August 06, 2009
As Jeremy Roenick(notes) ends what was arguably a Hall of Fame career with his retirement announcement today, his impact on pop culture and his reputation as one of the best quotes in hockey history have both been widely celebrated.
But his playing career is less universally approved. There's no question that during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks, Roenick was one of the NHL's biggest superstars and best offensive performers. But to make of his two stints with the Phoenix Coyotes? He's a beloved figure amongst Philadelphia Flyers fans for his attitude, but do they fondly remember him as a performer on the ice? Were his West Coast excursions with the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks successful in the eyes of those fans?
We wanted a deeper look at Roenick's stint with each franchise, we asked some of the top bloggers for each team for their memories, opinions and frank assessments of JR's time wearing their team's sweater: The Committed Indian from Second City Hockey for Chicago; OdinMercer from Five For Howling for Phoenix; Matt P. from The 700 Level for Philadelphia; Matt Reitz from View From My Seats for Los Angeles; and PJ Swenson of Sharkspage for San Jose.
The resulting discussion is brutally honest ... especially for those cities that don't necessarily recall Roenick's playing time fondly.
Thanks to all who participated, and here we go ...
Q. When you hear the words "Jeremy Roenick," what comes to mind about the player he was and the personality he had?
CI (HAWKS): Face-first. The biggest reason JR is my favorite Chicago athlete of all-time is that in his time here, everything he did was in a face-first, damn-the-torpedos, chicks-dig-scars style. Roenick crashed face-first into the crease, opponents, the boards, interviews, appearances, cameras, anything. I often tell people I patterned my lifestyle after JR on the ice: a completely impulsive, do-what-feels-good method. Led to a lot of scars, vomit, and astronomical bar tabs, but been a hell of a ride.
I also think opportunity-lost. Roenick will get a heritage night at the United Center this season, but it won't include what is should have, and that's his No. 27 heading to the rafters. That's how exciting he was.
ODIN (COYOTES): He's the kind of personality you can only love when he's on your side. Otherwise his outspoken nature just makes you want to hate him.
MATT P. (FLYERS): I still hear "JR Super Star." That's what he embodied from the time I first starting seeing him up close -- which of course was in Sega hockey. He and Tony Amonte(notes) tore it up for the digital and real-life Blackhawks back then; and for his part, Roenick never slowed down until he was long in the tooth. He played with a ton of passion and could very naturally make a hockey town love him. On and off the ice, he's the kind of guy who makes me wish there was hockey blogging during his time with the Flyers. Imagine the material ...
MATT (KINGS): Unfortunately, the first thing that I think of with Roenick is his loudmouth ways towards the end of his career. Not that most of the comments he made were necessarily bad, it's just a shame that he's going to be remembered by a lot of fans for his words off the ice instead of his play on it.
For me, there are two different Jeremy Roenicks that have started to separate themselves in my head. One is the great young player that was electrifying stadiums all over the league when he was with the Blackhawks. He was one of those "edge of your seat players" like Ovechkin is now -- you'd hold your breath EVERY time he had the puck expecting something great. That's how I would have remembered him if he never joined the Kings.
His time with the Kings completely changed the way that I look at him. Instead of getting the exhilarating superstar, the Kings got an uninterested athlete that looked like he was just collecting a paycheck in between his appearances on the "Best Damn Sports Show." Between the injuries (that are expected) and the way he implied that nothing was his fault, he quickly wore out his welcome in LA.
PJ (SHARKS): Fierce competitor. My only access to hockey growing up was frequent visits to southwest Michigan where the Blackhawks were a regular staple on television. When Roenick stepped on the ice, it was hard to take your eyes off him because that was where the action was going to happen. Amazing body and stick control, and speed that could launch him into the offensive zone with a couple of strides. The ill-advised fight with Probert, the all-star game checks, the horrible barber pole throwback Blackhawk jerseys, shredding the expansion Sharks defense ... there are too many memories all jumbled into one when it comes to Roenick. He was one of the best in the league, and he made you double check what time the game was going to be on.
2. What were your recollections/memories/praises/criticisms of Roenick's time with your team?
CI (HAWKS): Favorite memories? We posted his OT playoff goal against the Leafs in 1994 on our site after the announcement, when JR needed his teammates to keep him from climbing into the crowd to celebrate.
Criticisms? It's hard to say. JR certainly helped grease his exit by talking a lot about his contract and negotiations, which was a big no-no with the Elder-and-thankfully-dead Wirtz. But other than that, the biggest thing about the Roenick era that upsets me is the exit, in return for Boozy McDriveDrunk (Alex Zhamnov). JR should be in the pantheon of Chicago athletes, with Sweetness and MJ and Big Hurt and such, but won't be. You can trace the fall of the Hawks into the abyss right at his departure, because until last season, the Hawks had played 11 playoff games in the 12 years since his departure. Now that the acrimony of his exit and the Hawks incompetence is in the rearview mirror for Hawks fans, I expect most if not all will remember what an experience he was in an Indian Head.
There was no more perfect performer in the perfect setting than Roenick at the Old Stadium, who could get the building rocking by putting a d-man's jock into the middle of Madison, rifling one top-shelf, or catching a forward with his head down and sending him into the arms of Morpheus. Alexander Ovechkin's(notes) game is the DVD to JR's VHS tape.
ODIN (COYOTES): His two stints here in Phoenix were completely different. In stint No. 1, he was an outspoken but great hockey player and teammate. The image that sticks in my mind is him playing with the crazy faceguard and his jaw wired shut for Game 7 of the 1997 series against the Blues.
The second time around wasn't so heroic. The lasting memory from that season will forever will be him leaving the arena for some wings and a beer rather than supporting the team when he was scratched. It's why any time he was in our building as a Shark, the "Let's Go Coyotes" cheers were always followed by "JR Sucks!" It made everyone forget how great he was for us in the early years.
MATT P. (FLYERS): Without a doubt, JR fit the bill of the quintessential Flyer: tough, aggressive, but talented. Fans really took to him here. But he also had one thing that just isn't all that prevalent in hockey -- personality. When he jumped against the boards, it wasn't contrived or over-celebratory. He was a high-energy guy that always brought the building up a notch.
He admitted that he came to LA out of shape, complained that his poor play was because his skates didn't fit right (yes, really) and overall looked like he was more interested in his future entertainment career than actually playing hockey. The man only managed 9 goals and 22 points in his injury plagued season with the Kings (and 2 of the goals were on opening night).
Worse than being completely unproductive, he looked like he didn't care. It wasn't until after the season (when he was a free agent and looking for a new team), that he said "the embarrassment of the season I had last year is enormous. So I've totally re-arranged my summer and re-dedicated myself to the game of hockey." Of course he was! He wanted another payday. He should have had almost 5 million reasons to dedicate himself when he was in LA.
Needless to say, I don't think the Kings will be hanging his No. 97 from the rafters of Staples Center any time soon.
PJ (SHARKS): I root for all 30 teams equally, but on the ice in San Jose a memorable moment would have to be a 5-on-3 power play as the Sharks struggled at the start of the 2007-08 season. They failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone, let alone generate a shot on goal with the two-man advantage. The fans at HP Pavilion were frustrated, and booing their own team vociferously. With the seconds ticking down on the remaining power play, Roenick drove down the left wing, pulled up and buried a hard angle shot up high as the penalty expired. It was like taking the lid off a pressure cooker for the team and the fans. Roenick would finish with an incredible 10 game winning goals that season, his highest game winning goal tally since 2000.
A number of times Roenick would reach through my photo hole to pound fists or hand a puck over to fans. One time after being whistled on a faceoff, Roenick set up on the right wing along the glass. Before the referee dropped the puck, he reached over through the hole, grabbed a Twix bar from a teenager in the front row, took a bite, and gave it back. The rest of the game the whole section was laughing about it, and Roenick would wink at the fan when he skated by.
3. Your favorite Roenick moment in pop culture?
CI (HAWKS): I'm supposed to say "Swingers" here, right? I'm sure everyone else will. This probably doesn't count, but when I was a freshman in high school a female senior complemented me on my No. 27 jersey. I don't think I've ever felt as cool as that. Sadly, I haven't impressed a girl more in the 15 intervening years since.
ODIN (COYOTES): Probably the Roenick v. Roy exchange in the '96 playoffs. Roenick didn't get the better quote, but that whole sequence was hilarious. How can you forget "I can't really hear what Jeremy says, because I've got my two Stanley Cup Rings plugging my ears"?
MATT P. (FLYERS): My favorite Roenick moment as a Flyer was the overtime game-winner to send the Flyers past Toronto and into the 03-04 Eastern Conference Finals. JR and Amonte skating full-speed toward their former goalie, Ed Belfour(notes)? It as pretty amazing. That's not exactly a pop culture moment, but it was classic JR. To answer your question though, my favorite pop culture JR event was probably the battle with Patrick Roy, who was also among my favorite NHL players. Roenick wasn't a Flyer at the time, but it's memorable because this may have been the one time someone got the better of JR in a war of words.
MATT (KINGS): This is an absolute no-brainer: "It's not so much me, as it is Roenick -- he's good." How many of us have lived that entire scene from "Swingers"? I know in my little world with my friends, that was the line that an entire generation of hockey fans could relate with. Trash talking with friends, making fun of someone because he's Superfan #99 and un-pausing the game when a friend leaves? Even I could score with Roenick and I totally suck at video games.
Forget JR, this is one of my favorite sports pop culture moments, period!
PJ (SHARKS): "Swingers" was a nod to those who grew up on NHL 94. Although Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque was a much more dangerous figure in the game, after the movie everyone wanted to make Gretzky's "head bleed" with No. 27.
A more local moment came from the parents of 2007 San Jose Sharks 1st round draft pick Logan Couture(notes). They sent a photo of a pint-size Couture posing with a young Roenick as a Chicago Blackhawk. The Sharks posted it in the locker room, and the players had a good laugh at that. The San Jose Mercury News published it in the paper, the Couture's sent it to me and I posted it on Sharkspage.com. Couture did not finish out the season in San Jose, but he got to go through training camp and a few games in the preseason with one of his boyhood idols.
4. Finally, hockey fans have talked for ages about Roenick moving to the TV side as an American Don Cherry and/or hockey's Charles Barkley. Is that wishful thinking, or could he turn a Versus or NBC studio show into something special?
CI (HAWKS): I think it has potential for either greatness or disaster. I recall his stint in the booth during the 2004 World Cup, and if I recall the results were painful. So as an in-game analyst, I think that's out. A color position is no position to put your personality first, which is exactly why all my friends and I own Pierre McGuire Voodoo dolls. Daryl Reaugh gets away with it because his occasional colorful remarks are shrouded in spot-on and intriguing analysis.
So that leaves the studio. I know a lot of fans are thinking hockey's version of Charles Barkley. But a lot of people forget that, at least until a couple seasons ago when he stopped caring, Barkley wasn't only funny but extremely insightful. Chris Webber and Gary Payton were a riot on NBA TV, but they took time to point out stuff only former players could see. If JR can bring his personality along with top-notch hockey thoughts, then yes, I think it can be a wonderful thing. If he's just going to do his overgrown-frat boy act, well ...then he'll be the same as everyone on Fox's NFL coverage, and that generally makes me want to firebomb something.
ODIN (COYOTES): I hope it's wishful thinking. Roenick can be entertaining is small amounts, and as a guest now and then would be great, but I don't know that he'd be quite the same if he was on every game. Maybe if it's more infrequent broadcasts on NBC, but then JR isn't really suitable for Network TV.
MATT (FLYERS): "Hockey's Charles Barkley." Yeah, I could see that. We can only hope to be so lucky, and the sport's national telecasts could really use his personality and entertainment value -- which I think he could provide without losing the integrity of the telecast.
MATT (KINGS): He's been one of the most charismatic (and polarizing) figures in hockey for the last two decades. Just go back to the last time that he wasn't playing hockey -- he was a 6-1, walking, talking sound-byte just waiting to kick up controversy during the lockout. If you subscribe to the "any publicity is good publicity" school of marketing, then there are few people better than JR.
To the second part of your question, he could make a show on Versus or NHL Network special, but I doubt he'd be as effective on NBC. Part of what makes Charles Barkley and Don Cherry such key figures for their respective sports is that they're with you the entire season. During the playoffs, Chuck is on the screen for 40 days and 40 nights. Do you think Roenick, NBC and their 10 game schedule would make a difference? Sure he would help on NBC; but he'd be able to make the biggest difference for the league if he was visible throughout the entire season.
PJ (SHARKS): I don't think Roenick needs to be either Don Cherry or Charles Barkley, he just needs to be himself and he will be successful as a television analyst. His enthusiasm and passion for the sport is going to come across to the viewer. The underrated aspect of both Cherry and Barkley, overshadowed by the humor and controversial opinions, is their knowledge and insight into the game. Roenick has not been in the Bay Area long enough to get a handle on John Madden's(notes) work with the telestrator, but if he can teach the casual and hardcore fan a little more about the sport as well as making it fun, it is going to be a tremendous boost for Versus, NBC, or whoever signs him.