Devils icon Ken Daneyko has his No. 3 retired in the Prudential Center rafters and owns the nickname "Mr. Devil." He earned that respect by winning three Stanley Cup titles with the team, and by playing with unmatched ferocity and toughness. There was nobody who could intimidate Daneyko on the ice, and no physical challenge he'd blink at. His signature look was playing without his front teeth, lost in battle along the way.
"I had teeth I put in and out after games and before games," Daneyko recently told the "New York Accent" podcast. "I used to forget them on the road every once in a while. Trainers from Chicago or Minnesota or wherever it was, would always be calling our trainers and say, 'Daneyko left his teeth again. We'll ship them overnight.'"
There was nothing Daneyko wouldn't sacrifice for the team. "That was part of it for me," he said. "Blood, sweat, tears, teeth -- I was missing 13 teeth on the official record. I was a poor guy who had to get 13 implants after my career."
The implants may've looked nicer than Daneyko's original teeth, but they also got in the way sometimes. "I would get them stuck in certain meats," Daneyko said. "My teeth would get stuck everywhere. I'd have to pull them out and put them in. It was a pain in the ass. I'm a guy who loved corn on the cob, I was a corn on the cob guy. And I still would attack the corn on the cob. I'd sacrifice those teeth every day for what we were able to accomplish as a team."
It was that single mindedness that helped the Devils become one of the most successful teams in the NHL. But for as tough as Daneyko was, he was losing his war with alcoholism. And he eventually had to interrupt his hockey career to enter rehab.
"We believe we're invincible because of that toughness, and that mentality to overcome anything," Daneyko said. "Obviously the hardest thing to do a lot of the time with anything, and certainly with addiction or alcoholism, it's all about overcoming and asking for help. You have to have the humility to say, this has gotten you beat, I need help."
What made it so difficult was sacrificing something he cared about so deeply. "My career meant everything to me. The Devils meant everything to me. They were my team," Daneyko explained. "I've been there from day one. I love the organization. I love the team."
NHL players had entered the league's substance abuse program to that point, but Daneyko was the first to do so publicly. "I went away during the year and I was playing well. Things were going pretty good, but I wasn't happy," he said. "I was just battling within myself, and knew there was a problem and I knew it was going to take a lot more than just waiting until the end of the season.
"And, fortunately for me, the Devils didn't treat me like a piece of meat. They treated me like family and said, 'Kenny, you go take care of what you have to and we're going to help you. You know when you get back, we'll be waiting.'"
Daneyko has been sober for 12 years, and is thrilled about the huge strides a young Devils team took this past season. He's a beloved TV color analyst for fans across New Jersey. Best of all, Daneyko's in a great place in his life, and it shows with the vigor and excitement he treats his broadcast and interviews. One of hockey's toughest players ever stared down his biggest foe, and won.
You can listen to and watch the entire conversation between DA and Daneyko on "New York Accent" everywhere you get your podcasts, and on YouTube.