Boston Bruins cult heroes: Dean Chynoweth

With summer about to arrive, we’re still weeks away from the return of NHL training camps, so it’s time for another entry in the Bruins cult hero series with defenseman Dean Chynoweth, former 1st-round pick and depth defenseman who played just 94 career games with the B’s out of 241 career NHL contests, but was known for his toughness and willingness to pay the price for the team. He’s held numerous coaching jobs in junior and pro hockey, and is currently one of Rod Brind’Amour’s assistants with the Carolina Hurricanes. Much of this piece is lifted from an interview I conducted with Chynoweth in 2001, when he was head coach of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, and we had a chance meeting at the NHL draft in Sunrise, FL.- KL

When you think of the Boston Bruins, Dean Chynoweth’s name won’t be on the tip of your tongue.

The hard-nosed defenseman only played a total of 94 games with the team, scoring 2 goals and 10 points while totaling 259 minutes in penalties.  However, in his short time with the club, Chynoweth fit the traditional Bruin stereotype of a hockey player who battled hard for his team any given night, and while perhaps not the most talented, played the sport with toughness, tenacity and honesty.

A two-time Memorial Cup-winner with Medicine Hat in 1987 and 1988, teams that included NHL players Trevor Linden and Rob DiMaio among others,  Chynoweth went to the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit during the summer of 1987, where he heard his name called 13th overall by the New York Islanders, two picks ahead of Joe Sakic.  Years later, attending NHL drafts as a coach gave him a perspective on the process he went through himself and how much the draft itself as an event has changed in the 33 years since Chynoweth was himself a first-round selection.

“Every draft you go to brings back a lot of good memories,” he said.  “It’s such a bigger deal nowadays than it used to be, especially during my draft year.  I remember that everything was held on the floor in Detroit.  It was such an exciting time for me and I still have that videotape of the event.  What I remember most is that everyone was so happy to be drafted and that overall feeling of excitement was something unique.

“Now, as a coach going to it, it really hits you that now is when the careers of these young players are really getting started.  Being chosen by an NHL club is a wonderful thing, but it is only the beginning.  Now, everything starts, so once you get over that initial feeling of getting drafted, you realize that the real work is ahead of you and it’s a sobering thought.”

Chynoweth broke into the NHL straight out of Medicine Hat in 1988-89, but his rookie season lasted a mere six games and was marred by an event that nearly ended his career before it began.

While engaged in a fight with Philadelphia Flyers power forward Rick Tocchet, Chynoweth had one of his eyes gouged by Tocchet, and did not play the rest of that season.  Given the natural toughness of both players, many assumed that the next time they met on the ice, there would be a rematch.

 “It was an odd situation,” Chynoweth recalled.  “I didn’t play at all after that injury and was used sparingly the next year, playing most of that season in the minors with Springfield.  After that, I spent more time in the Islanders’ system than with the actual NHL team.

“For about 3 or 4 years, people kept asking me, ‘Are you gonna get him (Tocchet)? Are you gonna get him?’  However, the reality of the situation was that I wasn’t even up (with the parent club).”

After three years of riding a shuttle between Long Island and the club’s AHL affiliate the Capital District Islanders, Chynoweth and Tocchet crossed paths for the first time.

“I was with the Islanders and we were playing a game in Pittsburgh (in 1993-94).  I got into the elevator at our hotel and was heading down to go to the arena.  The elevator went two floors down and stopped.  Then, in walked Tocchet.  So, there we were- the two of us and nobody else alone in the elevator, and I remember him saying, ‘Hey- how are you?’  And that was it.

“I came to realize that Rick is the type of guy who is a professional and what happens on the ice stays on the ice.  There was one incident the following season when he was with L.A. and we ended up in a little brawl there during a game, but in the end, a lot of people expected this feud between us that would always carry on and it was nothing like that at all.”

Chynoweth and Tocchet became teammates in Boston during the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons when Tocchet was acquired for Kevin Stevens in late January, 1996 a short time after the Bruins had secured Chynoweth’s rights from the Islanders on December 9th for Boston’s 5th round choice (Peter Sachl) in the 1996 draft.

“I still clearly remember the day I found out he was on the Bruins,” Chynoweth said.  “I walked into the FleetCenter the same way I always did and was heading to the dressing room when (several members of the) Boston media met me halfway down the hallway.  I immediately knew that something was up because they never talked to me.

  “The first question they hit me with was, ‘What do you think of the trade?’  I had to be told that the Bruins had picked up Tocchet, but immediately, I was like- Wow, great trade!  He’s a premier power forward and this is a huge acquisition for the Bruins.  What followed then was the question about the eye incident and at that point, I asked them not to bring it up again.  I said, look- (Tocchet) just had his life turned upside down by the trade and the last thing he needs to be reminded of is something that happened in the past.  We’re teammates now and that’s it.

“To their credit, the media didn’t ask me about it again and other than seeing a brief blurb about it in the paper right afterwards, that was the only thing that was ever mentioned to my knowledge.”

Tocchet arrived on a Bruins team that was well on it’s way to righting a listing ship with the acquisitions of Chynoweth, who provided a spark and toughness, and goaltender Bill Ranford, who stabilized the position after sophomore Blaine Lacher flopped and veteran Craig Billington proved himself to be more of a capable backup than clear No. 1. Chynoweth recalled the moment that Tocchet first walked into the Boston locker room after the trade.

“He came in and I went over to him.  We kind of had a laugh about the situation right then and that was it,” he said. “Afterwards and over the course of that season and the next until he was traded to Washington, we would hang out and Rick grew into something more than just a teammate.  He’s someone that I greatly respect for his ability and devotion to hockey.  He’s someone that I am proud to call a friend.”

Chynoweth’s trade to the Bruins couldn’t have come at a better time for him.  At age 27, he was feeling the pressure of unfulfilled expectations of a top-15 draft pick who had not been able to establish himself as a regular in the Islanders’ lineup.

“The way that the trade to Boston transpired was interesting,” he said.  “At the time, Don Maloney had been fired and Darcy Regier was the Islanders’ interim GM.  I had a good relationship with Darcy and I approached him about the opportunity for a change of scenery where I might fit into a team’s plans better than I was in New York.  He told me that he would do everything he could, and right after that, a rumor surfaced in some kind of three-way trade between the Bruins and Flyers that at the time involved some bigger-name players like Kirk Muller.  As you know, that trade never materialized, but I did end up getting my wish.

“When I first got the message that I had been moved, it only said that- that I had been traded, and I didn’t know which team I was going to.  When I found out that it was Boston, I was absolutely floored.  I said, wow!  I mean- it was not just the team with all of its proud tradition and history I was going to, but the town as well.  Boston is and always has been such a great sports city and when I thought about the tremendous players on that Bruins team I was getting ready to join, I couldn’t believe my great fortune.”

Although it didn’t work out for him with the Islanders, going to Boston was a chance to get that change of scenery and reset, with a core of players that had been Stanley Cup contenders just a few seasons earlier.

  “I had played with Pat LaFontaine and Pierre Turgeon on the Islanders, who were great players, but as soon as I heard Boston, I immediately thought of Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, Adam Oates…guys like that, and right then, I realized that I couldn’t get packed fast enough and get on that plane quickly enough to Florida to join the team.”

When Chynoweth was first acquired, the Bruins were an underachieving bunch under head coach Steve Kasper.   The Bruins were in a less-than-ideal set of circumstances which Chynoweth found himself right in the middle of when he walked into the dressing room for the first time right before his first game as a Bruin against the Panthers.

“I honestly didn’t realize the state the team was in then,” Chynoweth said.  “I arrived late, but even so, an unwritten rule in pro hockey is that when you first get traded and show up, the guys are supposed to introduce themselves to you.  Well, I walked in and nobody, save for Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, Adam Oates, Don Sweeney and Craig Billington introduced themselves to me.  I then had to go around myself and meet the rest of the team, but it was definitely a cool reception.  It was a tense atmosphere and I think that some guys who were maybe on the bubble viewed me as the one who was pushing them out or whatever, but it was a weird feeling nonetheless.  You know, people talk about how important team chemistry is in sports and that was a classic example of it right there.”

The three key acquisitions of Chynoweth, Ranford and Tocchet helped turn things around in Boston that year and the Bruins roared down the stretch, going 13-4-3 in their final 20 games, entering the 1996 postseason with a lot of momentum and confidence. The B’s faced a higher-seeded but playoff novice opponent in the Florida Panthers.  Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Panthers proved that hot goaltending by John Vanbiesbrouck and superior execution is a very tough combination to beat.  They downed the Bruins in five games, sending the team to a very frustrating first-round exit despite a collection of talented players on the roster.

“That loss was definitely disappointing.  We got off to a poor start in the series and you know that when you’re up against the 8-Ball as we were, that you have to be firing on all cylinders.  Unfortunately, that was not the case for us, but we also suffered some bad luck with injuries.  Billy (Ranford) had a bad ankle and we of course had lost Cam (Neely) earlier in the season.  We thought that we might get Al Iafrate back as well against Florida, but didn’t.”

 In 1996-97, the Boston Bruins crashed, missing the playoffs for the first time in 30 seasons.  Neely’s retirement, when combined with Boston’s aging stars and the inability to upgrade the team’s talent level in the off-season, helped to doom that team to a last-place finish.  Chynoweth played 57 games that year and remembers the big trade that the B’s management team in Harry Sinden and Mike O’Connell pulled off in March, sending Oates, Tocchet, and Ranford to Washington in a move that guaranteed that the Bruins would finish out of the playoffs for the first time since Bobby Orr’s rookie year in 1966-67.

“Adam was a bit disgruntled that year, but what you have to remember is that losing Cam was a huge blow to our team,” said Chynoweth. “His retirement created a huge hole on the ice as well as off it, because even when he was injured, his presence meant something to our team because he was around.  When you’re retired, you’re not around at all, and so I don’t think we realized how big losing Cam was until he was gone.  I think that the organization was honest about the fact that they had underachieved in building a strong team that year and with the trade and some of the acquisitions that following summer, they made an honest effort to rebuild.”

Chynoweth played a mere two games in 1997-98 with the Bruins, but by then, was clearly not in the team’s plans anymore.  He split the rest of the season with Providence and the Quebec Rafales before calling it quits for good as a professional hockey player.

 “If I could characterize my time in Boston with the Bruins, I would have to say that it was too short,” he said.  “It’s tough to narrow the fond memories down to any one thing.  I loved how I would be around town and people would come up to me to say hello or talk to me about hockey or the state of the team.

“I loved being in the locker room and seeing the legends like Johnny Bucyk and Bobby Orr come around to hang out with the team, proving that once you’re a Bruin, you never really lose that feeling.  I think that what always comes to my mind at least when I think about my time spent as a Bruin is the history and tradition that goes with being an Original Six franchise.  I’ll always appreciate the passion the Bruins fans have for the sport and the great way I was treated by them in my time there.  As hockey players, we’re in the entertainment business, so when you can make the fans happy, and they cheer for you and let you know that they appreciate what you do, then that’s what it is about.”

Chynoweth has no regrets about his brief NHL career as a player.  He didn’t blaze a fiery trail in Boston, nor did he score a clutch postseason goal while he was here.  What he did provide was an honest, one hundred percent effort every night. He distinguished himself with physical play and punishing, open-ice hits.  He fought the other teams’ enforcers without hesitation, and often sacrificed his body for the good of the team.

His career as a Bruin wasn’t long or even notable, but in his 94 games in the black and gold, Chynoweth brought that lunchpail legacy with him to the rink every single night.

With that came one simple reward: the Boston fans respected him for it.

***

The fight between Chynoweth and Tocchet with the eye-gouge in 1988-89.

Here’s one of his fights vs Mark Janssens, with Fred Cusick and Derek Sanderson on the call as a bonus.

 

Chynoweth vs. Paul Laus

Chynoweth vs Randy McKay and a Bruins-Devils line brawl from 1996-97

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