The retirement of Jeremy Roenick probably means very little to you Canadians, except that the odd-looking loudmouth guy is finally gone.
But I can honestly say that, as far as American hockey goes, there might not have been a more important player in the last two decades.
Yeah, you can rest your hand on the track for a quick second and feel the slow train coming: JR’s retirement means it’s time for the Best American-born Player shoving match into which we are so fond of getting down this way (you can’t count Brett Hull and end it prematurely).
Roenick was probably not the best American-born player of all time, since that honor, I think, goes to Chris Chelios, but he was certainly the most iconic (and certainly I’m a little biased because Roenick was born and grew up about 20 minutes from where I sit right this second). To try to put a Canadian spin on it, this is like when Mark Messier retired. Roenick embodied what American hockey was, for better or worse, over the 20 years of his career: talented but not overly-so, reliable, brash, and extraordinarily entertaining as long as you didn’t take it too seriously.
You can rattle off the stats all you like: 1,363 games, 1,216 points, 513 goals. He had a coupla 50-goal, 100-point seasons back in the early ’90s (but who didn’t?). Good numbers. Probably gets a guy into the Hall of Fame come 2014. But Jeremy Roenick will forever be famous for two things: his mouth and his video game persona.
Roenick is nothing if not hilariously self-aggrandizing. My secret feeling is that he’s retiring due to a rotator cuff injury he picked up while fervently patting himself on the back a la famed professional wrestling doormat Barry Horowitz. It was, after all, Roenick’s belief that Roy was too busy looking for his jock in the rafters following a breakaway in Game 3 of the 1996 Western Conference finals that inspired the famous “Stanley Cup rings in my ears” comment. And it was Roenick who, when told that some fans felt NHL players being greedy and petulant led to the lockout in 2004-05, invited said fans to “kiss [his] ass.” And it was Roenick who openly criticized USA Hockey for leaving him off the roster for the Turin Olympics in 2006 because he was a lot better than his stats, which I believe was about .3 points a game at the time, indicated. He’s also the only NHL player I can think of besides Sid Crosby to do more than a few late night talk shows where he was, admittedly, a natural, since he was free to do nothing but talk about himself for eight minutes.
As for his status as legendary video game superman, it’s really difficult to put into words just how amazing he was. I’m sure it’s tough to imagine for you nice Canadian folk, but hockey was — and indeed, is — not as pervasive in culture down this way as it is up there. And for a lot of kids, even me, their first prolonged exposure to the sport was through video games. I had Blades of Steel and Ice Hockey for the NES (and I’d absolutely slaughter you in both of them), but the first hockey games to truly capture my attention and imagination was NHLPA ’93 and NHL ’94 for the Sega Genesis. I found God in those games, and his name was Jeremy Roenick. He was faster than Matt Lombardi on crystal meth, more skilled than six Gretzkys and a Howe, a more devastating hitter than Dion Phaneuf behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler and quite literally impossible to dislodge from the puck. If you picked the Chicago Blackhawks, you were 100 percent absolutely no-question-about-it certain to embarrass each and every one of your childhood friends to the tune of a 12-1 win with 82 percent attacking zone possession time.
And even if all he had at the end of his 20-year NHL career, taking away his being the third American ever to score 500 goals and the helping the US win a silver medal in Salt Lake City and the millions of dollars, was an entire generation of kids who knew and loved simply because they made their friends feel bad with him, then I think you’d have to call that a pretty damn good career. Especially for an ugly American.