Throughout a decorated National Hockey League career, Jeremy Roenick left nothing on the ice besides blood, sweat and a few teeth. Predictably, he leaves nothing out in the book about his life. Roenick’s autobiography “J.R.” with Kevin Allen of USA Today is candid and controversial, befitting a former Blackhawk who realized he was in the entertainment business even before he evolved into a star player.
Naturally, some of Roenick’s musings have elicited strong rebuttals from those he reached out to touch with publishing’s version of a cross-check.
“You know me, I’ve never been afraid of laying out my opinions,” Roenick was saying the other day. “I wouldn’t take a word back. Our only problem is that they haven’t printed enough copies. We need more.”
Roenick spoke from Pebble Beach, Calif., a slice of heaven where he was playing golf. Alas, man cannot live on signing appearances alone. He just completed a tour of the east coast and Canada. Starting Tuesday, Roenick will make several stops in Chicago and environs, a trip he cherishes even when he’s not in a selling mode.
“As I’ve said before, and again in the book,” Roenick went on, “if there was one thing, one aspect, of my career that I could change, it would about the Blackhawks. I would have played there from start to finish. I loved the team, the city, the fans, everything about it. But it wasn’t to be, and I have a million great memories from my eight seasons there.”
One hesitates to give away too many stories about Roenick’s tenure here, except “J.R.” is a feast of vignettes. He mentions that Jack Davison, a super scout and assistant general manager who recently passed away, staked his job on the Blackhawks drafting this skinny kid out of high school in Boston. Juicy tales about coach Mike Keenan abound; He was the champion of creative tension, and Roenick states that playing for him was “like camping on the side of an active volcano… You feared him more than you feared an injury,” Roenick relates, and there was no way to fight him, although Dave Manson tried. A more peaceful approach was to “borrow” Keenan’s credit card, which Michel Goulet did -- the guys ran up a $4,000 tab while Keenan waited for them to make curfew.
“If people think I don’t like Keenan, nothing could be further from the truth,” said Roenick. “We text all the time, and I see him a lot now when we do our TV work. He made me a better player. I left there with the same respect for Mr. [Bill] Wirtz. He didn’t see the salaries going where they were going and it was his team. When I got traded in the summer of 1996, it was a business decision. The Blackhawks gave me a first chance, and what Mr. Wirtz’s son Rocky has done with that franchise I love. I’m thrilled for Chicago.”
Roenick owns a glittering resume: from 1988 through 2009, he amassed 513 goals, 1,216 points and 1,463 penalty minutes with the Blackhawks, Phoenix Coyotes (with whom he had two tours of duty), Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. During three seasons with the Blackhawks, from 1991-92 through 1993-94, he scored 50 or more goals twice and a total of 149. He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010 and would appear to possess necessary credentials for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Earlier this year during an interview with chicagoblackhawks.com, Roenick touched on an incident that affected his friendship with Tony Amonte, whom JR touted as a future Blackhawk when then-General Manager Bob Pulford became aware that Amonte might be available via a trade with the New York Rangers. But Roenick wouldn’t provide many details, saying he would save the tale for his book. Well, here it is: after joining the Coyotes, Roenick came to Chicago for a game against Amonte and the Blackhawks early in the 1999 season. Between periods, Roenick got into an argument with wife Tracy outside the visitors’ locker room at the United Center.
“For several years, Tracy believed I was gambling too much and picking the wrong friends,” writes Roenick. “I placed too much emphasis on the next big party and not enough of what was happening in my family life. She went nuclear as my teammates looked on. I was enraged. By the time I arrived on the bench, I was an angry bull, and someone was going to pay the price for my anger. It turned out to be my best friend for many years. Although no one believes me, I would swear on the Bible that I just slashed the first person who came near me, and it was Tony Amonte.”
Roenick was suspended five games for his tantrum; he and Amonte did not talk for a long while. “He eventually forgave me,” JR continues. “But to be honest, we really haven’t been quite the same since that day when I went crazy on the ice.”
And so it goes. If you thought Roenick was going to stickhandle through 294 pages of his autobiography, you will be convinced otherwise after three paragraphs of the introduction. However, Roenick also points out that he is neither an angel nor saint.
He doles out praise too, as he identifies his ten favorite teammates, ten favorite opponents, ten favorite arenas, and ten favorite games. The winners of the latter two categories are intertwined: after all the years and all the scars, JR cites the 1991 National Hockey League All-Star Game at the Stadium as most memorable.
“I’ve got enough for another book,” Roenick concluded. “I love what I’m doing now, TV and other stuff, but maybe down the road, I could be part of an ownership or front office. Who knows? I’ve been very fortunate, and if people don’t care for my opinions, well, as Mike Keenan used to say, negative energy is better than no energy at all.”
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