League, as our back-up. Because all our goalies were hurt. We got down 4-0 in the first 10 minutes of the game. I honestly took out my travel book because I was gonna catch a flight out of there – I couldn’t watch the rest of the game. We put a kid in there, that only, like I said, played a few games in the East Coast League, and he ended up winning the game in a shootout for us, 5-4. It was, I could never explain it, the strangest game I ever saw.”

Favorite Sport Outside Hockey: “Golf.”
Favorite Arenas: “Oh I think there’s some great ones now. All the new buildings are tremendous. Everybody talks about Toronto. Toronto’s a great building, great atmosphere to go in there. But there’s lots of great buildings in our league now.”
Personality Qualities Most Admired: “Up front. Honest. Humble people. I always give the advice as GM, 12 years in the league, people ask what’s the best advice? Be nice to the people on the way up because you’re gonna see the same people on the way down.”

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