One of the things I liked about covering the Blackhawks for the Chicago Sun-Times was that we really knew the guys, who were great guys. We had time to ask them about things. And room to write about it.
Things like. . . Were you really angry when you dropped the gloves and fought, or was it a strategic thing?
And. . . What's your most gruesome knocked-out-teeth story?
I'm thinking of that today—along the lines of ``All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.''
And so, while we're waiting for presents—and football—here's a story from the vault: A piece I did in 1990 about hockey players losing their teeth. . .
Happy Holidays to everyone in our TMGcollegesports.com family.
Here's a story you can sink your teeth into.
Right from the beginning, Denis Savard was impressed by Jeremy Roenick, his heir apparent as the Blackhawks' offensive catalyst.
But when Roenick lost a couple of teeth courtesy of Glen Featherstone's cross-check in last year's playoffs against St. Louis, spat out the teeth fragments so the referee would call a major penalty, then scored the game-winning goal, Savard knew.
"That's when I felt Jeremy was going to be real good," Savard said. "Sometimes a guy will play timid after something like that. Jeremy came back and played hard. He's not afraid of anything."
Teeth. It's a subject every hockey player learns to live with - and without.
Savard wears caps on four front teeth, courtesy of a wayward stick when he was 8 or 10. It happened so long ago, the details are foggy.
"It's nice to have your front teeth, but I've got the important ones - the back ones," said Savard, who knows where to chew the steak.
As for Roenick, he had survived with his pearly whites intact until the Featherstone incident. But it was no big deal, he said.
"When I was a kid, I used to tell my mom, `Why should I go to the dentist? I'm going to lose them anyway,' " Roenick said. "It's a lot easier to go out there now that it's happened. I know what it feels like. Knock on wood, it won't happen again. But if it does, I'll just have them capped again."
That's the approach most players take. They have little defense except for mouthguards that make it hard to breathe and talk - and don't offer much protection, anyway.
"I got hit by a two-handed home run swing," said Michel Goulet, who lost three front teeth during a scramble in front of the Quebec net three years ago while playing for the Nordiques against Pittsburgh. "Against a shot like that, a mouthguard wouldn't have helped.
"I don't remember who it was. I was knocked out. All I remember was it was at the end of the game. I was so mad."[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
For now, Goulet has a bridge.
"After my career is over, I'll have some put in permanently," he said. "There's no use spending $10,000 and getting hit again."
Happily, the $10,000 wouldn't come out of his pocket. Each NHL team pays for 100 percent of its players' job-related dental work.
Wayne Van Dorp, who lost four lower front teeth to a minor-league high stick seven years ago, doesn't want to wait any longer. He plans to trade in his bridge for permanent crowns this summer.
"I can't eat popcorn because the popcorn gets stuck under the teeth all the time," Van Dorp said. "And I've left (the bridge) in my pocket, and sat on it and broken it.
"Bridges are just a pain in the butt. If the crowns get hit out again, then I'll just get them fixed. There's no sense waiting until after hockey to get it done."
In addition, bridges are subject to pranks. After a practice during the Minnesota playoff series, Van Dorp returned to the dressing room to find his denture hanging from a couple of ribbons.
Though the incident that cost Van Dorp his teeth, which occurred when he was playing for Erie in the Atlantic Coast League, "was more or less an accident, I thought that might be enough for hockey. The thought runs through your mind. But you get them fixed and forget about it."
"I couldn't care less," said Steve Thomas, who wears crowns after losing two front teeth when he was 18 and playing for the Markham (Ont.) Waxers, a Tier II junior team. "It goes with the sport. I'd say 60 to 70 percent of NHL players have lost a tooth. But dentists are great today. They put them right back in."
That's a big difference for today's hockey player.
"When we were growing up, they pulled a tooth out if it got chipped," said Hawks GM Bob Pulford, whose 16-year NHL career ended in 1972.
Trent Yawney, who chipped a couple of lowers on a Nordique's stick last fall, agrees that worrying about teeth will only make things worse.
"Some guys never lose a tooth," Yawney said. "And with some guys, it happens all the time."
Yawney is more concerned about the trip to see the Hawks' team dentist.
"He's got needles this big," said Yawney, spreading his hands.
"He's got fingers this big," added Mike Hudson, bearer of a chipped lower tooth, mimicking Yawney.
Thomas still carries a painful memory of the day he lost his teeth.
"The roots were exposed and it was about 40 below out," he said, shuddering at the memory. "I had to put a towel in my mouth to try to keep warm. Do you know what it's like when a tooth is bothering you and you drink something cold?"
While deliberate stickwork in the NHL seems to be declining, some observers feel helmets and face shields have increased the number of accidents. For instance, Greg Gilbert caught a mouthful of stick in the opening minutes of a game in Pittsburgh last December, hardly enough time for grudges.
"It happens," said Gilbert. "There's nothing you can do about it."
Gilbert went down with a thud, lost three teeth and had others chipped. A hands-and-knees search recovered one tooth, which was put back in, Gilbert said.
Perhaps the most familiar jack-o'-lantern smile on the Hawks, which belonged to Duane Sutter, disappeared a couple of months ago. That's when Sutter had permanent replacements put in.
"Now the guys can understand me on the bench," said Sutter, who lost his teeth a couple of years ago during a run-in with a stick and a collision with the glass.
"I was knocked out - but only for a nine-count. I got back up and beat the bell."
Sutter credited a mouthguard for keeping the glass incident from becoming a more gruesome disaster.
Perhaps the most unusual tale of the teeth in the Hawks' dressing room comes from goalie Jacques Cloutier. He is missing a couple of choppers, but not from a close encounter with a puck or a stick.
"When I was young, until I was 10 or 12, I played outside without a mask," said Cloutier, who hails from the remote Quebec town of Noranda. "I took many stitches in my head. But I didn't lose my teeth playing hockey. When I was young, I just had a poor dentist.
"I almost lost my left eye on a picket fence, though."
That story, we'll save for another day.[/membership]