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Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Will J.R. stay away?

By Rob Parent
Special to ESPN.com

What's a few concussions between friends? Ask Jeremy Roenick.

The Philadelphia Flyers' man of a thousand stitched-up faces was heading home to Paradise Valley, Ariz., Monday to get away from it all, rebuilt jaw, jarred head and all. But he's clear on one thing ...

Roenick
The intensity has certainly been raised in the Flyers-Lightning series.
"I've had nine concussions," said Roenick.

So why does Flyers general manager Bob Clarke speculate that maybe it was closer to three? And how can Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock croon so confidently that Roenick will be back in some five weeks time?

Maybe they're afraid of what's really in that head of his.

"I'm going out to Arizona and see my doctor for a few days and get some rest and try to get my wits back about me," Roenick said as he was heading out the door Monday, just five days removed from taking a Boris Mironov slap shot off his left jaw, smashing it to bits and leaving Roenick uncertain that his brain didn't escape the collision. "I'm going to get the swelling down and then come back and see neurologists."

Already predicted to miss 4-6 weeks for the shattered jaw alone, after surgical installation of a steel plate and wires to keep it in place, Roenick plans to consult with his favorite oral surgeon in Phoenix, then return East by the weekend to see a neurology team in Pittsburgh and noted concussion specialist Dr. Karen Johnston in Montreal.

By then, she'll certainly be able to clear up at least some of the confusion over how many brain bruises Jeremy's had -- and whether this latest one is serious enough for him to back up a surprising Saturday statement.

"Nobody comes back until I say it's time to come back, let's put it that way," Roenick said. "I know when I can come back. I've had this type of injury before. But there are other things to worry about than just the jaw. This is my ninth concussion and I have to be evaluated mentally and psychologically and then see how my body feels. So there (are) a lot of intangibles that go along with something like this. No one wants to come back faster than I do, but nobody has to live my life like I do."

Will this shot do in J.R. for good? Not even the man himself feels well enough to shoot that notion down, no matter how easily Roenick's bosses are dismissing it.

"They weren't with me early in my career," Roenick said when asked why his bosses think No. 9 could be an inflated figment of his fertile (but scrambled) thoughts. "I spent a few days in a hospital with a couple of concussions early in my career and not missed time when I probably should have with other ones. They can catch up to you."

So now, having had a weekend to digest the suggestion that if his head is as badly banged up as he thinks it is, maybe he should really think about hanging up the skates, is J.R. still considering uttering that dreaded "R" word?

"There's a lot of contemplating going on about that," Roenick said of early retirement. "I can't say it hasn't entered my mind, because it has. But the next couple of weeks really dictate what I'll feel and what the doctors say. I'm just going to take it day by day and see how I feel and recoup. The more I get away from everything and get out of the limelight, I think the more I can rest and get back to recuperating ..."

No one wants to come back faster than I do, but nobody has to live my life like I do.
Jeremy Roenick
Hold it ... rewind the tape ... did he really just say that?

Jeremy Roenick WANTING to get out of the limelight, the spotlight, the gilded stage ... lights, camera and all that action?

Yo, maybe he is serious. Or seriously ill.

"I understand there's a little doubt in his mind," Mark Recchi said of Roenick. "I think right now he probably feels awful. Obviously with his jaw wired shut, there's probably a lot of doubt. But maybe when he starts feeling better, hopefully he'll get in a little better frame of mind. Hopefully he can be around the guys and we can get him in a better frame, because he's a warrior, man. He's a tough guy and when a guy starts doubting his health, you know that he's going through a lot. He's been through a lot in his career and this year."

It is the third facial injury Roenick suffered this season, and he admitted this is probably the worst injury of his career. It's left him unable to eat -- no matter how many protein drinks he's going to be slurping at his desert digs this week, Roenick is predicting he'll lose 15-20 pounds by the time he'll be able to de-wire his jaw -- in severe pain and worse yet, apparently in some serious mental doubt.

Then again, Roenick made some retirement noises earlier this season after taking a stick very close to his eye in Buffalo, saying if it had been another inch or two closer, it probably would have been a career-ender.

"If so," Roenick said then, "I've had a great 16 years."

Perhaps he was experiencing those same thoughts as he waved to a full house of Flyers fans Saturday during a 6-2 win over the Rangers when his re-plastered mug was spotlighted on the Wachovia Center's big screen from his luxury box during the game.

"It's just tough for him to sit still," Roenick's longtime Boston-area hockey partner Tony Amonte said Monday. "The guy doesn't know anything else. He knows hockey and he loves the game probably more than any player I've ever played with. So it's really tough to hear him say he's thinking about walking away. But I know how the guy feels about the game and how much he loves to play, and I know how much he desires to win that first Stanley Cup."

So, Amonte concluded, it would really be tough for Roenick to actually listen to himself and believe what he's been sort of saying -- you know, that maybe this time, the time is right to finally get serious.

Springtime approaches and the team he's playing for in this 16th NHL year leads the Eastern Conference. But Jeremy Roenick is going home. If his math skills are better than Bobby Clarke's, maybe the time really is right for Roenick to stay there.

But get serious.

Rob Parent of the Delaware County (Pa.) Times is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.