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Gary Smith
May 08, 1995
The inner conflicts that drive St. Louis Blues coach Mike Keenan to succeed also make him the most reviled man in hockey.
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May 08, 1995

Torn Asunder

The inner conflicts that drive St. Louis Blues coach Mike Keenan to succeed also make him the most reviled man in hockey.

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Passport official: What's your business?

Traveler: I'm a writer.

Passport official: What are you writing about?

Traveler: Mike Keenan.

Passport official: Go ahead. He's a bastard.


Odd—or was it fitting?—that a keeper of Canada's gates would issue such a warning, as if some national interest were at stake. But perhaps people everywhere, always, will dispute who Mike Keenan really is. In Philadelphia, as he coached the Flyers to two Stanley Cup finals between 1984 and '88, players gave him Heil Hitler salutes when he turned his back. In Chicago, where he coached the Blackhawks from 1988 to '92, Mike willed another average team into the finals but soon lost his job and his marriage, RAT and SCOUNDREL screamed the New York headlines when he fled the Rangers a few weeks after leading them to the Stanley Cup last year. His mailbox was blown up.

The St. Louis Blues hired him immediately, of course, as coach and general manager, and their executive vice president called him the messiah. He drove the Blues to a strong second-place finish in the NHL's Central Division, but he and his new bosses had already gone to war. "The management there," he seethed, sounding oddly distant from his own team, "has promoted superstar status without the team concept. They filled the building without developing a winning culture. They produced a very selfish culture."

Each new place, Mike spoke of how he had learned from the traumas in the previous city, how he had grown and changed. "The ability to grow, change and adapt," he wrote in his resume for his first NHL job, "are the foundation of the method." So it was strange indeed for Mike to find himself crying recently over things that had happened long ago to the person he used to be.

His friends were sickened by the ever-spreading image of Keenan as rodent and cur. "His marketability today is zero," Gary Webb, a close friend and business partner, says in disbelief. "He's perceived as unethical and morally corrupt." To them Mike's truest self was the man they drank beer with and laughed with till tears came to their eyes. The one who would appear at a party dressed as a fat man or a baseball catcher for the sheer hell of it, who would bolt to the CD player and re-cue All I Wanna Do, by Sheryl Crow, 18 straight times. Or sit at his gleaming white piano, fingers flying over the keys, eyes shut, head jerking back and forth as if in the throes of creative rapture, crooning in a voice so antimelodic that it was almost beyond belief...

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