03/05/2010 12:25 AM -
Story and photos by Mark Newman
Hockey defensemen come in all shapes and sizes.
There are the two-way dynamos, the prolific point producers whose style of play was defined by guys like Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey. They use their skating ability and puckhandling skills to push the puck into the offensive zone while still being adept at protecting their back end.
Then there are the body checkers, the bruising blueliners known for their physical play – players like Scott Stevens and Vladimir Konstantinov, who were respected not only for their defensive abilities but also for their ability to deliver big open-ice hits.
Some players are distinguished by their play at the point on the power play. Retired NHL defensemen Al Iafrate and Al MacInnis were known for their extremely hard shots. Current Boston Bruins blueliner Zdeno Chara, the largest NHL player ever at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, is known for putting every inch and pound into his hard shot.
Finally, there are the irritators, players like Chris Chelios and Chris Pronger, whose gritty playing style tends to get under the skin of opposing players and often earns the derision of the other team’s supporters.
By contrast, Griffins defenseman Doug Janik isn’t the type of player you immediately notice. He doesn’t possess blazing speed. He’s not overly big, so he isn’t known for throwing his weight around. He has an NHL-caliber shot but it doesn’t strike fear into opposing goalies. While he won’t hesitate to stand up for teammates, he doesn’t go out of his way to cause trouble.
And yet Janik is about as solid as they come.
He is the epitome of the dependable defenseman, the type of player who doesn’t do anything in spectacular fashion but does everything and more than is expected of him.
“Doug Janik has worked hard for a long time to make himself a complete defenseman,” said Griffins head coach Curt Fraser. “He’s come in here and really done a lot of good things.”
Janik is the complete package, a combination of experience, hockey smarts and skill, according to Fraser. “He has an awareness that makes him not only good defensively but also offensively. He just sees the ice very well.”
More than anything, Fraser likes Janik’s quiet tenacity. “He’s willing to compete hard every night – and that’s something that you don’t always find,” he said.
Fraser is not alone in his praise of the steady defenseman, who turns 30 on March 26.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock expressed his satisfaction when Janik was recalled from Grand Rapids after former Griffins defenseman Jonathan Ericsson sustained a knee injury Dec. 14.
“Janik has been a real big plus," Babcock told Ansar Khan of Booth Newspapers. "He’s been good on the penalty kill. He’s a simple player, doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. He’s been confident. He’ll take a hit to make a play.’’
It’s a credit to Janik’s training that he was able to slide into the Red Wings lineup without looking out of place.
“It’s fantastic to have a defenseman who can not only lead our defense down here, but who can go up (to Detroit) and not only fill-in but also do a really good job for the Red Wings,” Fraser said.
“When he got called up to Detroit, he impressed a lot of people. It showed that he works hard to keep himself ready and prepared. I think he has a bright future ahead of him within the organization here and in Detroit.”
For Janik, the opportunity to play in Detroit helps validate his decision to sign with the talent-rich organization last summer, a move that some might have predicted would see him stuck in Grand Rapids.
“Everyone who plays wants to play in the NHL, so it was nice to get back up there for a month and play well,” Janik said. “It takes a few practices or a game or two to get back to NHL speed but it was fun.”
Janik inked his contract with the Red Wings after a somewhat frustrating 2008-09 season. He had originally signed a one-year contract with Chicago but was claimed on waivers by the Dallas Stars when the Blackhawks tried to send him to the their AHL affiliate in Rockford.
He languished in Dallas, watching a lot of games in the stands either as a healthy scratch or due to injury. He was finally traded to Montreal late in the season and ended up playing for Hamilton in the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs.
“It was a long year between getting traded and getting bounced around all over the place,” Janik said. “This summer I just wanted to come to a good organization where I was only a (short) driving distance away from being called up.
“Whether I was in the NHL or the AHL, I knew I’d be in a good organization.”
Janik had proven that he had the ability to play at the NHL level prior to his lost season.
He spent the entire previous two seasons in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning, appearing in 75 games during the 2006-07 season and 61 contests a year later.
Janik might have stayed in Tampa – ”It was a great place to play,” he said – but new ownership and management decided to take a new direction after his second season there. “When you’re a sixth or seventh defenseman like me, you tend to get lost in the shuffle pretty easily,” he said.
Prior to Tampa, Janik had bounced around for five seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization, which had selected him with the 55th overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
He saw only minimal time with the Sabres, although a stint with the NHL team during the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs helped convinced scouts that he was capable of handling the pressures of the NHL.
Patience is an admirable trait for any hockey player, especially a defenseman, and Janik has shown that he has demeanor and presence to not rush into mistakes.
“I just try to keep my play consistent and solid,’’ Janik said. “You just have to focus on what you do best and be ready when the opportunity comes. If you do end up back in the American league, you have to just play hard and prepare yourself that way.”
Janik said moving between the Red Wings and the Griffins is easier because both teams play similar systems. “Once you play that way down here and then go up there, it makes it a little bit easier. As defensemen, when we make that first good pass, it just helps out that process.’
“What I try to do is play solid defense, move the puck out of my own end and basically keep my game simple.”
There are adjustments to be made both ways. The NHL game is faster-paced with more highly skilled players, while the AHL features more prospects who are prone to mistakes.
“Obviously when you go up, the level of competition is so much higher. You know you are going to play with players who are so skilled and always in the right place.
“From that standpoint, it can make the game a little easier. But at the same time it’s obvious that when you make a mistake up there, you tend to pay for it because of the high skill level in the NHL.”
His calming influence in the defensive zone is reflective of his relaxed, laidback personality.
“I think it comes from being older,” he said. “The more games you’ve played, the more calm you’ll be. I’m not sure that earlier in my career I was quite that way. You gain confidence, the more you play.”
Janik is able to keep his emotions in check, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he is dispassionate about the level of his performance.
“I expect a lot out of myself, even if I don’t show it on the outside,” he said, dispelling any notion that he lacks the necessary fire. “Sometimes you have to be your own worst critic.
“Off the ice, I can seem relaxed and laidback, but I want to win. It’s a matter of just working harder and doing the little things. In the end, everybody needs to look in the mirror and be accountable.”
One way that Janik is accountable is the leadership role he has assumed, both on the ice and in the locker room, a fact that Fraser fully appreciates.
“We have a lot of young guys on this team and he’s been very good with them, talking to them, helping teach them the game,” Fraser said. “He’s been a real leader off the ice for us.”
Now in his ninth pro season, Janik sees mentoring almost as a duty.
“The older you are, the more responsibility you have to work with the younger defensemen,” he said. “But we all help each other. I can learn just as much from one of the younger guys as they can from me.”
Janik started learning the game of hockey from his father, Doug, who was a goaltender at UMass-Amherst in the mid-1970s. “He had played in college and he had a big influence on me as I was growing up.
“We always had a rink in our backyard which he and my mom helped build, and he coached a few of my teams when I was younger. My parents played a big part.”
Janik doesn’t remember how or why he started playing defense, but that he was put on the blueline when he was young and never left.
He played his college hockey at the University of Maine, where he helped the Black Bears capture the 1999 NCAA championship, a thrill that remains one of the highlights of his career.
“It’s obviously a great experience whenever you can win a championship,” he said. “To this day, I’m still friends with many of those guys. When you accomplish something like that, you have a bond that not many teams get to experience.”
One other bond that he has with his past is his large collection of pucks. He estimates that he has about 400 pucks from various teams and leagues. “My dad had started collecting them when he was playing and it’s become a growing collection over the years,” he said.
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