Before his outstanding 18-year career with the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey League, Ken Daneyko donned a Yorkton Terriers sweater. He suited up for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Terriers in 1979-80.
Joining the Terriers was Daneyko’s first big step on his way to the pros.
“I played AA bantam before moving to Yorkton, so it was a big step for me,” says Daneyko. “The league was a lot bigger and faster than what I had been playing.”
Despite only being 15 years old, Daneyko knew he wanted to make the move from Edmonton, Alta., to Yorkton to further his hockey career.
“I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a hockey player,” he says. “The Great Falls Americans of the Western Hockey League (who have since moved) owned my major junior rights and they wanted me to play in Yorkton, so I wanted to do what they thought was best for my development.”
Daneyko’s mother, however, wasn’t too keen on her son moving a province over.
“My mom didn’t want me to go at all,” he says. “She wanted me to stay in Alberta. But my dad, being a tough, old German, knew this was the right move for me if I wanted to be a hockey player. He helped me make the move.”
The Terriers’ head coach at the time, Jerry Bulitz, did everything in his power to make Daneyko a Terrier.
“Jerry came to my house on a Saturday and picked me up to drive me to Yorkton from Edmonton,” says Daneyko, who is now 50 years old. “My mom wasn’t okay with it. But I made it so she was out of the house when he stopped by.”
“Jerry really made things easy on me for my first time away from home. He was a good coach to have as a young guy.”
“The only way his parents would let him come is if I promised he would attend school. I spent lots of time making sure he was in class,” adds Bulitz.
Besides Bulitz, the Terriers’ team captain, Don Clark, and Daneyko’s billet, Dianne Hilderbrandt, eased the Edmonton native into his new home.
“Clark really helped me out a lot,” says Daneyko. “He was the captain and we roomed together on the road. He was a great leader and good guy to have as a mentor.”
“My billets were also great,” he adds. “They cooked me good meals and were just great people. I really enjoyed staying with them.”
Even though he was one of two 15 year olds in the SJHL, Daneyko wasn’t intimidated by his much older opponents.
“It was different playing against guys way older than me. But I wasn’t afraid as a 15 year old in junior A against guys four or five years older than me,” he says. “I knew I had to compete with these guys to get to the next level, so I just put my mind to getting better with the Terriers.”
Daneyko blossomed into a shutdown defenceman in Yorkton, adding one goal and 20 assists on the score sheet.
After his one-year stint with the Terriers, Daneyko joined the Spokane Flyers in the WHL.
“I wasn’t that intimidated by moving to the States at 16,” he says. “They had my rights and I wasn’t the type of guy to ask for a trade. I was just happy that one team wanted me and I was happy to go there.”
Two years later the Devils drafted Daneyko 18th overall in the NHL’s 1982 entry draft. He went on to play 1283 regular-season games with them, racking up 36 goals, 178 points, 2516 penalty minutes, and most notably, three Stanley Cup rings.
“It was a dream come true in New Jersey,” he says. “I couldn’t have spent my career with a better organization.
Daneyko dropped the gloves on a regular basis in the NHL, including with former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark, who is the brother of former Terrier captain Don Clark.
“It’s kind of funny, I remember meeting Wendel when he was 12 years old,” he says. “Then I remember seeing him get drafted first overall two years after I was drafted. We both played tough and one time we went at it. I guess it was bound to happen with us both playing a tough style.”
Daneyko still resides in New Jersey. He works for MSG Plus as a Devils commentator.
“I love it here,” he adds. “I love going to the games and following the team.”