Keenan's been on a dizzying ride getting ready for championships

The Vancouver Sun. 22 1993 .

MUNICH - There's a hop in the step and a relaxed smile on the face of Mike Keenan these days.

And why not? Less than a week after signing a five-year contract as head coach of the New York Rangers, Keenan finds himself on a two-game winning streak with a charged-up group of Canadian hockey players at the world championships.

It's been a dizzying ride - Toronto to New York to Munich in quick succession last weekend, followed by two emotionally charged victories within 48 hours of his arrival in Germany.

"I think both my feet are firmly planted on the ground," Keenan protested Wednesday after skipping into the sunshine outside Munich's Olympic stadium.

"I've really had a good rest, although I'm dragging a bit right now because of everything over the last three weeks - negotiating a contract and getting ready for this tournament."

Keenan, 44, has had a winter-long break after parting company with the Chicago Blawkhawks, where his job as general manager left him close to burn-out, he said.

That rest came to an end this spring when serious NHL offers started coming his way at the same time that Keenan took the reins of Canada's world championship entry.

"We worked very hard to assemble this team," he said. "Five or six nights a week across North America. It was getting pretty intense."

But if Keenan is dragging here, it doesn't show. He relaxed on the sidelines Wednesday, smiling and joking with his players while assistant coach Roger Neilson ran Canada's practice.

Yes, that's the same Roger Neilson who was fired by the Rangers earlier this season - the same Neilson whose job Keenan ultimately took.

The ghosts of Rangers coaches past and future don't seem to be haunting Team Canada.

"Not at all," Neilson said with a laugh.

"Every once in a while Mike will ask a question about where to live (in New York), what's the media like, which guy would be better on which line."

Keenan, who is an old friend of Neilson, said he's consulted with the former Rangers coach, but "I have no fears about coaching in New York."

One of Keenan's first tasks with the assembled Canadian team was to name Ranger left-winger Adam Graves as captain of this diverse group of talent. Graves, it appears, was a sterling choice given his diplomacy in negotiating the Keenan-Neilson conundrum.

Neilson was fired by the Rangers amid a sub-par team performance and some highly public bickering with star centre Mark Messier - an old Edmonton Oiler buddy of Graves.

"Mr. Keenan's record speaks for itself," said Graves. "He's an excellent coach and I'm sure he'll make (the Rangers) a lot better team than we were last year.

"As far as Roger Neilson's concerned, he's an unbelievable guy and I have a great deal of respect for him. It's a nice opportunity to work with him again after what happened."

Nice stick-handling, Adam.

Canada plays Austria today, then meets Italy and Russia on the weekend to close out its round-robin schedule.

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