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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS / SPECIAL PULLOUT SECTION

Stars, Coyotes Already Jawing

Hockey: Injury to Roenick continues bad blood between teams that could meet in second round.

April 21, 1999|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — In this corner, wearing the black, green and gold of the Dallas Stars, captain Derian Hatcher.

In that corner, wearing red, green, sand, sienna and purple, the Phoenix Coyotes. All of them.

With one decree last week, NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell transformed himself into a matchmaker. After Hatcher went airborne to slam into Jeremy Roenick, the Coyotes' leading scorer, and shatter his jaw in three places, the Coyotes hollered for Campbell to suspend Hatcher for the rest of the season. Roenick, after all, would be out the rest of the season.

The Stars suggested the hard hit on Roenick had simply evened the score and wondered why Campbell bothered considering any suspension.

Campbell suspended Hatcher for seven games, starting with the last two of the regular season. If Dallas beats Edmonton and Phoenix beats St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs, Hatcher's suspension will end in time for a likely second-round series between . . . the Stars and the Coyotes.

"We'd love to play Dallas," Coyote right wing Rick Tocchet said. "If we get to Dallas, we've gotten past the first round. We're not looking past anybody right now."

Tocchet alluded to the issue that rises like desert heat this time each year. The Coyotes have not advanced past the first round since 1987, long before they were the Coyotes. In the last two years, their first two seasons in Phoenix, the Coyotes departed after one round. In their last five playoff appearances as the Winnipeg Jets, they departed after one round.

Never in those seven series did the Coyotes/Jets have home-ice advantage. This year, they do, and their 90 points are the most for the franchise in 15 years. The Coyotes also added veteran free agents Tocchet, defenseman Jyrki Lumme and left wing Greg Adams over the last two years and acquired center Robert Reichel from the New York Islanders in March on trading deadline day. They even completed consecutive seasons with the same coach for the first time in five years.

"We finally get in a position where we build a strong team," Phoenix captain Keith Tkachuk said. "We get fourth [place in the conference]. We get home ice. We get free agents.

"That one hit puts a little setback on it. It hurts. It doesn't mean we can't get past the first round.

"But that's frustrating. We build, for not just one year but a couple of years, and then a guy like Derian Hatcher does that. Something's got to be done--from the league, not from us."

In announcing the suspension, Campbell noted Hatcher's previous disciplinary history. Hatcher has a history with Roenick too. They collided in 1995 and Roenick sat out 23 games because of a knee injury.

Roenick angered the Stars last month when he checked Dallas center Mike Modano so hard Modano needed seven stitches in a gash above his left eye. Roenick was not suspended, and Modano did not miss any games, but thinly veiled suggestions of Dallas retribution evoked this response from Tkachuk:

"If they've got a problem with it, tell them to do something about it. Otherwise, tell them to shut their mouths."

After he had shut Roenick's jaw, Hatcher said he felt bad about the injury but not the hit and said he should not be suspended because "my hit wasn't any worse than . . . Roenick's on Mike Modano." Tkachuk called Hatcher "a rat" and "a piece of dung."

Talk about your coaching challenges. On the eve of the playoffs, Phoenix Coach Jim Schoenfeld must adjust the emotions and the lines of his team. If the Coyotes play with too large a chip on their collective shoulder, they could lose control, as they did in their first game after Roenick's injury, when the Blues scored five goals--three on power plays--in a 12-minute span.

"There may have been three or four guys that played their worst defensive game of the season," Schoenfeld said.

Without Roenick, the Coyotes plan to move Tkachuk from left wing to center, with Shane Doan joining Dallas Drake on the first line. Doan has scored 10 of his career-high 22 points in the last 11 games, but now he must face what Tkachuk calls "the best 1-2 defense in the league" in Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis of the Blues.

"I don't know if Shane is going to be able to keep up this pace," Schoenfeld said. "He's going to be playing against the best defensive people. If he can't get the job done . . . "

"You can't replace a guy like Jeremy," Tkachuk said. "It doesn't matter. There's no excuses. It doesn't matter if you have 10 guys out of the lineup. Our attitude is, we must win."

For their own sake, they must win. The current Phoenix players don't want to hear that they're doomed in the first round, any more than current members of the Boston Red Sox want to hear they're doomed because Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees 80 years ago.

"All that baggage gets heaped on the current group," Schoenfeld said. "Some guy comes to the team, and he's got 12 years of Winnipeg Jet baggage."

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