BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – For David LeNeveu having a place to call home was always an essential part of his life, even while living the life of a vagabond athlete in the hopscotch world of professional hockey for 14 seasons.
LeNeveu is the third ex-Hartford Wolf Pack goaltender that began this offseason to make inroads into a post-hockey playing life by finding a place in the business side of the equation while still keeping his glove hand and paddle working in coaching young goaltenders.
LeNeveu is now the President and part of a six-man ownership group in the Nanaimo Clippers, a junior hockey team in Nanaimo, BC, just off the coast of Vancouver on Vancouver Island, a 15-20 minute ferry ride. “I said as I started my career, that I wanted a home in Canada to come back to in the summer to train and prepare for the season,” LeNeveu remarked. “I also thought that when the time came, that it would be the place you had to call your own and truly call it home, no matter how many other places you called “home” during the season.”
LeNeveu has been the goalie coach for the last two years with the Clippers and will continue that role despite the title and his other job responsibilities.
“You never lose the itch to get on the ice and I get to keep my hand in the game and pass along many of things I learned over the years,” LeNeveu said.
The British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) is not a gold mine of financial wealth, but it has a mandate and direction very different from the pro side of the ledger.
“You’re not making millions at the Junior A level, but you are building a major starting place for players to go collegiately and maybe the pros. It’s the same for the coaches, support staff, and sales staff. We want to see people get better, learn and grow, and to move on. In my opinion, it’s a very good place to start, whatever your goals are. Nanaimo is just a perfect fit for me.”
LeNeveu’s wife is from Nanaimo, and the two have three children, so with a family support system right there, it was an easy call for the Fernie, BC native.
“(Nanaimo) is a perfect spot for many reasons post-playing,” LeNeveu said. “I still love Fernie too, it’s where I grew up. Here, it’s a perfect blend. It’s a community of 80 to 90,000 here, and the short ferry ride to Vancouver gives you all the big city attractions you would want. The Clippers allows me to keep my stick in hockey as a coach in that sense, and to be able to maintain and grow my other business too. My kids know where their school will be every year and be with their friends. It’s a very good fit for me to start out this post-playing career.”
LeNeveu had two tours of duty in Hartford. Three years ago, he and Dov Grumet-Morris came in like the cavalry and carried the team on their shoulders (and goalie pads). The duo rescued them from what seemed a distinct possibility of the disaster of finishing dead last in the AHL. The team played .750 hockey the rest of the way with the solid pair of netminders between the pipes.
The opportunity for the second round with the Wolf Pack seemingly came out of left field. “I came off a good year, but there were no job openings. I was fortunate to go to South Carolina (Stingrays – ECHL). They that had a good coaching staff and a good team. It was a good place to start because I wanted to stay in North America. Then Providence (Bruins – AHL) needed somebody and that was the chance I was looking for.”
LeNeveu had a good game in the P-Bruins 1-0 loss. Then came a call from Hartford. They needed somebody, and LeNeveu was available. This set up the opportunity for him and Grumet-Morris to finally play together.
“Our paths crossed literally all over the world starting back in college with Cornell-Harvard games, in the minors, and even in Europe. We always respected each other,” LeNeveu said. “I am a player who wants a good relationship with the other goalie. I had a great one with (another ex-Pack goalie) Yann Danis in Oklahoma City. We came into not-the-best-of-situations. It was kind of weird, but we made it work.”
LeNeveu’s first day with the Pack was particularly trying. GM Jim Schoenfeld came into the locker room and lowered the boom on then last place Hartford team.
“It was a tough first day to be sure, but having been in hockey a bit, you weather those storms. It’s not the optimum first few days that anybody wanted,” LeNeveu said. He shook hands to say hello and then goodbye to ex-Pack Brodie Dupont in about an hour-and-a-half that day.
His first tour with the team certainly didn’t start out too well either. How he arrived with the team demonstrates the sometimes not too rosy and beautiful side of a pro athlete’s world.
LeNeveu was traded at the NHL trade deadline from San Antonio, then with the Phoenix (nee Arizona) Coyotes organization, to the New York Rangers just after the birth of their first child, so it was not the best of timing. The LeNeveu’s packed up all their possessions, and recognizing they would be hotel bound in Hartford for the remainder of the season, sent everything by ship transport.
“It was a very hectic period and we made the choice to ship our stuff by transport back to our home in BC. We heard varied horror stories others had in shipping by different means, but we chose this method. So we’re in Hartford and after the game they ask me to the coach’s office. I got a weird vibe from the start. It was game day and you usually don’t bother the goalies anyway, but this was different. Things go racing through your mind; your family has yet to arrive and they said immediately it’s not that. Then Patty (Boller, the team assistant GM and assistant coach) asks if you have a truck with a safe in the back. I say, ‘Yeah, it has my contracts and other important documents.’ ‘It’s gone, it’s all melted,’ and I went, ‘What are you talking about?'”
“The team received a call from the shipping company that their ship had caught on fire and we had lost everything. Many things were irreplaceable to each of us; pictures of our first child’s sonogram (before CD-Rom days), hockey stuff I had collected over the years. Everything-all-gone! For an athlete, when you live a bit of a gypsy life, it’s very different than people realize. We get hit with just as many problems as anybody else.”
After playing his junior hockey in Nanaimo, LeNeveu learned that the adjustment to being a professional player is embryonic with several stages.
“When you first start out it’s easier, but not easy. You’re single or have a fiancé or girlfriend. It’s a new adventure going to so many different, unique situations, but when you have kids, it all changes and decisions multiply themselves. Where do you live? Rent a space during the season? Renting furniture? Kids, if they’re school age, where to get them in school? Bringing their toys and your possessions? Insurance? Passports? There’s a tremendous litany of things, and despite it all, I wouldn’t trade any of it. Hockey has given me so much exposure, friendships, and opportunities.”
Like the Pack’s all-time leader in wins, Jason LaBarbera, LeNeveu is a student of and fan of, Benoit Allaire. LeNeveu hopes to impart some of those many hours of work he spent with Allaire on to another generation of netminders.
“Benny was excellent. He truly simplified the game for me. Goalies by nature over think things and I was in that category. Benny really helped develop my game with positioning. When you watch Henrik Lundqvist perform as he does, it’s the work (Benny) puts you through. He broke down video in such a unique way and kept things simple. He demanded hard work and attention to detail, but he also was stressing positioning and that season paid off for me because of working with him. He was there to pat you on the back and there to push you to succeed.”
LeNeveu’s last stint for the Rangers/Hartford came in a backup goalie role during the Rangers Stanley Cup. When Cam Talbot was injured, LeNeveu was on the bench in overtime in Game 1 when Lundqvist was knocked down and seemingly hurt. LeNeveu shared a little secret.
“I had a clear view. I knew Hank wasn’t badly hurt,” LeNeveu said he thought the NBC cameras were trained right on him as fans wondered would he could be going into an overtime game no less, after not playing a game in nearly five weeks. “I had to look concerned, you stand up get your glove and stick, but if I had to I was ready. This is the chance every goalie and hockey player wants – to compete for the Stanley Cup.”
It sounds like David LeNeveu has found a little piece of heaven in BC to start his post-playing career.