More than lip service

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

The reports out of Los Angeles said Jeremy Roenick was done for the season. Apparently somebody forgot to tell that to J.R.

Despite x-rays showing he suffered a chip fracture in his right ankle Saturday that was supposed to shelf the colourful forward for at least a month, Roenick shocked his teammates by showing up in Calgary for last night's game.

"I put my skates on and skated for about a minute-and-a-half in L.A. and said, 'Screw it, we've got to win games -- get me a flight to Calgary,' " said Roenick before suiting up for last night's 2-1 loss at the 'Dome.

"This time of year it's not about 'can you withstand the pain?' You've got to suck it up and play."

Playing is something Roenick hasn't been doing very well since he was traded from Philly to Tinseltown last summer. In fact, with eight goals and ten assists in 48 outings, the former 50-goal scorer was recently blamed, in part, for Andy Murray's recent firing.

"Shame on Jeremy Roenick for not sticking his nose in every night," Kings CEO Tim Leiweke told the L.A. Times.

Roenick said yesterday his decision to return early had nothing to do with Leiweke's comments.

"I respect the hell out of the man and I love the organization, but I don't give a (expletive) what he says about me," said the feisty American, who killed penalties, played on the powerplay and took a regular shift in last night's losing effort.

"I don't take things personally. I've had an awful year -- that's not a secret. He voiced his frustration like I've voiced my frustration. Now, if you start talking about my family ... then we'll fight."

Admitting he wouldn't have made the trip if his Kings still had a solid grasp on a playoff spot, Roenick's motive was also to stir up his teammates, who've lost seven of their last ten.

"They were really happy to see me -- it was like a burst of energy for them," said the $4.9-million centre, hoping to attract potential employers for next year.

"Hopefully that will lift the room. We need people to get excited and not be worried about playing. The guys aren't having fun with the challenge. It's not life or death but it's our job."

Likely requiring several pre-game injections to numb the pain in his ankle, Roenick said he isn't worried about the possibility of long-term damage.

"I'm 36 years old -- 18 years in the league -- I already have long-term damage," he smiled, pointing to his head. "This could be my last year so I might have a long time to get over it."

Luc Robitaille said he read reports Roenick's season was over but had been told by No. 97 himself he wasn't finished.

"He told me before we left (for a three-game road trip that started in Vancouver Monday) he would be back but I didn't know it would be this quick," laughed Robitaille, admittedly surprised when he heard Roenick had returned.

"He wants to be part of it at a crucial time. It's certainly a great emotional burst and a good lesson for our young guys who sometimes don't know what it takes to have a long, successful career."

Coach John Torchetti inserted the assistant captain into the lineup last night with hopes he could shore up a team that has allowed an average of 4.3 goals a game since Mar. 9.

"Yesterday we got a phone call telling us he was coming back -- he showed great leadership," said Torchetti, coaching his third NHL game last night.

"The more experience you have the better you are."


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