For a lad whose chances of ever being selected as a poster boy for the American Dental Association had just been cruelly dashed, Jeremy Roenick was in fine fettle. The 19-year-old Chicago Blackhawk center had scored a goal and broken some teeth in a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues, which vaulted the over-achieving Hawks into the Stanley Cup semifinals against the Calgary Flames. Every so often, as he chatted in the locker room with reporters after the game, Roenick would run his tongue over his recently ruined two front teeth. "All they need is a couple of caps," he said. "No problem."
After having qualified for the playoffs by the skin of their collective teeth in the final game of the regular season, the Blackhawks were suddenly the biggest surprise of the postseason. First they upset the Detroit Red Wings in six games. Then the St. Louis Blues fell in five. Said St. Louis coach Brian Sutter after the series-ending loss on April 26, "They convinced us to quit."
Played in the tropical humidity of a glorified barn called the St. Louis Arena, the game turned on a second-period spat between Roenick and Blues defenseman Glen Featherstone. With St. Louis leading 1-0, the two exchanged unpleasantries and shoves. The quick-tempered Featherstone then jammed the shaft of his stick into Roenick's mouth, inducing a condition known in hockey as "bloody Chiclets."
"Your first instinct is to spit [teeth fragments] out," said Roenick, "but I kept them on my tongue so I could show them to [referee] Kerry Fraser." Roenick's instincts proved correct. Fraser was moved by the exhibit of enamel and assessed Featherstone a five-minute penalty for cross-checking. Roenick drew a two-minute minor.
With the teams skating four on four, the speedier Hawks scored twice in an eight-second span to go ahead 2-1. Roenick came out of the box and, 1� minutes later, scored on the power play. Hey, who needs novocaine?
Earlier in the game, Roenick had taken a skate blade to the nose. The resulting gash would take eight stitches to close. When he was told later that his coach, Mike Keenan, had said he played "his best game of the playoffs." Roenick smiled and said, "I just want to show him I have the guts and the heart to do what it takes."
Spoken like a true Keenan convert. After Chicago finished 30-41-9 in '87-88 and lost in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks fired coach Bob Murdoch and hired Keenan, who set out, he says, to "recondition the team, physically and mentally." Since then, it seems as if the Hawks have been lining up to sacrifice body parts for the team. Terms like "guts" and "sucking it up" have gained newfound currency in Chicago.
On April 13, the night his hat trick helped eliminate the Red Wings in Game 6, right wing Wayne Presley talked about the Keenan-induced metamorphosis he had undergone this season. "The coaches skated me harder than I've ever skated in my life," said Presley. "A few times they skated me until I was throwing up. I didn't know what they were thinking, but it made me a better person. I guess you have to go through hell to get to heaven."
"That's right," says Keenan, smiling. "You challenge them beyond the point where they can't go anymore."
The Blackhawks got an inkling of what they were in for when they received off-season conditioning instructions from Keenan in the mail last summer. Guys who reported out of shape were made to regret their sloth. "The team didn't understand what it takes to win," says Keenan. "I'd say to a player. 'You're not working hard enough.' and he'd say, 'I've never worked this hard in my life!' "