On the surface, there is nothing spectacular about Jim Dowd who, if you didn’t know, is a center for the Philadelphia Flyers.
There is no reason to feel bad if you weren’t aware of that fact. Dowd has played for so many NHL teams that it’s hard to keep track of him. Plus, his name is rarely on the score sheet for a goal, assist or even a penalty.
In fact, the only time you might notice him is if someone in a seat next to you asks, “Who’s the guy skating around in the really small breezers?”
The educated answer would be, “That guy right there is a Jersey boy who has played for more National Hockey League teams than any other American, and a guy that has always done things his own way.”
Close To Home
Dowd’s story starts in Brick, N.J., where he was a high school phenomenon. Putting up points was as habitual for him as tying his skates. Most players with his scoring prowess would have made the jump to an East Coast prep school, where he would be further groomed for a chance at future hockey success.
Dowd stayed put.
“I had people telling me to go here or go there,” recalls Dowd, who scored 189 goals and 186 assists throughout his high school career. “But I was sitting in my hometown playing hockey with all my friends. I wasn’t going anywhere.”
That attitude of doing things his way continued when it finally became time to move away from the Garden State.
While most East Coast kids with similar skills set their sights on local powers like New Hampshire, Maine or any of a handful of Boston schools, Dowd was comfortable breaking the trend.
He chose Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., where he led the club to a national championship in 1988 and would eventually leave as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 274 points in four seasons.
Sticking To It
All these years later, Dowd maintains that his motive for choosing Lake State was because the coaches offered him all of the hockey sticks he would need. He never had to buy one again, and that was good enough for him.
Of course, if he did have to buy his own sticks, he could’ve done it on the cheap. To this day, Dowd remains one of a few NHL players still using a wooden stick. Again, he’s not one to conform to trends.
“I just do things that I feel comfortable with,” he admits. “First of all, I grew up playing hockey just because I loved it. I never thought about anything else other than that game I was playing in.
“With the sticks and the skates … I can’t change. I’ve tried changing, but I just have a tough time with it.”
Dowd may not like change, but he has had to get used to wearing a variety of uniforms throughout his NHL career, having played in New Jersey, Vancouver, New York (Islanders), Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota, Montreal, Chicago, Colorado, New Jersey again, and now, at age 39, in Philadelphia.
“I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything,” he says. “Look at every one of those places – all great hockey cities. Plus, I won a Stanley Cup in 1995 with New Jersey, my hometown team.”
The Test Of Time
Some players seem to have it in their DNA to be able to play well into their 30s and beyond. Chris Chelios, for example, is still a top defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings at the age of 46. But Chelios is a surefire Hall of Famer whenever he decides to hang up his skates. That could be 10 years from now for all we know.
Dowd is not likely to be enshrined in hockey’s hallowed Hall. He is a role player who reached double-digit goals (13) just once in his career with the Minnesota Wild in 2001-02. He’s not a fighter or a physical presence. Still, every summer NHL teams go shopping for a player like Dowd – a team guy who knows his role and gives his all every shift, every night.
“He’s still the same guy, he hasn’t lost anything,” says Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire, who coached Dowd from 2000 to 2004. “He’s very dedicated. The way he played here, he was a very good team player and he worked hard every night.”
Part of Dowd’s secret to longevity stems from his ability to be solid but not spectacular in all aspects of his game.
“I’ve learned somehow to try and do everything pretty good,” he says. “It’s not like you don’t try to score goals, because you do try. You try to do everything well, fit in and try to get your team to win; that’s what it’s all about. Luckily, I’ve been on teams that have been successful and that helps. It prolongs your career.”
A Character Guy
Blessed with the gift of gab and the ability to quickly relate to his teammates, Dowd garners respect in every locker room in which he sets up shop. He has the experience and the work ethic, which is as important to developing a team’s future prospects as it is to generating wins right away.
"First of all, I grew up playing hockey just because I loved it.”
“We took him in the expansion draft because of his skating ability and he was a hard competitor,” recalls Tom Lynn, the Wild’s assistant general manager. “He grew into a leadership role as one of the veteran guys who had a big impact on our young players.”
Dowd has been looking to add highlights to his long, underrated career, but he remains true to his Jersey roots. Every year, he hosts the Jim Dowd Shoot For the Stars tournament, pitting the best high school players in Ocean County against each other.
“It raises money for a family in need or a group or organization,” says Dowd. “I hate the old clichés, but it’s a great way to help out and give back. I think everybody, if you’re in a position to help out, should try to make the world a better place. That’s pretty cheesy, but that’s what it does.”
For a guy who has gone through the hockey world virtually unnoticed, that’s a mighty big footprint to leave behind.