In 1988, the Chicago Blackhawks drafted Jeremy Roenick with the eight overall pick in the NHL Draft. The Blackhawks’ coach that season – and for the following three seasons – was Mike Keenan, one of the toughest coaches in NHL history.
Roenick’s first memories of Keenan, well, they weren’t pleasant.
“He grabbed me on the bench by my neck,” the NHL on NBC analyst recalled on CBS Sports Radio’s Radio’s The DA Show. “And literally – what do they call this thing? Your jugular? Your esophagus? Whatever it is, you can literally put your finger behind it if you reach in far enough. Well, he reached in far enough. He literally grabbed me and squeezed me so hard and yelled at me so loud and he spit in my face demanding that I hit people and hit people hard – and if I didn’t, I’d never play a game.”
Roenick, then 18, was “150 pounds soaking wet.”
“I was so scared,” Roenick said. “I had to hold tears back. I don’t know if I was more afraid of Mike Keenan killing me or not playing in the National Hockey League ever – because I didn’t know what would happen to me if I didn’t play in the National Hockey League. So I said screw it. I just started becoming a human torpedo. I would go as fast as I could and just hurl myself into people. Ice bags after every game, but it became part of my game. It became part of my persona and people enjoyed it and I started to enjoy it. But Keenan made me do it.
Roenick, now 45, played in the NHL until 2009 and retired with 513 goals and 703 assists. Keenan had a role in that.
“He was really good for me,” Roenick said. “He taught me how to be a man, taught me how to be a professional athlete, how to dig through all the tough things in the game – and even off the ice he was always there for me. Guys like Steve Larmer, Michel Goulet, Chris Chelios – these guys taught me how to play the game, but Mike taught me how to act the game.”