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Top Shelf: Dashing Ken Daneyko still a Devil at heart

Toronto isn’t often a place where three-time Cup winners have their vocation mistaken.

So you can imagine Ken Daneyko’s surprise when a two-month foray into a different kind of skating career began to trump two decades in the NHL in terms of how people were placing him.

Daneyko recently took part in an ongoing CBC show called Battle of the Blades, which paired eight former NHLers with eight notable females from the figure skating world in an attempt to see which duo could impress even the Russian judge.

Daneyko and his partner Jodeyne Higgins were eventually voted off the ice, but hung in long enough for some observers to believe Daneyko had more in common with Brian Boitano than Brian Rolston.

“In Jersey, everywhere you go everyone knows you because that was my life there, I played my whole career there, and now all of a sudden in Toronto and in the airports, it’s, ‘Hey, you’re that guy on (Battle of the Blades), great job,’ ” Daneyko chuckled. “I’m laughing my head off saying, ‘Gosh, never mind the 20 years and three Cups in Jersey; it was all about the show!’ ”

Cases of mistaken identity aside, the former burly blueliner really did enjoy the chance to explore his graceful side while re-connecting with former NHL competitors like Tie Domi and Bob Probert under very unique circumstance.

“I said it (on TV) and I meant it; I said, ‘This is almost as good as the Stanley Cup,’ as far as the experience and what we went through. It was really cool,” Daneyko stated. “It was like being on a team again. The guys’ locker room, we just had a blast the whole time.”

If the thought of their beloved body-moving, puck-clearing defenseman attempting Axels and Salchows hasn’t already sent shockwaves through the Jersey swamps, consider the fact Daneyko nearly missed out on being a Devil altogether. And who was behind the failed conspiracy? None other than the most hated Ranger of all, Mark Messier.

Having both grown up in Edmonton, Daneyko and Messier knew each other from a very young age. With Messier and the Oilers on the verge of becoming a league superpower by the 1982 draft, the Moose told Daneyko he was going to put the bug in Edmonton GM Glen Sather’s ear about drafting his buddy with the second-last pick in the first round.

“He said to me, ‘I’m going to try to get Slats to get you,’ because Mark had a big influence even as a young kid, and I didn’t expect to go that high and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, that would be great, but how the hell am I going to crack that lineup?’ ” Daneyko said before letting out one of his trademark belly laughs.

As it turned out, the Devils – who had just moved to Jersey from Colorado – also had their eye on Daneyko, nearly a point-per-game defenseman in his last full Western League season, and nabbed him at No. 18.

The 18-year-old had just one question about the team for which he’d eventually play more games and seasons for than anybody else in franchise history.

“When I was drafted by Jersey I turned to my mother and said, “Where’s New Jersey?’ ” he said. “I didn’t even know where Jersey was.”

Twenty seasons and 1,283 games later, Daneyko knows Jersey intimately and the people there know him as a highly dependable, win-at-all-costs blueliner who was a key member on three Cup-winning teams between 1995 and 2003, the last year he spent in the NHL.

These days, Daneyko is doing game analysis for the MSG network, a position he’s held since 2006.

He’s getting that full-circle feeling, covering a Devils team once again coached by the guy who, in conjunction with GM Lou Lamoriello, forever changed the culture in Jersey, Jacques Lemaire.

“I’ve always said and will say again, I learned more about the game in the first two months under (assistant coach Larry Robinson) and Jacques than I did the first 11 years of my career,” Daneyko mused.

You might expect a vintage bruiser to go batty watching the free-wheeling world of the NHL these days, but Daneyko has embraced the new style, save one aspect.

“I love the new game, I love the flow, I love the no hooks, holds and the speed of the game, everybody is a better skater,” he said. “But, I don’t like when they don’t let guys battle 1-on-1.

“If you knick a guy in front trying to protect your goaltender, they call it. I think they’re getting better at balancing that out because there’s a happy medium. First year was ridiculous, you couldn’t so much as bang a guy in front because you’d get called and I think they were getting adjusted as well, the referees, I think it’s getting better.

“If you ask any GM or coach, they’d love to have that big, tough guy back there who can clear the net, but who can play on a regular basis.”

Assuming no long-term figure skating aspirations flare up, Daneyko is happy with a second career that involves two of his favorite things – talking and hockey. But he’ll be the first to admit you can put the boy in the booth, but that doesn’t mean you can exorcise the Devil in him.

“When you play for an organization for 20 years, yes I have to be analytical and I have to be honest and truthful, so I try to analyze it like that, but yeah, I’m very pissed when they lose, trust me. I’m like a fan, I root for them like crazy.”

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

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