By Patrick Cwiklinski
In 1991, after the highly publicized negotiations between Joe Juneau and Boston Bruins GM Harry Sinden fell through, the young college star was criticized by many as being selfish and unrealistic in his demands for a one-way NHL contract.
But with a backup career as a rocket scientist, it wouldn’t have made sense to ask for anything less.
Following an impressive tenure in college hockey that saw him amass 213 points in 124 games with RPI, the 81st overall pick in the 1988 draft was by all means ready to test the big league waters, but was in need of some job insurance before he signed on the dotted line.
“If you have a two-way (contract) it’s too easy for teams to send you to the minors and to forget about you so I didn’t want to be in that situation,” Juneau said. “I had a pretty good degree to fall back on so I said ‘what’s the point of me going to play in the minors in Portland for $30,000 a year when I could start working as an engineer and work on a nice career?’”
He was right. There wasn’t a point.
That’s because Juneau graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering from the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a field in which he would have easily surpassed his minor league paycheck had he signed that contract with the Bruins and been placed on the farm.
Instead, Juneau opted to play for the Canadian Olympic team and spent a year with the national program, winning a silver medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
“The decision was so easy to make,” he said. “I postponed my career in a way for a long time because I decided to stay in school all four years and what is one more year, really? It was a decision that was definitely worth it and still today probably the best decision that I took in my hockey life.”
Towards the end of the 1991-92 season, Juneau finally came to terms on a deal with the Bruins and made an immediate impact with 19 points in 14 regular season games. The Pont-Rouge, Que., native then added four goals and 12 points in 15 playoff games.
Needless to say, he was worth the wait.
“It was a great fit,” Juneau said. “Right away we ended up doing pretty decent for the end of the year and got into the playoffs, beat Buffalo then went on to Montreal and then eventually we had to face Pittsburgh who won the Cup that year with Mario and all those guys.”
Juneau followed that up with a career-high 102 points in 1992-93, but in the midst of another impressive offensive season in ’93-94, Juneau was traded by Boston to the Washington Capitals for defenseman Al Iafrate - a move that proved to be a difficult adjustment for the playmaking center.
“I didn’t want to leave Boston at all,” he said. “After having such a great start, you kind of hope that you’re going to be there for a long time. The whole thing didn’t make sense, to be traded only for money reasons especially when you knew that back then hockey teams were making so much money - salaries were so low.”
Juneau was never able to duplicate the offensive success he enjoyed in Boston, but turned into a capable two-way player and was effective in two straight Stanley Cup final appearances, one with the Capitals in 1998 and the other with Buffalo in 1999.
After abbreviated stints with the Ottawa Senators and Phoenix Coyotes, Juneau retired as a member of the Montreal Canadiens following the 2003-04 season.
After hockey, Juneau relocated to Kuujjuaq, a small village in northern Quebec where he founded the Nunavik Youth Hockey Development Program in 2006 to promote education and healthy lifestyles through the sport.
“When you use sports that way, you kind of feel that it’s not wasted,” he said. “Obviously it’s always fun to practice and to play a sport, but when, on top of it, you’re in some kind of a structure where that sport can be used like this to educate people, to creative incentives for them to grow in life, I think it’s providing so much more.”