By: Justin Dickie
07/31/2014 8:13 AM -
It was a tough season for Jake Dowell in 2013-2014.
On the ice, the 29-year-old admits he wasn’t pleased with his own performance as he captained the Iowa Wild to a last-place finish in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference.
Off the ice, Dowell was dealing with the rapidly decreasing health of his father, John, who had been battling Huntington’s disease for years and passed away in February.
But he believes Hamilton is the right fit as he sets his sights on a fresh start and a rebound year with the Bulldogs in 2014-2015 on a one-year AHL contract.
“My expectation is to be a veteran leader on the team and I want to bring whatever I can to help the team,” Dowell says. “I think I can bring a little more skill than I’ve been expected to do in past years and this is really a bounce-back year for myself. I wasn’t happy with the season that I had last year, so I’ll be excited and determined to have a good season and hopefully the whole team has that same attitude, same approach, and we can have some success.”
The Eau Claire, Wisconsin native is a veteran of 462 National Hockey League and AHL regular season games combined. The forward is known for his willingness to stand up for teammates physically, prides himself as a top penalty killer and has displayed character and leadership qualities throughout his career that have earned him the ‘C’ for two AHL clubs.
“I have high expectations of myself and I think I approach the game the right way,” Dowell says. “If I can share that with the young guys and they can feed off the way that I play, then I’m happy with that.”
Dowell says it was the Bulldogs organization’s commitment to winning that convinced him to sign on. And the Chicago Blackhawks draft pick knows a thing or two about winning, earning World Junior gold with Team USA in 2004 and capturing a national collegiate title with the University of Wisconsin Badgers in 2006. Specifically, he points to Hamilton’s signing of forward T.J. Hensick as a particular strength for the ‘Dogs.
“To go out and get a guy like that, who has been around and he can put points up, that’s a big deal,” Dowell says. “A team needs a veteran guy who can be a game breaker like that. I think with some of the people they’ve brought in, with experience, that have won in different places, that speaks volumes and it’s exciting to be in an area where they want to win. That’s what helps everyone’s careers and what was a selling point to me.”
By joining the Bulldogs, Dowell has found himself surrounded by familiar faces within the organization between Hamilton and its NHL affiliate, the Montreal Canadiens. In addition to Hensick, who he played with on the U.S. National Under-18 Team, Dowell also knows General Manager Marc Bergevin and Senior Vice President, Hockey Operations Rick Dudley from their days together with the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as Canadiens players Rene Bourque, Tom Gilbert and Davis Drewiske, all teammates from the University of Wisconsin that he remains close friends with.
“Rene Bourque was my roommate in my first year at college,” Dowell says. “Whenever he’s around in the summer, there always seems to be some golf outing or something where we all get together. Davis and Tom and I are all great friends and we all see a lot of each other in the summers, so that’s exciting to have a little familiarity around in the organization.”
The support of several friends and familiar acquaintances in the Bulldogs / Canadiens system should be helpful when Dowell moves to Hamilton in the fall as he continues to heal from the loss of his father while his mother, Vicki, and brother, Luke – who also suffers from Huntington’s – stay behind in Wisconsin.
Dowell and his family were the topic of a highly-publicized ESPN E:60 feature in February before his father passed. He himself has a 50-50 chance of having the gene that causes the lethal, hereditary, degenerative brain disorder, but hasn’t yet been tested for it. But through the ESPN piece and other media stories that have featured the family recently, Dowell has become somewhat of an unofficial spokesperson for the disease.
“I feel like if I have the platform to use, on a national level,” he says, “to raise awareness and maybe raise some money to help find a cure, I feel like that’s kind of my duty to do it. It’d be wrong of me not to.”
After some hardships on and off the ice last season, Dowell keeps his hockey career in perspective, reflecting on all the good it has done for him and his family through the years as he works toward a return to form in 2014-2015.
“I think it’s been a release for me to always have hockey as something else to really focus a lot of energy into, rather than worrying about something I can’t handle or something that I can’t control,” Dowell says. “It has been great. It’s been great for my mom and dad as well over the years to be able to come to my games and it’s just been an overall bright spot for them.”
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