Jeremy Roenick Says Goodbye
Jeremy Roenick, 39, a noted talker and one of the great characters of the game, got a little weepy during a lengthy recap of his career and also drew numerous laughs with his recollections.
"Mike Keenan was one of the craziest sons of bitches I've ever seen," Roenick said to chuckles. "He scared me into adapting the way I play. I was at Kalamazoo and he grabbed me by the throat and said if I didn't hit the next guy I saw, I wouldn't play a game in the National Hockey League. I saw the look in his eyes, and I really believed him."
His eyes starting to water, Roenick continued, "I really believe because of him. ... He's why I played the game the way I played it."
Sharks GM Doug Wilson, who was Roenick's roommate when Roenick was 18, said that Roenick "epitomizes the game. It's not just about ability, you've got to have the heart, and his heart fills this building."
Roenick said that coming out of high school, he remembered that his agent, Neil Abbott, didn't want him to get on the scale at the draft because he only weighed 158 pounds. "I was so small, he thought I wouldn't get drafted," Roenick said.
Roenick went eighth to Chicago, kicking off a 20-year career that is likely to put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He's one of 24 players with 500 goals and 700 assists, and 17 of those are in the Hall. He's third in goals among U.S.-born players, with 513, and points, with 1,216. He'll be eligible for the Hall in 2012.
Thursday wasn't the first time Roenick retired -- he made a semi-, unofficial retirement announcement by text in 2007 before Wilson lured him back to the league, another memory that choked Roenick up.
"He called and asked me to fly to San Jose, but I was a little overweight by about 20 pounds," Roenick said. ("25," Wilson interjected.) "He said, 'Do you still think you can play?' I said, 'Doug, I can still play.'
"He said, 'Do you still love this game?' I said, 'Doug, I love this game. I love the players, I love the league, I love the fans.' He said, 'That's all I need to hear.' Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks gave me my life back. They gave me my love for the game back and more importantly, my respect back. ... This city has brought me back to life."
In a "This is Your Life" kind of segment, several notables called in to express their admiration for him, including other top American players Mike Modano, Chris Chelios and Keith Tkachuk, leading to a lot of "I love you, man," moments.
"You knew you had to keep your head up," Modano said of playing against Roenick. "Because you knew he was coming for us -- especially me. That made me focus and work harder."
Said Roenick, "I came for you because I never wanted you to beat me. I measure myself against the best, and since we were 15, you were the best."
Tkachuk jokingly wondered why so much was being made of Roenick's retirement, saying, "He'll either be on Dancing with the Stars or the next judge with American Idol." Coincidentally, the idea of Roenick on Dancing with the Stars might not be far-fetched; there have been discussions about him really doing the show.
Roenick said later that if people have seen him dance on his skates, they can only imagine how well he can perform without them. "It's pretty good," he said.
Said Chelios, "I'm getting ready for next season and I was hoping you'd be getting ready for next season. ... But I don't see you disappearing into the sunset. There's still a place for you in hockey. There hasn't been a better ambassador for hockey in the league in the past 18-20 years."
"I still think you should retire with me," Roenick said.
"I might be, I just don't know it," Chelios responded.
"I dreaded this day," Chelios said, "but you have nothing to regret,. You did it all and played hard to the end -- like you did when you were 18. ... I can still remember walking in and seeing that kid, 170 pounds soaking wet, heart as big as a whale."
Roenick said he plans to stay involved in the game, possibly in management (Wilson gave him an amused sideways glance) but the consensus is that he'll wind up in TV, where he's a natural. He said he's been approached about a few TV opportunities already.
Asked how he'd like to be remembered, Roenick said, "I want to be remembered as a warrior, as a guy who gave everything on and off the ice, who could hurt you on the scoreboard or in the corner. I want to be remembered as a guy who hated losing more than he liked to win."