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Few if any players from Connecticut have made the NHL. How could Janney even think about the NHL? There wasn't even a rink in his hometown of Enfield until his mother and father joined some other parents in raising funds to build one. Hockey was a pastime, not a career opportunity in Enfield, a town at the top of the state, as far away in character from the New York commuter rush of suburban Fairfield County as a town in the middle of Indiana might be.
"My older brother, Matt, played," Janney says. "He was another center. He was five years older than me, so I never really got to play on the same team with him until two years ago, when I played a game with his team in a summer league. Set him up for a goal. Then his team had to forfeit the game because the other team found out who I was. It broke some kind of long winning streak, too. My sister even played for a while. A defenseman. The big D. She had a wicked slap shot."
There were no special drills that he remembers. There was no special advice. Janney's ideas about hockey simply evolved. How do you teach stickhandling and control? How do you make hard hands soft? They are a gift. He had the gift. He was stickhandling through the rest of the crowd almost as soon as he started playing. The puck belonged to him from the beginning.
"He was just one of those kids who always was playing with the older kids," his mother, Monica, says. "He was good enough."
He was drafted by the Bruins in the first round (13th pick overall) in 1986, after his freshman year at Boston College. The Bruins felt their choice was either Janney or forward Adam Graves of Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League, who is now with the Oilers. They felt that Graves would be a constant, a given, a solid NHL player. Janney, they felt, would be a gamble. There was a chance he could be great. There was another chance he would not be fast enough even to make the NHL. They decided to take the gamble.
He played a second season at BC, then joined the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. At the completion of the Olympics, he joined the Bruins at the tag end of their season. He lived at Mullowney's house, uncertain about what would happen next. He never left. The Bruins went all the way to the Cup finals. Janney wound up centering the top offensive line, teaming with Neely for the first time, a combination that immediately worked.
"It's funny," Janney says. "Wherever I go, I usually find someone who works well with me. Cam and I just think alike, I guess. I know exactly where he's going to be. He knows I'm going to get the puck to him. I just put it out there, and he takes care of the important stuff. That's why he makes the big money."
Milbury would like Janney to shoot more. Of the 62 points he scored in 55 regular-season games, only 24 came on goals. ("I know I should look to shoot more," Janney says, "but I find myself just working on reflex, and my reflex is to pass.") Milbury also would like Janney, who is 6'1" and 190 pounds, to work more in the off-season on weights and a conditioning program. ("He has soft hands," the coach says, "and he also has a soft midsection.") Janney would mostly just like to play.
He is made nervous by the sudden attention. Soft hands? What soft hands? He struggles with explanations. How do you explain instinct? Hockey is free-form dance, not cumbersome words. Hockey is innovation, figuring out geometric angles on the move, angles that always change. Hockey is dangling the puck. His term. Dangling. The big ponds simply are variations on the small ponds. There is more noise, but the game is the same.
"I think I'll always play hockey," he says. "It's just fun for me to play."