Craig Janney is one of the finest hockey players ever produced by the state of Connecticut. Growing up in Enfield, his future was certain from an early age. In the days before the town's high schools housed all four grades, he led Enfield High School to the Division II state championship as a freshman in 1982, while attending John F. Kennedy Junior High School.
The following year, the Raiders captured the Division I state title, with Janney assisting on Kevin Meunier's game-winning goal in overtime to defeat Notre Dame-West Haven in the finals. He was a first-team All-State selection as a sophomore, and following his junior year at Enfield, finished his scholastic career at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.
Janney was picked by the Boston Bruins in the first round (13th overall) of the 1986 NHL draft. He was a standout at Boston College, scoring 110 points in 71 games, and played for the United States in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
Following the Olympics, he made his debut with the Bruins and registered 16 points in 15 games, then added six goals and 10 assists in a playoff run that ended with a loss to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup finals.
In the middle of his fourth full season, Janney was traded to the St. Louis Blues for center Adam Oates. He had his best offensive year with the Blues in 1992-93, tallying 106 points, including 82 assists.
Injuries took their toll on Janney, and in his final five seasons, he bounced around the league with the San Jose Sharks, Winnipeg Jets (later the Phoenix Coyotes), Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders. He retired after 12 NHL seasons following the 1998-99 campaign, having amassed 751 points in 760 NHL games.
Janney and his family reside in Phoenix, and he flies to the Boston area each week to act as color commentator on Friday night Hockey East telecasts.
Last weekend, he returned to Connecticut to participate in Whalers Hockey Fest 2011, dropping the ceremonial first puck Friday night before at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. His jersey number 15 was retired by the Raiders, and the following afternoon, he scored a goal as the Bruins alumni tied a team of Whalers alumni, 4-4.
In the midst of the festivities of the Whalers Hockey Fest, Janney, now 43, took time to talk with Enfield Patch about his younger days in Enfield, his outstanding hockey career, and his plans for the future.
Enfield Patch: No one has worn number 15 since you left Enfield High School. How do you feel about having your jersey officially retired by the school?
Craig Janney: Until I heard it, I didn't even think about it. I didn't know nobody had worn it; I was looking out there for someone wearing it (Friday night), to be honest. I think it's an amazing honor, and brings me back to those old teams, playing for the high school. It's really special.
Patch: Growing up on Overhill Road, in the shadow of the Enfield Twin Rinks, and having your older brother Matt playing hockey, the game must have been instilled in you at an early age.
Janney: Absolutely, it was the thing to do in our family. My father coached, my brother played, my sister played, so it was definitely easy to follow in their footsteps and do it.
Patch: To this day, you are the only All-State hockey player in Connecticut who didn't attend the school you played for, going to JFK as a freshman.
Janney: It worked out well, because Coach (Phil) Clarkin taught at JFK, and once classes ended, I ran over to his room and we jumped in his car. JFK is right across the street from the rinks, so it worked out that we were there before anyone else.
Patch: In 1982, you were 14 and in the ninth grade. How did it feel to win the Division II state title?
Janney: It was incredible, because a lot of those seniors played with my brother when they were sophomores, so the connection between them and my brother and me made it that much more special.
Patch: At that time, the Division II winner automatically moved up to Division I the following year, and you did it all over again, winning D-I and going undefeated.
Janney: That year, we had a great team. Some of us younger guys had matured, and we still had guys like Kevin Meunier and Rob Hudson who really came into their own. That was probably the best team Enfield High ever had, or will have; it was loaded with top-quality talent. With Fermi winning Division II that year, those were a lot of our buddies, kids we played youth hockey with. It made it a great day for hockey in Enfield, and a great night afterwards.
Patch: That team had a 43-game winning streak, and you were part of every one of them.
Janney: We had some great talent, and Phil Clarkin really coached us well. We had a lot of kids who came up after that who were good quality players, so it was a great program, it wasn't just a couple of players.
Patch: Could you describe that game-winning goal in the finals?
Janney: I remember like it was yesterday. I came down the left side, deked a guy out and Kevin faded out off the far post wide open. I slid it to him and he whacked it in with a one-timer.
Patch: How did winning the D-I title, a higher level of play, compare with winning the first one?
Janney: Oh, it meant everything, because people said we couldn't play at that level, against the southern Connecticut programs like the Hamdens, the Notre Dames, the West Havens, and we proved that we could. It meant a lot to northern hockey, period.
Patch: Being a New England boy, what was your feeling when you learned you had been picked by the Boston Bruins?
Janney: At first I was heartbroken, because the Whalers didn't pick me, and I was a Whalers fan through and through. Going to the Bruins was second-best, and it worked out great because I went to school there, and ended playing for a number of years and had a great time.
Patch: You represented your country, the United States, in the Olympics. What was that experience like?
Janney: That was tremendous. The thing I remember most about that year was for about eight months, we all traveled together and lived together. We were all about 19 or 20 years old, and we became a family. To this day, those kids are all still brothers to me.
Patch: Did you ever play in an NHL All-Star Game?
Janney: No, I didn't. I turned it down twice for other players, thinking I would get there soon, but it never happened. I played the wrong position at the wrong time, playing center in the Western Conference when there were guys like Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov and Mark Messier around. I didn't stand a chance.
Patch: After you retired and were out of the game for a while, you came back to coach in the minors (with Lubbock in 2007).
Janney: I did that as a favor, but I really enjoyed it. I would coach in a heartbeat. It just hasn't happened yet, but that would definitely be something I would be interested in. You have to earn your stripes at the minor league level, and then I'd love to do it at the major league level.
Patch: How are you enjoying working the Hockey East telecasts?
Janney: It's fun, it's a good deal and a good working arrangement. I love being around college hockey, I think it's the best hockey there is. They're hungry, they make mistakes a little more so the game is more exciting. There's more three-on-ones and three-on-twos; it's just a really fun brand of hockey to watch.
Patch: How often do you lace up the skates nowadays?
Janney: Not at all, an occasional charity game here and there, maybe twice a year. I went on the ice twice before this weekend just to get a little bit of work in so I wouldn't make a fool of myself.
Patch: In all your years of hockey, what was your biggest thrill?
Janney: That's a tough one, from my first NHL game to the first game in the Olympics, but I'd have to say it was winning that Division I championship at Enfield. It was special because Fermi won Division II and we were all close, and we had the best party that town's ever had. It was a special day in Enfield.