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INSIDE THE NHL
Blues goalie Jamie McLennan wasn't tired, even though at week's end he had played eight games in 15 days. He was 6-2 with two shutouts filling in for the injured Grant Fuhr, and his legs still felt strong. This wouldn't have been a big deal for most 26-year-old pro athletes, but it was to McLennan. "I don't take it [my stamina] for granted," said McLennan, who was 13-6-2 with a 2.01 goals-against average on the season. "I also don't take it for granted that I can get out of bed in the morning and walk to the bathroom."
There was a time when he couldn't do that. In May 1996, McLennan, then a soon-to-be free agent who had gone 17-27-9 in parts of three seasons with the Islanders, checked into a hospital in Lethbridge, Alberta, after a night of fever and vomiting. He figured he had the flu, food poisoning at worst. Then the attending doctor noticed black spots on McLennan's arms and legs. "We better call your parents," the doctor said. "You might not make it."
McLennan had contracted bacterial meningitis, a potentially fatal illness that inflames the membranes around the brain and spinal cord, and he was put into intensive care. He couldn't stop vomiting. His head swirled. When his parents, Darlene and Stuart, arrived, he was too far gone to know.
McLennan was in a delirious state for five days before the fever broke. Several more days passed before he could move about with a walker and look at himself in the bathroom mirror. His eyes were sunken deep into puffy, yellowed flesh. "I'll never forget how I looked," says McLennan. "Like it wasn't me."
Yet he was recovering. After what Darlene calls "a dreadful, dreadful few weeks," Jamie went home to Edmonton. On July 1, 1996, he began light weight training. Two weeks later St. Louis signed him, and he spent last season with the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester. Though he played just 39 games, McLennan was exhausted after every appearance. "That was hard to watch," says Blues defenseman Jamie Rivers, who was also McLennan's teammate last year. "You wouldn't know how tough it was on him from the way he's playing now."
McLennan has been playing like a No. 1 goaltender since Fuhr went down with torn right knee cartilage on Feb. 26. At 6 feet and a solid 195 pounds, McLennan thrives on a stand-up style and good positioning. He will recede into the background again when Fuhr returns at the end of this month. But McLennan has shown that he can win in the NHL, and if Fuhr goes down again, the Blues' Stanley Cup hopes won't go with him.
"To be honest, hockey is a bonus," says Darlene. "After what we went through, it's marvelous just to have Jamie around."
Issue date: March 23, 1998
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