Jeremy Roenick – The Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey
FM: What was life like growing up in Boston and what were some of your favourite things about the city?
JR: When I was growing up there, hockey was very big. It was a state rivalry between Massachusetts and Minnesota which spilled over from the Olympics. So, growing up there I was involved in great hockey even in the youth leagues. I played in prep league hockey which was amazing and competitive. As a result, a lot of guys went on to play pro. I grew up playing against and with guys like Tony Amonte, Steve Heinze, Al MacInnis, Kevin Stevens, Craig Janney, Brian Leetch—so many great players came out of the Boston area. The competition was high and fierce. I remember by 14 years old I was playing in senior league with 17, 18, 19-year-olds. I had the best hockey environment that I could possibly imagine in Boston and even when I went down to Jersey or Connecticut, I was still surrounded by wonderful hockey players. My parents did a great job of putting me in the best hockey environment everywhere we went.
FM: As a kid, who were some of your favourite hockey players to watch and what about nowadays?
JR: I was a big Bruins fan. I loved to watch Peter McNab, Stan Jonathan, Gerry Cheevers, and Rick Middleton was my favourite. I was all for Boston. I was a Jean Ratelle fan because I grew up in Connecticut and he would play for the Rangers. Ron Duguay, Ron Greschner, those guys stood out in my mind. I have a lot of favourites in the league today. I love watching Patrick Kane, he puts so much fear in the other players because he’s just so elusive and his talent is so monumental in terms of his stick handling abilities, creativity, the fact that he can be so slippery. I like watching Connor McDavid skate and do what he does with the puck at blazing speed, I’ve never seen anybody do that at such a speed and so efficiently. He knows where to put the puck, he knows when to put it there, he knows where everyone is on the ice. Him being as good as he is in his second year only means he’s going to get scarier the older he gets.
FM: What was it about the game of hockey that appealed to you so much at the start? How do you feel the game has changed over the past 10 years?
JR: I think it’s changed in terms of talent, these guys seem so much bigger, faster, and overall more coordinated. And it’s all because they were bred to be like this since they were kids. Professional athletes didn’t eat well, drink well, or workout properly until the mid 90s. Kids today are starting at a young age, they’re physically fit, they eat well, take care of themselves but they’re not as tough physically or mentally as we were back then. The age of technology has made everything easy. Millennials in general are very soft and aren’t as responsible for the things that happen to them because they think everything should be given to them. The game is a lot softer, to tell you the truth. There’s a lack of respect. A good example is Michael Haley getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok from Nashville. If it’s 5 – 2 you don’t hit somebody from behind into the glass. Don’t drop your gloves because you know he’s coming and you deserve to be punched in the mouth and knocked out. In the old days, not only would you get punched and knocked out once, but every shift. You have to be accountable for playing like that. Players these days don’t like coaches being tough on them, they don’t like people yelling and screaming at them, makes them feel inferior or that they’re not liked. That’s just not the generation I grew up in.
FM: Do you remember much about your first NHL All-Star game appearance in 1991? If so, can you tell us what that experience was like for you?
JR: It was amazing because it was my first All-Star game in my own city. I remember they were talking about canceling the game because of the Gulf War and all of the stuff that was happening around that. I was so happy we did get to play and that the Chicago fans showed their loyalty to our troops and America. It was one of the best national anthems ever sung—with the most passion and the loudest standing ovation I had ever heard. Then, I went on and had a goal and an assist. I played really well, I could’ve had seven points. I was told by the media that they were ready to give the MVP award to me but then Vincent Damphousse scores three goals in the last three minutes of the game. So, they had to re-tally it up and give the award to Vinny Damphousse. A cool thing was that my trainer put Wayne Gretzky next to me during my first All-Star game. Seven years prior to that, Gretz had taken me out for breakfast to try to convince me to play in the Hull Olympiques which was his team. It was very cool to see him again.
FM: After being drafted eighth overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, who was the first person you called afterwards and what was your initial reaction after being drafted?
JR: Everyone who meant anything to me was there when I got picked so I didn’t have to leave and call them or anything. I was going into this draft at 150 pounds soaking wet so my agent was telling me “Don’t let them take off your shirt, don’t let them put you on a scale,” just all this stuff so they wouldn’t be able to know my weight. I wanted them to see the size of my heart and the words that came out of my mouth instead. But, I didn’t do a lot of the things they wanted me to. I showed them my confidence and then told them about how they should draft me and that I love to win, essentially showed that I wanted it more than anybody else. I actually ran into Mike Keenan in the bathroom at the restaurant I was at that night. He tried to talk to me while I was peeing (laughs).
FM: In 1992, you helped Chicago reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in almost 20 years. What was that like for you and did you have a favourite memory from that final game?
JR: My experience with that was that it went from good to sour, so the memory is a bit of both. We ran off 11 straight wins and set a record for the most wins by a team in the playoffs. Then there was Pittsburgh who had won seven in a row. So, we were up 4 – 1 in the first game, but the moment of the game changed and we lost 5 – 4. Then we went on to lose four games straight. Both us and Pittsburgh went on to finish with 11 games won but, you know, they just happened to win the last four and get the cup. That put a damper on everything else because then our 11 wins didn’t matter.
FM: You accomplished so much throughout your career, including becoming a nine-time NHL All-Star, a two-time U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team member, setting team records and much more. Which accomplishment are you most proud of to date and why?
JR: For me, it was winning that silver medal. I think that the 2002 Olympic final was the best game I had ever been a part of – in particular because it was against Canada. It was such a big rivalry and to get to be in that game and on that stage against the team that was the best in the world versus the team that I looked up to was incredible. That was the moment when I knew the USA had become a super-power in hockey.
FM: What was the transition like for you when moving from Chicago to Phoenix and how did you enjoy your time with the Coyotes?
JR: I loved it. I didn’t want it to happen because I wanted to be a Chicago Blackhawks player. Sometimes I still wonder what my life would be like if I never left. But, going to the valley and being in an area where it was a big responsibility to teach the game to a very unfamiliar fan-base was interesting. It was a good place to raise a family, the weather is nice, and Scottsdale and Phoenix really accepted us. We sold out America West Arena every night for the five straight years I was there.
FM: In 2004, you scored an OT goal that many Sens fans loved to see, specifically because it eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs. From what you can remember, what was it like to score that clutch OT goal for your team?
JR: That’s my favourite goal of my career. It was probably the most exciting 40 seconds of hockey that I can remember. I did get hit hard a couple times by Darcy Tucker and then he hit Sami Kapanen so hard that Sami’s brain went to another country. It’s funny, I always tell this story: I was sitting in the locker room in between things and envisioned scoring the goal. I could see where I wanted it and everything. So, I told myself that if I got the opportunity that’s where I would shoot. I would do that often actually, sit in the locker room and envision what I was going to do that game. But, when I shot that puck, I aimed for the perfect part of the net. It was that one upper corner where it couldn’t go any higher or any lower, it couldn’t hit the net any faster, and couldn’t have surprised Ed (Belfour) more because he thought I was going for the far low corner. The rivalry between Philly and Toronto back then was so fierce and to be able to score on, who I thought, was one of the best goal tenders in the world, and to do it in Toronto was phenomenal. That building went from cheering pandemonium to as quiet as a morgue.
FM: You’ve always been a big supporter of charitable initiatives when it comes to giving back to the community. Why has it been so important to you and what’s your biggest motivator for continuing to give back? Do you think it’s important for other athletes to do so as well?
JR: I think there’s a lot of reasons why it’s important, and honestly, it’s a gift to be able to show up to an event and have the ability to raise money just by attending. We can announce we’re going somewhere and then charge a certain amount for people to come hangout and see us; then make sure all that money goes to a charity of some kind. How many other people in this world have that ability?
FM: Tell us a little bit about your career as an analyst for NBC Sports?
JR: I’ve been doing it for seven years now and it’s been amazing. I ended up learning a lot from television. You have to know when to say things, what to say, how to say it. You have to learn to speak while someone else is talking in your ear and to not be afraid of the camera. Your vocabulary has to be understandable for at least 50 percent of the people watching. It’s been really fun for me, I can keep my influence and perspective of the game while staying close to it.
FM: Having been to Ottawa many times over the years and having played Junior years in the Ottawa-surrounding area, what have been your favourite things to do while here in the nation’s capital?
JR: I just remember having such a blast in Ottawa as a whole, it was one of the best times in my life. Going out to the bars with the boys and all that, it was so fun. I didn’t get to play there long, but I play well there.
FM: Looking at the Ottawa Senators NHL team this past year, who, in your opinion, were some of the key players in your eyes?
JR: I really like watching Hoffman play, I think he’s a very good hockey player. He’s adept at scoring goals, and he knows the game fairly well. I think Turris has a lot of talent and the capability to be a wonderful player but he needs to be more consistent. He tries to just let his talent do the work but sometimes you need to bury your head and put your work boots on and go after it. When that guy decides to go for it, he is pretty awesome. I’m a big Bobby Ryan fan, I enjoy watching him play. The Senators have talent, it’s all about their work boots and putting on their hardhats. I think the new coach has done a great job and really has given these guys another chance. He was responsible for getting this team into the playoffs.
FM: What’s the best piece of advice you were given throughout your career?
JR: I’ve had a lot. Some advice that I’ve heard is that you can never work hard enough because there’s always someone working harder than you. You might not see it or hear it, but sooner or later you’re going to feel it. Whether it’s on the ice or in a job, it could happen. Don’t ever think that you have it made. There’s always someone lurking behind you waiting to kick you out. My mom always told me, treat people the way you want to be treated, don’t disrespect people, until they cross you. That was some advice I really tried to make myself aware of all the time.