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."
New Coach in Philly
A PANICKED ATTACK
The way Wayne Cashman was chirruping about the virtues of being
an assistant coach last week--"I love working closely with
players!" he said--you could almost forget he'd just been
publicly emasculated. After being fired as Flyers coach by
general manager Bob Clarke on March 9, Cashman was still behind
the Philadelphia bench as an assistant. For as long as he's
there, he will symbolize his failure and the Flyers'
desperation. "I've never been around a situation like this,"
says center Joel Otto. "We feel bad for Wayne."
If Cashman's demotion after only 61 games wasn't demeaning
enough--after all, the Flyers had a 32-20-9 record--consider
that it came about largely because he couldn't get the NHL's
biggest club, which plays before the league's most bloodthirsty
fans, to play tough. Cashman was replaced by Roger Neilson, 63,
a highly respected tactician who nonetheless has been fired six
times and has taken a team past the second round of the playoffs
only once in 12 seasons.
Neilson is Philadelphia's third coach since the Flyers were
swept by the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals last June.
Under Cashman the Flyers were a combined 0-7-1 against the
league's premier clubs--the Avalanche, the Devils, the Red Wings
and the Stars--which caused Clarke to panic.
For Cashman, who has accepted his reassignment with equanimity
because he wants to stay involved with a contender, these
shenanigans probably mean he won't be taken seriously as a
candidate for another head coaching job. For the Philadelphia
players, who went 2-0-1 in their first three games under
Neilson, including last Saturday's 6-1 win over Detroit,
Cashman's presence behind the bench provides a vivid and
unsettling reminder that management is playing scared.
The Sabres' Dads
THE FATHER OF ALL ROAD TRIPS
How's this for paternal instinct? Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has
invited his players to bring their dads on a road trip of their
choice this season at Buffalo's expense. The fathers fly on the
team charter, dine with the club and, if the weather cooperates,
on game days play golf with the players who won't be in the
lineup that night. "His eyes were glowing the whole time," says
defenseman Jason Woolley of his father, Doug, who accompanied
the team on a two-game Florida swing against the Panthers and
the Lightning last month. "It was one of the most memorable
experiences of our lives."
The fathers seem to lift their sons' performances. Woolley
scored one of his six goals this season in the game against the
Panthers, and right wing Jason Dawe, whose father, Eric, also
went on that Florida trip, had a goal and an assist as Buffalo
won both games. "It's been wonderful," says the 38-year-old
Ruff, a father of four. "I'm only afraid the moms will say
they've gotten stiffed."
COLOR PHOTO: MARK BUCKNER SECOND CHANCE McLennan, who nearly died in 1996, has found new life in St. Louis, starting for the injured Fuhr. [Jamie McLennan]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: B. BENNETT/B. BENNETT STUDIOS (2) [Tomas Sandstrom; Jason Allison]
BUST AND BARGAIN
RW TOMAS SANDSTROM
1997-98 salary: $1.4 million
Had only 15 points and a team-worst minus-27 rating through
Sunday and made news in December by breaking Brett Hull's wrist
with a slash.
C JASON ALLISON
1997-98 salary: $600,000
Led Boston with 65 points and a plus-24 rating at week's end and
made news with seven game-winning goals and two hat tricks.