Roenick's Colorful Career Fades To Black After 20 Years
Friday, 08.07.2009 / 12:58 PM / News
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com senior writer
Roenick was all about improv as a player, and should continue to be in retirement.
"He talks without a script and he played without a script," Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock told NHL.com. "I think there is a lot of room for guys like that in the NHL. How he feels is how he's going to perform. He doesn't read from a pamphlet or a teleprompter. Whatever he feels he says."
Roenick, a two-time U.S. Olympian and nine-time NHL All-Star, officially announced his retirement at a news conference Thursday in San Jose. But he had been feeling the end of his hockey career coming for quite some time.
He actually retired following the 2006-07 season, when he sent a text message to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter saying he was finished. But two months later, Roenick was lured back by Sharks GM Doug Wilson, a former teammate in Chicago who convinced Roenick he still could help a team.
Roenick signed for one year and $500,000, but wound up playing two seasons. He leaves the game with 513 goals and 703 assists for 1,216 points in 1,363 regular-season games with Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Jose. Among American-born players, only Mike Modano (543) and Keith Tkachuk (525) have scored more goals.
While he's leaving the ice, it's unlikely we have seen the last of Roenick.
He has worked previously with TSN, used to appear on Fox Sports Net's "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" and never has been one to hold back his opinions, controversial or not. It's part of his appeal as one of the NHL's rare crossover celebrities.
Everyone NHL.com spoke to believes soon we will see Roenick in a television studio, serving as a lightning rod for debate as he analyzes and talks about the game and the NHL as a whole.
"The rest of us are thoughtful in our responses and try to come up with the politically correct answer at times, but not J.R.," Keith Primeau, a teammate in Philadelphia, told NHL.com. "He shoots from the lip, says whatever he wants to say."
"His personality is needed in our game," Coyotes captain Shane Doan added. "He is one of the best ambassadors for our sport."
Roenick's mouth got him in trouble at times, but he could always back it up when he stepped on the ice. In his prime, he was one of the most ferocious and fearless skaters and finishers in the game.
"He didn't take it easy in his 20 years," former All-Star Tony Amonte, who has known Roenick since they were both 11 years old, told NHL.com. "He played hard. He took on the best defensemen. He dropped the gloves. He had courage beyond belief."
While with the Blackhawks from 1988-96, Roenick scored 267 goals, seventh all-time in the Original Six franchise's history. He twice scored more than 50 goals and made his only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 1992.
"They had a veteran team, but he was the cornerstone and he went as they went," Primeau said. "They were going to outwork you, and if they were going to outscore you it was going to be J.R."
Roenick was traded to Phoenix following the 1996-97 season, and he brought the Coyotes into the new millennium with the longest run of success in franchise history. He led Phoenix in points three straight seasons and the team made the playoffs four times in his five seasons in the desert.
"He never got the credit for how tough he was," Doan said. "He broke his jaw when he was playing with us against Dallas. Derian Hatcher hit him with an elbow and it split his jaw. Blood was pouring out. He came to the bench, spit out the blood and went out and played another shift. On the same hit they found out he got slashed and broke his thumb. You would have never known. That's how he played the game. He would refer to it as 'J.R. Hockey.' He was incredibly tough on top of the fact that he was an unbelievable goal scorer."
Roenick left Phoenix to sign with Philadelphia on July 2, 2001. He had 67 points in 2001-02, but Hitchcock brought his defensive system to the Flyers in 2002 and asked Roenick to re-invent himself.
The coach still marvels at how Roenick adapted to play his new role.
"Instead of playing on the half-wall on the power play he ended up on the front of the net a lot and was good," Hitchcock said. "He was a third-line center or third-line right winger and was very effective. A lot of times players can't adapt, but he was very effective."
To Philly fans, Roenick probably is best remembered for scoring the series-clinching overtime goal against Toronto that sent the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004. They lost to Tampa Bay in seven games.
"He kept the guys not only loose, but connected," Primeau said. "The other reason he was good for the locker room is we no longer had to do interviews. I say that half-joking but half-serious. The media was drawn to him, too, and he wasn't afraid to do interviews."
After the work stoppage, Philadelphia signed Peter Forsberg and traded Roenick to Los Angeles. It was good for Roenick's acting career and Hollywood image, but it turned into the worst season of his career on the ice. He had only 22 points in 58 games and didn't go back for another season with the Kings, instead choosing to return to Phoenix. But back in the desert he couldn't rekindle what he had under Hitchcock in Philadelphia and managed only 28 points in 70 games.
Roenick thought he had reached the end of the road, but Wilson didn't think so and he offered him another chance at the Cup. It again eluded Roenick in San Jose, but he made an impression on his teammates and the fans.
In retirement, Roenick may choose to supply the hockey world with more of his opinions from a comfortable seat inside an air conditioned TV studio. If he does wind up on television, people most definitely will be interested to hear what he has to say.
"You just don't know what is going to come out between those lips," Amonte said. "You know he's going to be funny and you know he's going to be honest. If you know J.R., you love to listen to him."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer