10/31/2013 3:00 PM
The Portland Pirates have seen their fair share of talented hockey players. Olaf Kolzig, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Rob Klinkhammer, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are just a few that first come to mind. But one of the best players that ever donned the black and red of the Pirates now resides behind the team's bench.
John Slaney had an illustrious career as hockey player. While his ultimate goal of becoming a full-time NHL player never met its full potential, he had a spectacular career in the AHL and is being rewarded by entering the American Hockey League Hall of Fame. Slaney said it has been a nice surprise to receive the honor.
"I didn't really think about it," Slaney admitted. "You know you see other people going in there and you always say to yourself, you know it would be nice someday if it does happen."
John's wife, Brenda, said she is happy for her husband.
"I was really excited for him," she said. "Proud for him to be recognized for all his accomplishments."
While the honor is definitely well deserved, it has not gone to John's head, according to his wife.
"He's pretty modest," she said. "He was excited but he's not the type of person that would go around telling everyone, so he was excited in his own way."
John's kids, Tyler, 11, and Julia, 6, are happy for their father as well.
"My daughter doesn't really understand I guess," Slaney laughs. "But for my son, he was pretty happy."
"He was shocked and really excited," Brenda echoed about her son's reaction. "He kept checking the AHL website to see when the announcement would be made because he was excited to tell his friends."
Drafted in 1990 by the Washington Capitals with the ninth-overall pick, Slaney spent time with the Capitals, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. His professional playing career ended with him playing in Europe, first with Kolner and Frankfurt in Germany and finally with HC Plezn in the Czech Republic.
Slaney saw his first professional action in the 1991-92 season with the Baltimore Skipjacks, appearing in six games and totaling six points (two goals, four assists). His first full season came the next year where he set a league record in goals (20) and points (66) by a rookie defenseman.
To start the 1993-94 season, Slaney played with the Washington Capitals new affiliate, the Portland Pirates. In the first 29 games of the season, he had 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists). Slaney's first few seasons are still a great memory for him as the team had a lot of young players that grew together as a team.
"My first year, we had 16 rookies that came in and we bonded pretty fast," he said. "Those guys went on to win it in our second year in Portland and it was just nice to see so many second year guys win the Cup here in Portland."
Slaney, after his strong start to the year, finished the '92-93 season with the Capitals, playing in 47 games while amassing 16 points (seven goals, nine assists).
Slaney spent just one more season with the Capitals before he was traded the Colorado Avalanche for the 1995-96 season. He dressed for just seven games with the Avalanche before being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings, a significant move for the defenseman as he credits Kings coach Larry Robinson for helping him grow as a young player.
"He talked to me quite a bit and really taught me the game and how to play defense and the defensive side," Slaney said. "I was pretty offensive minded and when he got a hold of me there, he taught me a lot of good things."
After two years with the Kings, Slaney moved to three different organizations the next three years, playing for the Coyotes, Predators and Penguins. In 2000-01, Slaney began the year with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
He finished out the season playing for the Flyers AHL affiliate, the Phantoms, totaling 18 goals and 49 assists with the two teams and received the Eddie Shore award, given to the best defenseman in the AHL. The next season, Slaney appeared in 64 games with the Phantoms, racking up 20 goals and 39 assists and becoming just the third player in AHL history to win back-to-back Eddie Shore awards.
In 2005, Slaney and the the Phantoms won the Calder Cup. In December of that same year, he became the all-time scoring leader among defenseman in AHL history with 454 points. When he left hockey in North America after the 2006-07 season, he finished with 631 career games, 166 goals, 353 points and 519 points in the AHL. He remained the leading scorer among defenseman until 2011 when Bryan Helmer surpassed him.
Now, Slaney has turned his focus towards helping young players in the AHL reach their own dream of making it to the NHL, something he actually started to do when he was still playing.
"I ran into a lot of injuries in my time but I spent my time in the minors and as I started getting up in age, I realized I had to help these young players get to the next level," he said. "I always wanted to get myself back but it's always a nice way to help these young kids and see them move on."
His first time he took a role as an actual coach, though, was when he was in Wilkes-Barre.
"I got hurt and my coach Glenn asked me to go behind the bench," Slaney remembered. "I did it for two or three games and I really enjoyed my time back there and that's when I kind of said to myself, 'I think I would enjoy coaching.'"
Slaney joined the Pirates coaching staff in 2011 and has continued his goal of trying to help younger players reach their full potential.
"My last 4-5 years in Philly, I was dedicated to helping out these young kids to perform and get better at the next level," he said. "That's what I always wanted to do as a coach, you know, help these guys because it's always nice to see."
And so far, Slaney has had the privilege of helping three current members of the Coyotes defensive corps--Ekman-Larsson, David Runblad and Michael Stone. With plenty of young, promising players filling out the Pirates back end, Slaney's own accolades and knowledge means the team's defense is in very good hands.
Slaney and the other members of the Class of 2014 will be honored in St. John's, N.L. at the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic. The Induction and Awards Ceremony will be held February 12, 2014 at the St. John's Convention Centre.