By: Russ Hryvnak
Hockey is an important thing for a youngster in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman John Slaney was no exception to this rule. Following his brother Joe around to the rinks, Slaney could rarely be found without a hockey stick in his hands.
In 1999, the puck dropped for the first time here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the love affair between the fans and the Penguins began. John Slaney was on the roster for that first home game against the Kentucky Thoroughblades, and says that was one of his most memorable games with the Penguins.
“It was kind of weird,” he chuckled. “It took us 45 to 50 minutes to actually drop the puck. The Kentucky team got stuck in traffic, was late and they didn’t know what time the warm up was either. We warmed up, then they warmed up and we both ended up sitting around for a little bit longer. I don’t think the fans really knew what was going on. It made for a really long night, but it was a lot of fun. Jeff Barrett and his team put on a great show and we ended up winning the game, 4-2, and it was just a really fun night.”
During his first season, 1999-00, with the Penguins, Slaney led the entire team with 30 goals and 60 total points on the season. He anchored the defense corps on a squad that included some familiar names like, Chris Kelleher, Dennis Bonvie, Martin Sonnenberg and a young Tom Kostopoulos.
Slaney credited former head coach Glenn Patrick for helping evolve his ability to become an offensive threat on the blue line.
“The way Glenn coached, he wanted to play a lot of offense,” Slaney said. “That was really my game at the time. I was going back and forth up to Pittsburgh, but at that time we had a lot of good forwards in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. My role was to be the fourth man in on the attack and I would sneak in when I could and put rebounds in, which is how I scored a lot of my goals. When you get a lot of minutes to play, good things can happen and I was lucky enough to have Glenn give me a lot of time on the ice.”
During the 2000-01 season, Slaney was again on pace for another great offensive year with the Penguins. So much so that he was selected to represent Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in that season’s AHL All-Star Game, which coincidentally took place in our very own arena. On the morning of the skills competition, the day before the game, Slaney was traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Philadelphia Flyers. Even though he only spent a season and a half as a Penguin, Slaney could not stress enough how much he loved his time in NEPA.
“That was an emotional time for me,” Slaney said. “I was really good friends with Jeff Barrett, he was like an older brother to me and I have a lot of respect for him. He is a great hockey man and spent a lot of time in the locker room making sure everything was alright. I always wanted back into the NHL, but if I had to stay in the minors, I wanted to spend my time here with these guys and Jeff. You don’t ever really think you are going to get traded, but it happened and it was an emotional time for me and my family.”
As the newest member of the Philadelphia Phantoms, Slaney had one request of his new team, to let him play in the All-Star Game as a Penguin. Frank Miceli, president of the Phantoms at the time, agreed with Slaney and let him represent Wilkes-Barre/Scranton one more time.
“It meant a lot to me,” Slaney stressed. “I got picked as a Penguin and for all of the stuff I did as a Penguin. I told them I wanted to go as a Penguin out of respect for the fans and the Phantoms let me, which was really nice of them. It was truly important to me.”
Slaney went on to win the game’s Most Valuable Player award - a fitting end to his Penguins career.
At the end of the 2000-01 season, Slaney was also honored with the Eddie Shore Award, presented to the AHL’s best defenseman, which he would again win in 2001-02. He also went on to win the Calder Cup during the 2004-05 season with the Philadelphia Phantoms.
Add those awards to his 519 points in 631 AHL games, and it comes as no surprise that Slaney was named a 2014 AHL Hall of Fame inductee. He’ll be enshrined on February 12 during the All-Star festivities in his hometown of St John’s, Newfoundland.
To his credit, the one-time Penguin was taken aback by the honor.
“I was pretty shocked,” he said. “I have been out of the game three years, but to be recognized for what I did as a player that quick was a really nice surprise and I am honored. You always want to be recognized for what you accomplished and get into the hall of fame.
“I’m lucky enough to do it pretty young. I’m also pretty excited to do it in my home town, it’s where I started as a kid and now I can say I finished my playing career and went into the Hall of Fame there too.”
For the last three years, Slaney has been applying his skills to a new trade - coaching. Working as an assistant coach with the Portland Pirates, he has been helping the defensemen in the Phoenix Coyotes organization take their game to the next level.
“It’s a little different,” Slaney explained. “In my last few years in Philly, that was my role on the team, to teach the young kids to get to the NHL and that is what I’m doing today as a coach. I’m trying to help these guys right some wrongs in their games, whether it is structure or development and get them to the NHL quick. I really am enjoying it. It keeps me around the game of hockey, which I love, plus it makes you feel good to help other guys achieve their dreams of playing in the NHL.”
Slaney is back on the bench in Wilkes-Barre on his birthday, February 7, as the Pirates take on the Pens. And he had this message to pass on to the fans:
“I really appreciated my time I spent in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. I still to this day remember the booster club banquet we had. Well over 500 fans were there and it was just a great evening. That just shows how much respect the people there have for their hockey team and it’s really nice to see as a player. Thank you.”
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