Jeremy Roenick scored 513 goals and 1216 points in 1363 games. In his first 15 seasons he was a point-a-game player scoring 1,124 points in 1,120 games, but then the lockout hit. He’d already played 15 years and it’s likely he was going to slow down, but a full season off, where he admittedly didn’t train that hard, combined with a serious concussion from a Boris Mironov slapshot to the face saw Roenick’s career stats wind down quicker than other elite scorers.
He scored 96 points in his final four seasons, 239 games, so some younger fans never got to see a true reflection of Roenicks’ skill. He was a dynamic player. He scored 50 twice, had three 100-point seasons, and he played with an edge.
He had 38 regular season fights, and two preseason fights in his career, and he fought guys like Marty McSorley, Craig Berube, Jeff Odgers, Scott Walker and Matthew Barnaby. He didn’t just fight scorers, and the league was different when he broke in. If you were going to run around and hit guys, even if you were a star, you’d have to fight your own battles. Sadly, that isn’t the case today.
Roenick’s mouth got him just as much attention as his on-ice prowess so it was no surprise when he teamed up with Kevin Allen from USA Today and wrote a book, J.R, The fast crazy life of hockey’s most outspoken & most colourful personality.
I was a huge fan of Roenick when he broke into the league with the Chicago Blackhawks. He had lots of skill, but he also delivered and received his fair share of big hits.
He didn’t mince his words in his book. He talked about players he admired, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier, and players he didn’t, Patrick Marleau, Oleg Tverdovsky. He also talked openly about the mistakes he’s made over his career, both on and off the ice.
I, along with Jason Strudwick, had the chance to chat with Roenick about his career and the book.
JG: How come you didn’t come up with a longer title for the book?
JR: Hey, listen, (laughs) and I will tell you this, and you should know this by now. I am very simple. My input on the cover was JR. That was it. Yeah. Editors, publishers do a little bit more. Mine was JR, so mine was really creative.
JG: In the book you talked about how at times the notoriety got to you, and you didn’t necessarily use it in a positive. How did you get out from that, because for some players they never know how to change that?
JR: I think that in my book I really call myself out a lot, which is good. I mean, there’s no question when you’re on top of the game and you’re feeling good and your ego is big, that you’re really going to put your foot in your mouth a lot, and I did that. But I also went on the ice and I backed it up on the ice, but still I created a persona that followed me, and it even followed me when I was on the downside of my career. And you need your friends to pick you up, and you need to work hard to get out of that.
Thankfully I had some good friends that stuck by me and allowed me to really come back after being humbled. It’s very hard, to get caught up in the celebrity life and the pro athlete life, and I did. And I still have an ego, there’s no question. I’m still confident, but I’m a little bit more aware of where to go, where not to go, what my surroundings are. And obviously I love the fans and always have and I make sure that they get the truth and not the sugar‑coated, watered‑down, clichéd answer that you normally get.
JG: When I think about writing a book, I can imagine the process of going through it. Just going over your whole career, reviewing a bunch of the different incidents that happened, a bunch of experiences you had. Was it a neat way to put your career in your rearview mirror and look forward to what’s coming next in your life?
JR: Yeah, it’s a great point. I loved my career. I don’t want to skate, don’t want to play anymore, and I think I’ve lived that life and I enjoyed that life. I was really fortunate to have a great career and play against a lot of great players and have some great teammates. Strudsy and I have had some battles in front of the net and the big drink of water in front chopping me down. You were a tough guy to play against.
So all these memories always stay with me, but I don’t live in the game anymore. I don’t want to be in the game. I don’t want to play the game. I love watching it. I love being a fan. I love being able to talk about it. We have good jobs right now because our opinion is still there. And who knows, maybe there’s a different part of the game, maybe the ownership level in the future for me, maybe in the office. But right now, three years out, I’m really fortunate to be where I am, and I can leave that in the mirror and give people a good synopsis of why I was such an idiot at times and why I was colorful and why I was so outspoken.
JG: Patrick Marleau, you didn’t shy away from him in your book. You felt that he never reached what his true potential. When you look back at how you dealt with that, were there other guys like him, or was Marleau the biggest underachiever you played with?
JR: Well, Patrick Marleau is one of the most talented guys I ever played with. I say that also. And it always frustrated me when I saw guys of immense, immense talent — especially guys that had more talent than me — just let 50 percent of it or 40 percent of it or 60 percent of it just sit there and idle and not use it to their best advantage. I always thought that someone that was extremely talented that had that grit, that had that fire, that showed the emotion and got pissed off, I always thought that that was a much more effective player, and Patrick never gave that to me. That always frustrated me. I don’t know how you can go through a career or go through a season and never change your demeanor, never change your facial expression, not get pissed off and break something. I just don’t understand that. It questions how committed and how in are you. And that was my problem with him.
Hey, that’s nothing against him as a person. He’s a good guy. He’s a good family man. He’s a good husband. You know, he got his captaincy taken away for a reason, and it wasn’t because I didn’t think he was going at his full potential. That was a team decision. There are reasons for that. And hey, he could not like me, and that’s fine. I don’t care if I’m calling him out. I sat right next to him for two years, and that was my opinion of him. I said I wish I had his talent and he had my heart. Oh, my gosh, what we could have done together.
JS: When I think of you and the way you played in your career, I think you had more skill than you’re giving yourself credit for, that’s for sure. But it was your passion and your tenacity out there. Literally, a demon would have to break your arm in front for you not to tap that goal in. Was that something that was always in you, or who taught you that?
JR: Well, I appreciate that a lot. That’s a great compliment coming from you. No, I got scared into doing that. Mike Keenan threatened my professional career and, who knows, probably my life with playing that style. Back in the late 80s, Chicago Blackhawks were known as the Big Bad Blackhawks. It was the loudest stadium and the most raucous stadium and fans, and Mike Keenan wanted the team to be the same way. So you had to play a hard‑nosed, physical, in‑your‑face style of game. And if you swung by a check, you were going to get chastised and you were going to get sworn at and you were going to get spit on by the coaching staff, especially Mike Keenan. I didn’t play like that when I arrived in Chicago.
There’s one incident that I talk about in the book where he literally grabbed me by my throat and screamed at me so loud that spit was going in my face and threatened my whole career if I didn’t play a physical brand of hockey. So from that moment on, I did it more on fear, and then that fear became a passion and a love, and then it became a kind of a staple to how I played. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I loved that tough love from my coaches.
JG: Jeremy, you might have loved it. A lot of guys don’t. Keenan, did he see something in you that you didn’t know you had for him to challenge you like that? Because we’ve heard lengthy lists of players who had a tough love coach, and they wilted under that pressure.
JR: I don’t know if he saw it. My first encounter with Mike Keenan was at the draft at the urinal in the bathroom stall, and he literally asked me if I had balls. That was kind of a weird question to ask when we’re standing at the urinal. But I said, ‘I can show you if you want to, but I’d much rather just prove it to you.’ That being said, yeah I think he might have saw something in my personality, but not in my frame because I was only about 158 pounds. I was really small, but maybe he hoped rather than just guessed.
JG: You talk about playing in Chicago. What was it like playing in that old building? What a place for a young guy to come in and just be a part of that energy that was in that old Chicago stadium.
JR: By far the best atmosphere arena that I have ever seen or played at in the world. The 1991 All‑Star Game during the Gulf War was the loudest anthem I’ve ever seen. People throwing things onto the ice, how the fans were literally right on top of you, the small rink, the tight corners. The boards were so flimsy and so whippy. People that sat in the front row would leave with their knees bruised because the boards would just slingshot into the first row and then sling you back into play. It was one of the most beautiful buildings that I’ve ever seen, and Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens is right up there too with it.
JG: Jeremy, very early in the book you described a situation with Sidney Crosby in an interview and his stock answers. Does hockey try to make everybody a stock guy, because there are few Jeremy Roenicks out there? Does the game stifle the personalities of players?
JR: Yeah, I do think that the NHL loves the stock guys. They love the stock answers. They love the guys who don’t create controversy, that don’t bring attention to themselves. I wasn’t saying anything about Sidney Crosby as a person. In my opinion, he’s the best player in the world. I think there are a lot of players that are nipping on his heels right now and challenging him for that title.
But if you look back at, say, Mark Messier. Mark Messier was one of the best players in the game. And when asked what was going to happen, Mark Messier was going to tell you. We’re going to win this game because I’m going to be the best player on the ice. I guarantee you we’re going to win this game. These are things that the warriors that you remember, they do these things. Patrick Roy standing up and saying, ‘You guys, nobody is going to score a goal on me tonight. So if you guys just get one, we’re going to win.’
Me personally, I want to watch my favorite players who are the best in the world, let the people know that they’re the best in the world and take the pressure off their teammates and boost up their teammates and make that game more exciting for the fan to watch because they made a statement. In the beginning of the book, I wrote that’s what I wanted to see and I didn’t get it, but it still doesn’t take away from him being the best player in the world. I just don’t want to listen to him.
JS: JR, you talk about Patrick Roy. The two of you had a pretty interesting going back and forth about the Stanley Cup rings. Do you guys ever laugh about that? Do you ever see him around?
JR: We don’t laugh about it, but there was a respect from that altercation, from that exchange in ’96 that I thought was one of the best sport chirps ever. He got me so good, and it was so funny. The fact of the rings in his ear, and it was so perfectly timed. I laughed, and he laughed. I think we built a respect and an admiration for each other from that that continued because it’s at that competitive level. But I just thought that was such a cool part of my career. I got chirped big time, and I really didn’t have a rebuttal for it except to score the next day and kind of put my finger in my ear and pull out one of those rings.
JG: Did you get involved in a lot of trash talk?
JR: I complained a lot. I bitched and I complained and I yelled at the ref.
JS: That’s true. (laughs)
JR: Yeah, I was a loud mouth on the ice. I always was right on the edge, and I would scream, and I would complain. If you ask any referee right now, they’d say I complained more than maybe any player that they ever refereed against.
JG: Did it ever work?
JS: Are you kidding? It worked all the time. You guys would get calls more often. Don’t even try. I remember playing against you —
JR:Maybe it worked a little bit, but — I mean I got fined for throwing water bottles at refs. I was fined for yelling and screaming at the league. I don’t know, maybe I was a cry baby, maybe I was a complainer, but I came back out battling.
JG: Players move around now more than ever in the NHL. You had your best success in Chicago. When you look back, any regrets on going from Chicago to Phoenix?
JR: Obviously I have no regrets, but I wish I would have understood the politics of the game more when I was in Chicago. Because Eric Lindros came in, and he made $3 million before he even stepped on the ice, and the whole dynamics of the NHL were changing. I had had three big years, 100 points, 50 goals, and the Blackhawks didn’t want to pay me. The Lindros numbers are what I wanted, and Mr. Wirtz ‑‑ god rest his soul, I respect him a lot ‑‑ but he just didn’t want to go along with the big business turn that the NHL was, and we clashed big time.
It ended up that that was the first time that I’ve really been pushed out of something. I got traded. And I think that was the start of my kind of gradual decline until 2006, 2007, where I kind of bottomed out. I wonder sometime if I would have treated that relationship better, or a little bit differently, and stayed in Chicago my whole career, where I would have ended up today. I think it would be a lot different than where I am, I believe.
JS: Jeremy, when you look back at all the guys you played against, who was the one guy that you would sit on the bench and you’d go out of your way to watch them? For me, I loved watching Pavel Datsyuk. If he was on the ice, I was watching him. Who was that guy you’re like, man, this guy is good?
JR: I had a couple. Mike Modano, just the grace that man had, how he could skate, his puck handling ability, his puck control, his shot and the way that his shirt was flying and the look as he went flying up the ice. My jaw would drop every time he wound it up and got going. The little passes that he made, the one‑timers upstairs, the guy was just so graceful to me.
And guys like Steve Yzerman who just epitomized a perfect captain and a great captain. Then I used to love watching Pavel Bure go because when that kid turned it up, there was nobody on the ice that was going to stop him. And then I was scared to death of Mark Messier because he looked like he was going to eat me or one of my children every time I came up against him.
The book was very entertaining. The Craig Berube story might be my favourite. It was clear that Berube had a long memory, and he might have carried a grudge for 13 years.
Roenick talks about his regrets and mistakes as much as he talks about his accomplishments, which makes the book more genuine. I’d recommend picking it up.
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