Roenick leads the way for Flyers

Just a few short months ago Jeremy Roenick was contemplating retirement from professional hockey. Now he and the Philadelphia Flyers are one series away from playing for the Stanley Cup.

Thanks in large part to Roenick's heroics, the Flyers ousted the Toronto Maple Leafs and now face the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Eastern Conference Championship. The winner of the best-of-seven series gets a berth in the Cup final.

Roenick made all the difference in Tuesday's decisive Game 6 against the Leafs. He attacked Toronto's skaters with aggressive abandon and scored twice, including the series-clincher in overtime.

When he realized he'd beaten Leafs goalie Ed Belfour, Roenick leaped into the air with his arms raised and a jubilant grin across his chiseled face.

"I'm still tingling," said Roenick, who has scored four playoff overtime winners during his 15-year career.

The win puts Roenick into the NHL's conference finals for the first time since 1995.

"I haven't been there in a long time," Roenick said. "It's especially sweet."

It wasn't so long ago that things weren't looking good for Roenick.

During his 15-year career, there have been bumps, bruises, too many stitches to count, several knee injuries and multiple concussions. A hard-nosed throwback, Roenick played through it all.

But in February, a horrible on-ice incident during a game against the New York Rangers threw Roenick's career into serious doubt.

Roenick was standing in front of the Flyers' net when he was hit in the face by slap shot from the blue-line by Rangers defenceman Boris Mironov.

Roenick lay motionless on the ice in a pool of blood for several minutes before being helped to the dressing room. The blow left hm with a serious concussion and a shattered jaw.

Doctors had to wire Roenick's jaw shut. He had to have all his food pureed, eating it through a straw. The diet took its toll: the already-slim Roenick lost 10 pounds during his convalescence.

The news about Roenick's brain was worse.

In addition to a concussion, doctors thought they found a problem with the circulatory system in his brain. Thankfully, further tests came up negative.

But for 48 hours, while he waited results from the tests to return, Roenick was convinced his career was over.

"I was done," recounted Roenick. "I wasn't coming back."

What kept him going was the belief that the Flyers were Cup contenders.

Roenick returned to the Flyers' line-up on March 25 -- just a week before the post-season.

Since returning, he has fit snugly into his familiar role as one of the Flyers' most important players. He's second on the team with 10 points in 11 playoff games.

Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock has Roenick killing penalties and doesn't shy away from playing him against some other teams' offensive stars. And when the Flyers were floundering after losing two in a row to the Leafs, Hitchcock challenged his best players to elevate their games.

In Game 5 it was Keith Primeau who stepped up. In Game 6 it was Roenick who delivered.

"To come out in overtime and beat a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, to me it's like I'm dreaming," said Roenick.