On America’s birthday, the NHL lost its most recognizable all-American player. According to a report out of Philadelphia, Jeremy Roenick has walked away from hockey after an 18-year career in which he was known as much for filling up reporters’ notebooks as he was for stuffing the stat sheet.
Attempts to reach Roenick on Wednesday were unsuccessful, but he did respond to a text message from the Philadelphia Inquirer, writing, “I’m retiring; is that still news?”
A spokesman for the Coyotes said he could neither confirm nor deny the report.
A longtime fan favorite in Phoenix where he spent six seasons, including 2006-07, Roenick had wavered with this decision for several months. In December, with his production and playing time down sharply, the Coyotes center said he “absolutely” would retire after the season. However, a strong finish — four goals and eight points in his final 10 games — revived his love of the sport, and Roenick said he wanted to come back and would even play for the minimum salary.
But with no takers through the first four days of free agency, the 37-year-old has apparently decided to say farewell.
Colorful and controversial, always entertaining and at times electrifying on the ice, Roenick ends his career just five goals shy of 500, a feat accomplished by only two other U.S.-born players, Joe Muellen and Mike Modano.
“If this is true, I’m very disappointed,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan when informed of the news.
“I’m a huge fan of J.R. as a friend and as a player ... I hope it’s not for sure because I’d love for him to get 500 goals.”
In 1,252 regular season games with Phoenix, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Roenick also collected 675 assists, 1,170 points (third among Americans) and 1,413 penalty minutes.
Roenick made the playoffs 15 times but never won a Stanley Cup. The closest he came was in 1992 when Chicago made it to the finals, but was swept by Pittsburgh. In 136 playoff games, he had 51 goals, 116 points and 101 penalty minutes.
None of those postseason points, according to longtime friend and teammate Tony Amonte, was bigger than the one he netted for Philadelphia in Game 6 of the 2004 Eastern Conference semifinals.
“The biggest goal I remember from J.R. is the overtime winner against Toronto to clinch the series and put us into the Eastern Conference finals,” said Amonte, who has known Roenick since the two were 15. “It was an unbelievable goal and great move and those are the moments J.R. lived for.”
Fans in Phoenix, though, will probably remember him more for the grittiness and courage with which he played.
Those qualities were never defined better than in a game against Dallas in April 1999. After Roenick delivered a hard hit to Modano, Stars enforcer Derian Hatcher retaliated with a blow of his own, shattering Roenick’s jaw. Still it was not enough to force him out of the game.
“After he broke his jaw, he played two more shifts,” Doan said. “Blood was coming out of his mouth because (Hatcher) had cracked his jaw so badly. His teeth were split, so blood was trickling out, mouthfuls of it. . . . On top of that, he had a broken thumb because he had gotten slashed right before that by Craig Ludwig.”
“We had a five-on-three power play,” Roenick said.
“I said (to the trainer), 'It’s already broken. I might as well go out and try to score a goal.’”
The two-time Olympian and nine-time All-Star eventually sought medical attention, but three weeks later, well ahead of schedule, he returned to the ice with a full facial shield for Game 7 of Phoenix’s first-round playoff series against St. Louis.
“He sucked it up a lot,” Modano said. “He gave hits and took hits, but he always kept coming back for more.”
Added Detroit defenseman and former Chicago teammate Chris Chelios, “Every game he came to compete. He showed up and played hard. Not only was he a goal scorer, he was a power forward. Whether it was a big hit or big goal, he always came to play.”
Off the ice, though, Roenick came to entertain.
“I think that’s what I do best is use my mouth,” he said earlier this season.
Roenick was never shy about speaking his mind and it often got him in trouble. His one-liners were often instant classics, and he wasn’t afraid to wage a war of words with opposing players. During a playoff series against Colorado, he commented on a poor performance by Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy, saying “I don’t know where Roy was in Game 3, maybe up in the stands looking for his jock strap.”
Roy replied, “I cannot really hear what Jeremy says because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.”
As for what’s next, Roenick has said he would like to act or work in sports broadcasting, mediums he has tried his hand at in recent years. Roenick also is partners in a lounge/high-end T-shirt boutique in Scottsdale and hopes to expand the business to the East Coast.
“Hopefully he stays involved with hockey somehow,” Doan said. “We’ll all benefit from having his personality and character in our sport.”