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Goaltender McLennan’s Biggest Save Was His Life

With the St. Louis Blues and the Kings locked into the fourth and fifth spots in the West, St. Louis goaltender Jamie McLennan can’t wait for the playoffs to start.

“The Kings have played extremely well,” he said. “They’re a good team, and they’re well rounded and they’ve been jockeying with us for home-ice advantage. It should be fun.”

McLennan would be delighted to face anybody. Only two years ago, his main concern was whether he would live or die after being stricken with bacterial meningitis, an ailment that can be fatal.

“My sickness has really changed my outlook on life,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted, and I’ve learned to appreciate the little things.”

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McLennan began to feel ill a few days after the 1995-96 season, after he had driven to Lethbridge, Canada, to visit the family he lived with when he played junior hockey. He initially believed he had flu, and he blamed his upset stomach on food poisoning.

Only when the symptoms got worse did he go to the hospital, where doctors saw blotches on his skin and told him to notify his parents because he was gravely ill.

“I was in intensive care for six days,” he said. “I don’t really remember much about that part. I was real fuzzy. Once I made it through intensive care, they told me how lucky I was that they were able to catch it in time. Some people’s doctors don’t catch it in time.”

He lost 30 pounds and had to learn to walk again.

“It basically cost me all of last season,” said McLennan, who played 39 games for Worcester of the American Hockey League.

As the backup in St. Louis to workhorse Grant Fuhr, McLennan started only 12 games this season before Fuhr suffered a knee injury in the first game after the Olympic break. McLennan started nine consecutive games while Fuhr recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery, and was 6-3 with two shutouts.

“It happened so quickly,” McLennan said. "[Fuhr was injured] in San Jose and the next day we were in L.A. and then Anaheim, and it just kept going.

“The team really tightened up and we got on a roll. I was a product of how well the team was playing at the time.”

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Fuhr has reclaimed his job, but McLennan, who has a 13-6-2 record, a 1.96 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage in 25 games, has no complaints.

“I’m going to fade back into the background, but I don’t mind,” he said. “I love playing here. This is a very classy organization, and the fans and media are very fair to the guys. I’d love to stay here for a long time.”

SHARK ATTACK

This has been a tough year for San Jose Shark winger Tony Granato.

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He had a slow start, broke his jaw and needed surgery that kept him out of 19 games, then was suspended two games for an illegal hit.

“It’s certainly not like last year, when everything went my way,” he said, referring to his 25-goal season and selection to the West team for the NHL All-Star game.

The lowest point, however, was accepting that he’s only the second-best hockey player in his family. Supremacy belongs to his sister, Cammi, who was the captain of the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s Olympic team at Nagano.

“Our trainers, when we came back from the Olympic break, put a name plate over my locker that said, ‘Cammi’s brother.’ They think it’s so funny,” he said, trying to sound miffed but betraying his pride with a wide smile.

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In truth, it was a welcome moment in a disappointing season. The Sharks have struggled to find the right mixture of veterans to support youngsters Jeff Friesen, Marco Sturm, Patrick Marleau and Andrei Zyuzin, and they added winger Joe Murphy and rugged defenseman Bryan Marchment last Tuesday.

“I really like our nucleus,” Coach Darryl Sutter said. “It’s a matter of getting everybody healthy because we don’t have the depth.”

Is San Jose a better team than at the start of the season?

“We have to believe it is,” said Granato, who has 16 goals and 24 points in 52 games. “Any time you get a new coach, he’s going to bring in people he wants. Darryl’s been great. But we’re still not in the playoffs. The bottom line is, we’ve got to get into the playoffs.”

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ROOM TRASHING, CONTINUED

The U.S. Olympic Committee’s board of directors will meet this weekend in Portland, Ore., to discuss the next step regarding the vandalism of three rooms at the Nagano Olympic village by members of the U.S. men’s hockey team.

The USOC can ban all 23 players from future Olympics and World Championships, but it has no choice but to accept as full penance the apology and check team captain Chris Chelios sent to the Nagano Organizing Committee.

The board will again ask the culprits to come forward and will issue a reprimand of some sort, but the issue will die there. It can’t carry out its banishment threats because there wouldn’t be enough players to play in the World Championships. Nor would players be eager to go to Salt Lake City in 2002, if the NHL again allows its players to represent their homelands.

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Pity David Poile, general manager of the U.S. team for the World Championships. He must persuade players to wear the red, white and blue again after they’ve been lambasted for the Nagano follies. And even innocent players will be tired after a long season.

SHERIFF MIGHT LEAVE TOWN

Brian Burke, the NHL’s senior vice president for hockey operations and chief disciplinarian, is often rumored to be leaving the NHL office after this season to work for the Atlanta expansion franchise.

The only problem is that Burke--formerly general manager of the Hartford Whalers and assistant general manager of the Vancouver Canucks--said last week he hasn’t received any offers.

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“I’ve had a couple of good meetings with [Commissioner] Gary Bettman and I haven’t decided my future,” Burke said. “He encouraged me to take some more time. I have a great job and he’s a great boss. The question is, what is the next step?”

Burke brings a much-needed player’s perspective to the job--he played at Providence College and in the American Hockey League--and he’s one of the few higher-ups at the NHL’s New York office who has a long connection to hockey and knows the game well. The NHL’s inconsistency in matters such as directing referees to call obstruction isn’t his fault. However, those frequent changes and the weight of the scales of justice will probably sway him to leave.

Burke also said he got positive reports from on-ice officials about one of the experimental rule changes being tried in the minor leagues, not allowing the goaltender to play the puck behind the net.

"[It] turns into a puck battle because now, with most dump-ins, the goaltender plays it and stops it and it turns into a trap situation,” Burke said.

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Other experiments include serving a full two-minute penalty, prohibiting players from stopping behind the net and dividing the game into quarters. Each experiment will be tried twice.

SLAP SHOTS

Jamie Macoun, acquired by Detroit from Toronto last Tuesday, hoped to make his Red Wing debut today. The delay was caused by a rib injury he suffered while being crunched by Darren McCarty, who is now his teammate.

Nashville met its 12,000-seat season-ticket quota, but only after heavy promotion and a local bank promised to match all sales last weekend. . . . Glen Sather’s tenure as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers may end when the club is sold. He won’t be unemployed long, because he’s still considered a genius. He has some good young talent--he stole defenseman Janne Niinimaa from Philadelphia for Dan McGillis--but isn’t it time he got results? Making the playoffs would be a start.

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Mark Messier is being booed in Vancouver, but he has had a bad elbow for several weeks and it interferes with his production. . . . Alan Eagleson’s resignation from the hall of fame averted a fight at the hall’s next board meeting. If the board had gone to a vote on his expulsion, it might have had to reconsider other members of dubious character, such as late Toronto owner Harold Ballard, who served a prison term for fraud and theft.


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