By Dan Polischuk / kitchenerrangers.com
How is Joe McDonnell spending his downtime in the “bubble”?
There’s a good chance the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Dallas Stars is chopping wood.
That’s because the Rangers alum has hunkered-down at his family’s cottage in northern Ontario to enjoy the last bit of favourable weather while his squad battles the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Don’t be mistaken, though. Being apart from his team hasn’t made him any less excited; in fact, he may be slightly more on edge than usual.
“I’ve been fortunate to have won it four out of the five times in my NHL career. It’s been so long since the last time though (12 years), but I’m spoiled that way,” McDonnell said with a laugh just before the start of the series.
Before being hired by the Stars in 2013, the Kitchener native won the Stanley Cup four times with Detroit (1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008).
“I know scouts who have been around for 30 or 40 years and never got a sniff at getting to the Finals, and here I am again taking another crack at it. I’m very fortunate, that’s for sure. It’s exciting every time.”
Aside from it being a first-time finals appearance with Dallas, it’s seeing individuals he’s picked in the drafts over the past six seasons “being a big reason why we’re in the position we’re in.”
He specifically highlighted Miro Heiskanen (Dallas’ playoff points leader), Roope Hintz (third in goals during the regular season), and Denis Gurianov (team leader in goals during the regular season). The latter also scored a memorable overtime goal in the Western Conference Finals against Vegas to advance.
“As a scout, it’s gratifying when you see a kid that you’ve selected coming through for your team,” McDonnell said. That’s especially true considering the grind an NHL scout goes through in any “normal” season to find those future assets.
“I guess what sets you apart is how much you work and how many games you’re going to travel to,” McDonnell said. “In scouting, that’s the hardest thing; getting from game to game. It’s a long year, and you’re travelling through a lot of airports and challenging weather. It’s hard on the families, too.”
The scouting schedule allows him to come back to his old stomping grounds at The Aud, though. He is currently the only alum to play for, manage, and lead the Rangers as its head coach.
The 59-year-old former defenceman sits fifth all-time in games played for the franchise (272), which included a memorable run to the 1981 Memorial Cup Final.
“At Christmas that year, we were in last-place. After they gave the captaincy to Brian Bellows, all of us older guys just banded together and ended up in first place.”
For the 1986-87 season, he was back as an assistant coach but would take over as head coach later that year. Two seasons later, he won the Matt Leyden Trophy as CHL Coach of the Year Award.
He also led the Rangers to another Memorial Cup Final in 1990, but the team would fall short once again; 4–3 in double overtime to the Oshawa Generals. McDonnell coached the Rangers for nine seasons into total until 1994-95.
“The Rangers are a big part of my life. The people and fans are fantastic. I always think about those good times,” he said.
Now when he visits The Aud to watch from the stands, he appreciates some of the things in RTown that will never change.
“The familiar faces, the building, and the jersey; those things always stand out to me. The organization is second to none, in my mind.”
“I think about my time with the Rangers all the time, especially when I get back to The Aud. Anything I do, I’m a Kitchener boy at heart.”