CHICAGO -- The John Madden who played for the New Jersey Devils in 2003 would brood at his locker and have a glare of intimidation that allowed only daring teammates and reporters to approach him. He basically gave off the exact persona you would expect from someone who grew up in a Toronto public housing project and had to fight tooth and nail to get his hockey career going.
The John Madden who plays for the Chicago Blackhawks here in 2010 is a smiling, happy, storytelling, 37-year-old veteran who engages teammates in conversation before games and refuses to bring his work home to his wife and two kids.
"You kind of put things in perspective when you have kids," Madden, father to Tyler, 10, and Reese, 7, told NHL.com Thursday. "Having kids and getting a little older mellows you a little bit, and you understand what is important in life. Hockey is important, but it's not everything."
Tyler Madden was 3-years-old in 2003, the last time Dad played for the Stanley Cup. But Tyler was too young to realize what exactly was going on and why daddy would come home in foul moods. Tyler is 10 now and has his father's similar serious exterior when he plays hockey. Madden finds himself telling his son, "Relax, it's just a game." His wife, Lauren, laughs.
"She looks at me and says, 'You were the same way not too long ago,' " Madden said. "I'm always like, 'Really, I was?' I guess it's one of those things that kind of eats you up for a little while and when you have a personality where you're your own worst critic it weighs on you when things don't go your way. I'm trying to shape Tyler in a different direction. It's a game, leave it at the rink."
Madden said he finally started noticing how off-putting his intensity was a few years ago.
"I don't know if I was rubbing teammates the wrong way, but maybe I made them feel uneasy," he said. "My personality was giving off the intensity that people have told me about and I didn't want them to make them nervous on the ice. These are conversations I had with players like (Jay) Pandolfo, and he noticed the change over the years. It's nicer to be able to go into the room and have a conversation with people before a hockey game."
Madden admits he was wound so tightly because he didn't have an off switch.
"Even in the pickup games over the summer I'd be in a scuffle and eventually I was like, 'What am I doing?' " Madden said. "Now I'm able to turn that switch off and go home and relax and then come back and pick it up again. Actually, I feel like I have more energy at the rink because I'm not burning all of it away from the rink or in the dressing room."
The difference in his personality is striking, and now at 37 he's not only keenly aware of how he's changed, but also how his new, laidback attitude has helped bring these young Blackhawks along in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Center - CHI
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 21 | +/-: -2
He's become the sage in the Blackhawks' dressing room. For a guy who used to be wound tighter than a drum, Madden is surprisingly comfortable being the voice of reason, the voice of experience.
"We had a meeting two days ago and (Joel) Quenneville asked him to stand up and say a few things about what he knows about being here and you could just tell that he enjoyed that," Hawks forward Adam Burish told NHL.com. "He knows his time when to speak up and when he says something guys listen because he's done this."
Madden said he gets asked a lot about what it was like playing with guys like Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur.
"It makes you think back to the good times in Jersey," Madden said. "I enjoy it. Not everybody gets an opportunity where you can be in a situation that you can share your experiences, so hopefully I share them in the right way and they can help us out."
The youngsters on the Blackhawks like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Burish and Dustin Byfuglien have probably helped Madden just as much as he's helped them.
"You kind of put things in perspective when you have kids. Having kids and getting a little older mellows you a little bit, and you understand what is important in life. Hockey is important, but it's not everything."
-- John Madden
"You can say he's 37-years-old but it feels like he's one of the younger guys and that's one of the things we love about him," added Kane. "He's a veteran and he brings a lot of experience and input to the game, but all of us know you can't take the game too serious because it's just not healthy. You can be serious on the ice and in the room, but you have to do different things when you get away from it and that's one of the things I really learned from him."
Madden had to learn how to do that himself first. It took him a while and it was at times heart-wrenching, but he's there now.
"I wish I was like this eight years ago," he said, "but you learn from your mistakes and from experience and that's what is coming full circle now."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl