It's funny how these things happen.
Sixteen years ago, Jeremy Roenick was a brash 21-year-old playing for the hard-nosed, demanding Mike Keenan in Chicago. Together, the player and coach guided the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final before being swept by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
At the time, hockey fans everywhere figured Roenick was destined to win at least one Cup, possibly two, or more. They thought he would do it in Chicago. They just assumed Keenan would be his coach.
Well, Keenan left for the New York Rangers two seasons later and found gold on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street. Roenick, who left Chicago after a disappointing 1995-96 season, is still waiting to get back in the Final.
However, the 38-year-old Roenick believes his team this season, the San Jose Sharks, affords him the best opportunity to end years of postseason misery. All he has to do first is knock out his old friend and former coach.
Keenan's Calgary Flames, the seventh seed out West, open the Playoffs tonight against Roenick, Joe Thornton
, Brian Campbell and the No. 2 Sharks at HP Pavilion.
"Oh I've got a lot of Mike Keenan stories," Roenick said during a conference call Monday. "Mike is by far one of my most favorite coaches I have had in my career. He's near and dear to me. He is the guy who made me the type of player I am in terms of my mentality and the way I play."
Not many in the NHL these days are as familiar as Roenick is with the playoff version of Keenan, who hasn't coached a postseason game since he was in St. Louis in 1996.
"During the 1992 Stanley Cup Final, I got slashed in the hand by Kevin Stevens and Mike threw a cast on my hand and put me in front of the media in a press conference to get a point across that they were cheap-shotting us," Roenick recalled. "He used me as the bait, the guinea pig to show everybody how he thought we'd been screwed by the refs. It was kind of embarrassing, but you have to do what Mike Keenan says."
Even though it's been a dozen years since Keenan has coached a playoff game, Roenick fully expects the same kind of shenanigans from his old coach.
"Absolutely," he said. "I think Mike is a genius when it comes to head games, when it comes to getting into the referee's heads or the player's heads. He's a genius at the mental part of getting people to play. That is what has made him so successful for so many years.
"He's very slippery, very sly," Roenick continued. "He can manipulate people by the things that come out of his mouth. That's a gift. He made every one of us in Chicago play like it was our last game. I have the utmost respect for Mike Keenan."
When – not if – Keenan starts chirping at the refs, the Flames, the Sharks, heck even the hot dog vendors from the bench in this series, Roenick plans to tell everybody on his team to ignore it.
That's just Mike being Mike. He knows what that's all about.
"I'll just say turn the cold shoulder, put the earplugs in," Roenick said. "I think he has toned down a lot in his older years as I have myself. The game has changed and I think Mike has changed with the game. I'm just really happy that he's still banging it out and coaching and doing a great job doing it." Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.