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To find America’s most passionate hockey community, Kraft Hockeyville decided to bring on one of America’s most passionate hockey people.
“Get the guy with the biggest mouth who’s not afraid to talk,” said Jeremy Roenick, the former NHL great-turned-NBC commentator.
The Kraft Hockeyville USA program is based on that same successful program in Canada, which rewards one lucky community with prize money and an NHL preseason game in their arena. The winning town will be announced on May 2, and will receive $150,000; the total money split by the winner and runners-up is $425,000.
“They wanted it to be 10 percent of the participation they’ve had in Canada since 2006, they’re already at 20 percent and it just started,” said Roenick. “It’s been an overwhelming success.”
Visit Kraft Hockeyville USA for more info on entering your town.
We spoke with Roenick about the USA vs. Canada; Jack Eichel’s World Junior championship flop; helping to run an NHL team in Seattle or Vegas; his Stanley Cup Final pick; and some major love for P.K. Subban.
Q. How important is it for the U.S. to develop its own Hockeyville and Hockey Day in America and all that stuff?
ROENICK: “They one thing that Canada has going for it is that it’s hockey crazed from coast to coast. So no matter what you do, in any part of the country, it’s going to take off in leaps and bounds.
“The U.S. is a little different because we’re not one of the top three sports. We might not even be one of the top four sports if you take NASCAR into consideration. It’s very much a regional battle that you’re dealing with. Southern California is getting better, parts of Texas, parts of Florida. You’re always going to battle that mainstream that is football, baseball, basketball, NASCAR.
“But I think it’s improving. Our youth programs are growing. Our junior programs are the best in the world along with Canada … unfortunately, not this year in world juniors, because they had a little ego problem.”
So what do you think happened with world juniors this year?
“I think the U.S. is a good team. And I think they knew it. And I think they tried to choose their spots to play. When you’re playing in the international tournament, you can’t pick your games. You have to play consistent every night.
“I think Jack Eichel hurt himself a little bit with his draft status. A lot of people thought he could go No. 1 ahead of McDavid. But I think he hurt himself in that aspect.
“He seemed too cool for school. I heard how fast he was, how mean he was. I didn’t see that. He stood around, going through the motions. You can’t score three points in a 5-game tournament and expect to be the top pick.”
But do we weigh world juniors too heavily? Erik Johnson earned a No. 1 pick through his play there, for example.
“I think there’s a lot of stock and I think there should be. It’s the best teenage players in the world. You’re not going to have better competition. If you can’t play at a level against the best players, the red flag’s going to go up.”
We were both at the balmy Winter Classic in D.C. Where do you stand on NHL outdoor games? Too many? Too few? Just enough? Tired of the same teams?
“As I went through the year last year – I did every one with the exception of Vancouver – I was worried they were diluting a good product. But everyone that I kept going to, it had the same excitement. The same feel. Not the same temperatures, but it still brings back that aura of nostalgia. People really enjoy it.
“It’s funny, because this year’s Winter Classic was the lowest rated game that we had. Which is interesting, but it goes to show you have to be careful who you put in the games.
“I don’t think they should be doing six, but I think they should do two or three a year. Everyone should get a chance to see one. Arizona, where it’s chilly. Obviously we’ve had them in California. Let everyone get to see one and then maybe tone it down.”
But essentially for NBC, the truth is that there are just some markets that will pop ratings and some that won’t.
“It’s true, and you’ll see more games going back there. Because it’s a cash cow for the NHL.”
Speaking of markets, a year ago we were all talking about Jeremy Roenick buying into a Seattle franchise. Where are we on that now?
“I’m still actively pursuing, and Seattle is one of those cities that would be a great hockey town. Politics plays a very, very large role in all of sports in Seattle. The arena is a big problem. Key Arena is there. It’s old, and it’s decrepit, and you can’t refurbish it to have what the NHL calls a first-class facility.
“It’s not financially smart to put a single tenant hockey team into an arena. They want basketball, and basketball’s not close to coming there, especially with the new TV rights deal coming out. You’re not going to see an expansion team coming to the NBA because the owners don’t want to share the money.
“So there’s a problem with the building in Seattle. Will there be a team in Seattle? Absolutely. But I just don’t see it in the foreseeable future.”
Can you see yourself getting involved in Vegas?
“I want to get involved in the league for sure. I’ve been watching and listening. Not saying I don’t talk to people.
“I know I’m a really good hockey mind, but I think one thing that I have that maybe a lot other people don’t have, is that ability to be in the public and be very hands on with promoting your team. Selling tickets. Keeping season ticket holders happy. And then helping to build a winning hockey team.”
The John Davidson model.
“Yeah. For me, that’s my niche. Not being a GM. I have a very good eye for talent, but I want a bigger role. I want to be the guy that’s picking the GM. But my best asset is being with people, entertaining people, educating people. It’s on my radar.”
When you watch the NHL today, who are the guys you wish you could have skated with in your career?
“Evgeni Malkin. I love the way he plays, competes. His skill set is insane. He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. And you never see him go into big slides.
“Johnny Toews and Patrick Kane, I would just love to play with guys like that.
“Guys like Zdeno Chara. Good, big leaders. He played when I played, but I would have loved to play with him.
Is there a goalie or defenseman today that you’re like ‘I wish I could have taken him on one-on-one?’
“Good question. I played against Chara, a little against Doughty, against Shea Weber, so I played against those guys. I wouldn’t say I beat them down, because I was at the end of my career.
“Watching Erik Karlsson skate, and the way he goes. He’s a guy I would have liked to go against.
“And it would have been a great image to have me go against P.K. Subban. Who would have the bigger mouth, who would be the bigger showboat? He resembles me. Reminds me of myself as a young player.”
He seems to get it like no other player got it since you, frankly. Do you think it’s at all calculated? Like doing to charity thing with the kids, or the Stanley Cup thing with Seth Rogen, undercuts his controversy?
“I don’t know if it’s calculated. He’s so passionate about the game. He wears his heart on his sleeve, every night. He really cares.
“There are some guys in this league that don’t care. They have all the talent in the world but they really DON’T care. P.K. really cares. About his teammates, even though he gets in their face. What you hear from P.K. is what you get from P.K. He’s not going to stab you in the back. And I love that aspect about him. He can balance that, and not many guys can.
“And he wants the ball. He wants the puck.
“I thought Montreal was crazy – CRAZY – to take him to arbitration last year. It didn’t get there, but they were going to. If I was Garth Snow, who had nothing to lose, I would have offered him $10 million and made Montreal match it. You’re going into a new building. You’re bringing in an ethnic kid that has so much pizzazz. It would have been the greatest thing.”
P.K. in a Brooklyn jersey?
“P.K. in a Brooklyn jersey! It would have sold tickets. So that’s what I would have done. But Montreal made the right decision.”
“The NHL does a lot of different things. You’re almost like connected to strings. They want you to act a certain way, they want you to play a certain way, they want you to say certain things. Which is good, because I think the NHL has one of the best reputations of any of the other sports.
“But you need characters. You need Ovechkin, guys like P.K. They bring that out. We just need more of it. And you can be outlandish and still be respectful. The NHL doesn’t like when someone rises above the head count. And guys are really respectful, too. You just have idiots like myself, because we knew it’s an entertainment sport.”
Finally, do you have a refined Cup pick at the midway point?
“Rangers and Anaheim.
“You have two things with the Rangers. You have Rick Nash, who’s back in his groove, but you have Henrik Lundqvist – who’s not in the all-star game, which is a joke – whenever you have a guy like that you have a chance to win every game.
“They have the bite. They got there, they got a taste of it.
“Anaheim is big and fast and mean and they never [expletive] stop. Look how many times Anaheim has come back in third periods to tie games or win in regulation or win in overtime.
“They have the two toughest leaders in the game. Guys that’ll [expletive] crush you, will break your legs. They’re Mark Messier type mean. They’ll hurt you to make sure you can’t play.”
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