I drove down to Boston the other day to meet former Boston Bruins goalie Byron Dafoe for an interview. Dafoe was kind enough to take a little time out of his trip to meet with me, and I’d again like to thank him for doing so. Dafoe has kept in touch with the area since leaving and feels a strong connection to the city and its sports teams. He was at the Bruins opening game of the playoffs last Thursday with his son and got to watch the game from the alumni box for the first time. His son, who was playing hockey at the ice arena where we met, hopes to play hockey for a college in Boston.
Dafoe played five seasons with the Bruins, starting with the 1997-98 season and lasting through the 2002 playoffs. During that time he really blossomed, even leading the league with 10 shutouts in 1998-99. That year he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and posted a 1.99 goals against average. Byron Dafoe is fifth all-time in Bruins history in saves made despite playing in parts of just five seasons. His 2.30 goals against average places him third on the franchise’s all-time list, as does his .911 save percentage while with the team. Anyway you cut it, he is one of the better goaltenders the Bruins have had.
BSE: You were drafted the same year as Olaf Kolzig, another goalie, both pretty high picks. What were your thoughts on that, them taking two goalies early on?
Byron Dafoe: Yup, first and second. I think it’s still the only time it has ever happened. It was at that point, I don’t think anyone has done it since. What’s funny is, Olie and I became best friends after that, and we still see each other every year. He always tells a story, he got drafted in the first round and he was going down to meet the coaching staff, and then he heard over the PA “the second round pick of the Washington Capitals is Byron Dafoe.” He perked up, “wait a minute, what are you guys doing now?” There’s always been a competitive competition between the two of us on the ice. They had some holes in goaltending so they took the top two available.
BSE: So the two of you did wind up best friends; how did that come about?
Byron Dafoe: So actually, right after the draft, that September in training camp the Capitals did what was called “the Friendship Tour” over in Russia. It was back when Russia still had the iron curtain up, so it was a big deal for the NHL to go into Russia and play hockey. We played five or six exhibition games in Russia. They took their current team from the year before and then their two top draft picks, which were Olie and I. As the young kids, we hung out all the time and we became good friends. When we turned pro we lived together in Baltimore and then again when the Skipjacks moved to Portland, Maine and became the Portland Pirates we were roommates there again.
BSE: I know you probably get asked this a lot about your little scuffle with Olie on the ice. What was going through your head with that?
Byron Dafoe: You know it’s funny, my wife was at the game and she just shook her head. Basically what happened was, a little skirmish happened in the corner. We were out-manned, I think they might’ve been on the power play. I did maybe the dumbest thing and grabbed Dale Hunter, which is not the guy I would want to tussle with. In the meantime, Olie saw me go in so he skated the length of the ice. I think he grabbed Ken Belanger, which that would’ve been fun to watch. Somehow we ended up getting paired up, the whole place is going crazy, they want to see two goalies fight. I did get his jersey over his head, and I have a picture of that in my bar, and he refuses to sign it. He was 6’3″ 220, he did say, “don’t you dare do anything because I will kill you”, and he would, I admit that. But I’m the one who has the picture to prove it.
BSE: I don’t know, Patrick Lalime might have something to say about that.
Byron Dafoe: Well that’s true. That one I do like.
BSE: That one isn’t as talked about, probably because you and Olie are such great friends, but your fight with Patrick Lalime might be my favorite hockey fight ever.
Byron Dafoe: My son and I were watching it just the other day for some reason. Yeah, that was legit, that was real, and I’m definitely going to take a knock out win on that one.
BSE: Yeah, you got some knocks on him, then he took your mask off and you really got some hits on him.
Byron Dafoe: Yeah, then I got mad. What’s funny about that story, we played in Ottawa, but a week later, and during warm-ups we’re both stretching at center ice and he’s got a nice shiner.
BSE: We touched on this a little bit, things were kind of crowded in Washington, Olie was there, they also had Jim Carey, who I think won the Calder. What were your thoughts when you got traded to LA, was it like, alright, here is my chance?
Byron Dafoe: Yeah, how that came about was the lockout year, 94, Jim Carey got sent to Portland. I was going to Portland, so they didn’t want both of us playing together, so I got loaned to the Phoenix Roadrunners of the IHL, which was LA’s farm team. I played almost a whole year in Phoenix, had a really good season. And that essentially is what prompted the Kings to trade for me. I played two years in LA, Kelly Hrudey got hurt and I kind of got thrown into the starting role, which is what ended up getting me to Boston.
BSE: You were traded with Dmitri Khristich twice, once to the Kings and once to the Bruins. Did you guys form any bond being traded together twice?
Byron Dafoe: Yeah, we were friends, our wives were friends. That’s another rarity, I don’t think it’s happened very often that the same two guys get traded together like that. For me personally, I had two solid years of development in LA, but then coming to Boston, Pat Burns is the coach, I loved playing for him. Completely different organizations and cities, going from LA to Boston, and I just loved the feel of this city. The fans are just so passionate, which just different situation in LA (laughs).
BSE: So you feel more pressure playing out here?
Byron Dafoe: For sure, without question. But again, it’s a good pressure. If you are going to play in the NHL, you need to perform under pressure. For me, I think it brought another element to my game that I hadn’t had in LA or Washington. I loved it.
BSE: You seem to stay in touch with Boston sports, based on what I see on twitter, and you are wearing a Red Sox hat right now, I like it. So this was your favorite place to play?
Byron Dafoe: Without question. It was unfortunate we never came to a contract after my fifth year here. I always would have loved to stay, but it’s a business for both sides. I ended up going down to Atlanta, I was kind of banged up at the time, I’d had eight knee surgeries. I was hurt down there as well, so it probably made sense why the Bruins did what they did and why I did what I did. But like I said, my heart’s always been in Boston. Both my boys were born here and we’re thinking of potentially moving back here. Got lots of connections and friends still here.
BSE: What accomplishments are you most proud of from your career?
Byron Dafoe: Anytime you win a championship is obviously great. The Stanley Cup would’ve been the best, but that didn’t happen. But, to win a Calder Cup in Portland with the Pirates was pretty special, to be playing hockey in June and have a ring to show for it was fun. In the NHL, here in Boston, being nominated for a Vezina was pretty cool. I was fortunate to play in four completely different organizations. It was pretty amazing career, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, other than to have a Stanley Cup.
BSE: How do you feel about the team this year?
Byron Dafoe: After the first month I wasn’t too sure what was going on. Since then, by far the best team in the NHL. Obviously, they’re just hitting their stride after these first two games with the Leafs. One thing they have is their scoring power, they can put the puck in the net. Even their support players, Donato stepping in, Riley Nash is having a phenomenal year. A lot of guys you didn’t expect have stepped up which makes them so much deeper than just their top three. They have got to be a favorite to win the Cup. Tuuka is Tuuka, he’s played phenomenal down the stretch.
BSE: You played with Don Sweeney, back then did you see anything like this in his future?
Byron Dafoe: Oh yeah, it didn’t surprise me at all. Donny, Harvard grad, smart, astute guy, very long successful career playing. It’s totally natural he is now the general manager and architect of this team. And now it’s paying off after just a couple years.
BSE: Moving on to the NHL right now, do you see any changes that you think should be made to the game?
Byron Dafoe: I put a tweet out there about the goaltender interference. I ended up going on Sportsnet in Canada with Darren Millard and Grant Fuhr. We had a big debate on that, which was all because of the tweet. I personally think that they’ve kind of missed the boat a little bit on this goalie’s interference. Even now, they’ve made another change where they have someone upstairs make the official call. That’s great, but you’re never going to have the same guy for every game, every call. The guy wouldn’t have a life. I think that’s gotten a little carried away, goalies can take advantage of it. Now they’re not so worried about stopping the puck in traffic, they’re more worried about, “hey, I got interfered with.” I think that’s a negative on the game right now. Positives, I love the 3-on-3 overtime, I think that’s one of the best things to come to hockey. I think in my career I had 50 ties, I’d love to trade those for 3-on-3 and see how many more wins we could get. The game, to me, is as exciting as it’s ever been. It’s fast, there is more scoring, it’s pretty exciting.
BSE: How about goalie equipment? Has it gotten too big? Or should the nets be expanded?
Byron Dafoe: I think you can’t put a handicap on the size of the athlete. When I played we had wider pads. I believe they’re more narrow than when I played. They seem to be taller, but that’s just personal preference. You got a guy, 6’6″, 6’7″, he’s just going to take up a lot of space in net. That’s how things are trending now, they aren’t looking for goalies under six feet too often anymore, I’d have a tough time at 5’11”. Once you make a change, it’s a snowball effect, that’s the concern when you start tinkering with the rules. There’s nothing wrong with a good 2-1 hockey game, it doesn’t have to be 7-6 all the time. As a fan I’m pretty excited with where we are at.
BSE: What are you doing nowadays?
Byron Dafoe: I’ve been living in Kelowna, British Columbia for the last ten years. It’s a real big hockey spot, a lot of hockey players live there in the summer. I got involved in purchasing some real estate, developing it, and selling it off. I’m kind of getting at the end of that. With my kids getting older I was kind of prompted to maybe make a personal change and come back east. I’ve kept myself busy, been able to coach my younger son who plays hockey, and it’s been a lot of fun for me. His goal is to get a scholarship and come play hockey here in Boston. He was only six months old when we left but he feels like this is his home.
BSE: Is there any charity work you have been doing?
Byron Dafoe: I got involved with, my older boy has autism, so we were involved with an autism foundation for a while. Anything I can do to help, charity golf tournaments and stuff like that.
BSE: I was thinking of throwing out a few names and having you say what comes to your mind about them. Dominik Hasek.
Byron Dafoe: You know, the one thing that always impressed me with Dominik Hasek is one of the very first times I was playing against him, I was watching him during warm-ups. I wasn’t playing, so I was just watching him. For the 15 minutes of warm-up, I still, to this day, don’t think he ever let a goal in. That epitomized to me what he was as a goaltender, he never let up, and he tried on everything. There is a reason why I think he is one of, if not the best goalie ever to play.
BSE: Martin Brodeur.
Byron Dafoe: Marty was a year younger than me, we came up through the minors together. When I think of Marty I think of a winner. What I think he was a little underappreciated for was, New Jersey had a very defensive-minded team all those years, sometimes he might only get 18 shots a night, but he would get that big save when they needed it to win the game. There’s a reason he won three Stanley Cups.
BSE: Patrick Roy.
Byron Dafoe: Another proven winner. Fiery guy, that’s what I liked about him. Very intense for a goaltender. How he orchestrated his trade from Montreal to Colorado, then to win a couple Stanley Cups there, pretty impressive.
BSE: Well, think I got everything, I appreciate your time.
Byron Dafoe: Alright Scott, thanks for driving down.
Now for your viewing pleasure, below is the must watch fight with Patrick Lalime. If you have seen it before, it’s always worth a watch. If you haven’t, then you definitely need to watch it.