July 14, 2013

Joe Juneau

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to be a good NHL player, but in the case of Joe Juneau it certainly didn't hurt.

Juneau, one of the most interesting people ever to lace up the skates, left his hometown of Pont Rouge, Quebec unable to speak much English. He didn't let that deter him from balancing hockey and education at the famed Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York state. He graduated from RPI with a degree in aeronautical engineering, also known as rocket science, in 1991.

Boston's 81st overall draft choice back in 1988, Juneau was far from a blue chip NHL prospect at this point. It would have been easy for Juneau to walk away from the game and begin working in the engineering field. But at the conclusion of his final two seasons at RPI he extended his season by skating with the Canadian national team. When coach Dave King offered him a chance to spend the entire 1991-92 season and audition for the Olympic tea, Juneau but his engineering ambitions on hold.

Juneau really emerged into a top prospect during this season. He led the team in scoring, and impressed many with his speed and passing abilities. Many NHL scouts closely scrutinized the Canadian national team that season. All amateur players at the time, scouts and media took unusually high interest in the season because of the presence of Eric Lindros on the team. Juneau, the leading scorer in those Olympics, led Canada to a silver medal, leading Juneau to proclaim those Games as the highlight of his career.

"I think the top would be the (1992) Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. We were all amateurs [on the Canadian men’s ice hockey team] and we managed to get a silver medal, and I was the high scorer in the tournament. It was great. I went to the Stanley Cup finals twice, and as much fun as it was, I didn’t think it was like the Olympics were."

Juneau, a certified pilot who spent his off-seasons rebuilding his own deHavilland Beaver float plane, continued his high flying ways when breaking into the NHL immediately after the Olympics. He stepped in with 5 goals and 14 assists in 14 games to close off the regular season, and added 12 more points 15 playoff games. He proved those numbers were no fluke when in his official rookie season of 1992-93 he scored 32 goals and 102 points.

Juneau was the beneficiary of some great line mates in Boston, namely Adam Oates and, when healthy, Cam Neely. When the Bruins traded Juneau to Washington in 1993-94, he was never able to duplicate the same lofty scoring totals. He remained a good playmaker that was a strong presence in back to back Stanley Cup finals, 1998 with Washington and 1999 with Buffalo, despite falling short both times.

Juneau would spend 6 seasons in the U.S. capital. His offensive production would never challenge his previous numbers, but he earned great acclaim for rounding out his game and becoming a very versatile player. His offense slowly dried up, but he became a key penalty killer and checker. He underwent an interesting transformation from scoring star to a jack-of-all-trades utility player noted for his work ethic and strong defensive play. While his scoring totals diminished, his hockey sense remained as strong as always. It was just used in different fashion and, to his credit, he never complained about his role.

The highlight of Juneau's stay in Washington was the 1998 playoffs when the Capitals unexpectedly made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. Juneau was a big part of that run, scoring 17 points in 21 games, including two overtime game winning goals. Unfortunately the Capitals couldn't pull off the upset.

After bouncing around the league late in his career, Juneau returned home to Pont Rouge and became a partner with the engineering company Harfan Technologies. Juneau, who also spends lots of time at the companies Maryland office, spends much of his time promoting the small company that develops infrastructure asset management solutions for the private and public sector.

An avid outdoorsman who enjoys flying his float plane to the remotest fishing holes in northern Quebec, Juneau was troubled by social conditions in some of Quebec's isolated and usually native communities in the region known as Nunavik. He has begun working with communities in Nunavik, using hockey as a tool to boost self confidence and scholastic performance of the region's youth.

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