Finding a Place in Hockey History for Jeremy Roenick

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Finding a Place in Hockey History for Jeremy Roenick
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Jeremy Roenick Calls It A Career; Invokes Mixed Feelings

The sun rises on the dawn of a new NHL, and a member of its old guard is stepping down. After 20 years as a lippy antagonizer, Jeremy Roenick is walking away from the game which made him a superstar.

It’s hard to place Jeremy Roenick in hockey history. After all, aside from being on nine NHL All-Star rosters, he hasn’t won much. No conference titles. Zero Stanley Cups. No personal awards. Instead, he is one of the polarizing forces of the old NHL and may be remembered more for his controversial media play, than the play he produced on the ice.

There was a time when the NHL’s marketing staff essentially handed Roenick the keys to the car, allowing him to be the focal point of all their TV spots and commercials during the mid-late 90’s. Roenick’s charisma and outlandish personality made him an obvious choice, but it’s that same personality of his that made him rub hockey fans the wrong way.

Hockey fans are cut from a different mold. They’re the type of fans that remember what it’s like to wake up at 4am to drive your kid to Monday morning practice. They’re the kind of kids that grew up knowing how hard it is to get noticed by an NHL team, leaving your home town in your early teens just for a shot at the minors. Everyone who knows and plays hockey respects the game. That’s why hockey stars are so modest in the media and soft spoken.

Roenick was anything but that, which made him a curious focal point of the marketing train the NHL tried to institute to garner more American attention. Sadly, the guy they should’ve turned to is Mike Modano, but I’ll save that story for when Modano retires. Today, we’re talking about Jeremy Roenick.

No matter how you feel about his loud-mouth antics personally, you can’t negate his hockey skills. There’s a reason 39 year-olds like Roenick and Sakic survive so long in the physical and fast-paced culture of the NHL – they’re either incredibly tough, or possess a brilliant hockey IQ. Roenick is the third American born player to hit the 500 goal mark, behind Joe Mullen and Mike Modano. He ends his career with 513 total goals, 703 assists 1,463 penalty minutes and 92 game winning goals.

Perhaps Roenick’s most standout career moment, however, is when Patrick Roy bested him in a battle of wits saying that he couldn’t hear Roenick complaining because, “of the two Stanley Cup rings in my ears”. Or maybe you can refer to when Roenick got a face full of boards courtesy of Darcy Tucker in a playoff game between Philadelphia and Toronto, and when he eventually got to his feet, he groggily floated over to Tucker to keep talking trash…even though he could barely stop himself from drooling. Or better yet, when Roenick was telling fans to stick it to themselves during the NHL lockout season. If you wanted an NHL bad boy then Roenick was a prototype.

But he never won anything aside from a Silver Medal with Team USA in the 2002 Olympics. He was shunned in 2006 by Team USA for younger players, and Roenick made it very well known that he didn’t like it. He made an argument that his point totals didn’t dictate how good he is. And you know what? He’s right.

If you look at last year, Roenick had just 13 points in 42 games. In one playoff series, he totaled just 1 assists against Anaheim. But if you look at the tape from that series, Roenick is the hardest skating worker on the San Jose Sharks. He broke up offensive rallies by Ryan Getzlaf, who’s more than 15 years his junior, he was throwing his body around like it was nothing to him. He was the best two-way player on the ice between either team, and he’s 39 years-old.

That’s the dying shame about Roenick. He talked so much gas, that we never appreciated how good of a hockey player he was. He peaked in the early nineties while playing as a Chicago Blackhawk where he scored over 100-points in three straight seasons. In 2000-2001, he scored 76-points, but then never managed to beat that total for the remainder of this past decade. With no decorations hanging from his illustrious career, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Roenick’s place in history lies.

Was he controversial to a fault? Maybe? Is he like the Terrell Owens of the NHL? Pretty much. Was he a great influence on the game? Maybe. Maybe not. Is he one of the best American born hockey players to hit the ice? Definitely. Let’s just leave it at that. Roenick is being remembered as a guy who talked too much for his own good, so it’s best that we do the opposite.

Thanks for the best years, J.R. You will be remembered as one of the best American hockey players of our generation. Nuff said.

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