And yet another significant part of our initial interest in this sport retires.
Jeremy Roenick officially hung up his skates yesterday.
If you're like us, you jumped on the Penguins' bandwagon when they won the Stanley Cup in 1991. We were in sixth grade when just about everything in your life is bandwagon so we think we can be forgiven. Our lives pretty much revolved around snap braclets, Air Nike Bo Jacksons and the Penguins.
And by extension, the Penguins generated an interest of the sport of hockey as a whole for us. And when we first started following the NHL, the Blackhawks were on the of NHL's elite teams and Roenick was their best player.
Roenick just belonged in that magnificent uniform. He brought a dazzling set of skills and combined them with a physical edge that perhaps made him the best all-around American player ever. He could score as evidenced by the three 100-point seasons he put together. He played physical as he could throw his body around on the forecheck. He could take faceoffs, play in all three parts of the ice and later in his career, he became a shootout specialist.
At the young age of 22, Roenick led a Blackhawks team to an NHL-record 11-game winning streak and an appearance in the Stanley Cup final for the first time in almost 20 years. Roenick would maintain his high level of play for Chicago for four more seasons. In the eight seasons he was in the Windy City, Blackhawks fans always saw their team reach the postseason.
He bolted to the Coyotes their first season in Phoenix and help bring that franchise a bit of respectability in a new market as it reached the postseason each of its first four Pablo Picasso-esque seasons in the desert.
Roenick joined the Flyers prior to the 2001-02 season and spent three seasons on Broad Street. All three seasons ended in the postseason and Roenick led the team in scoring twice.
A season in Los Angeles and a return to Phoenix in 2006-07 saw Roenick miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the the first time in his NHL career.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, a former teammate of Roenick's in Chicago, brought him to San Jose where as a role player, Roenick - Surprise! - helped the Sharks reach the postseason twice.
In 20 NHL seasons, Roenick missed the playoff only three times. That's amazing. Granted, it doesn't seem difficult to reach the NHL's postseason considering over half of the league's 30 teams get in, but to put that total in perspective, Wayne Gretzky played 20 NHL seasons, and missed the playoffs four times. Roenick was a staple of spring-time hockey.
Roenick's offensive numbers shouldn't be overlooked either. His 1,216 points are the 39th best total of all-time. He's one of three American players with 1,200 career points (Mike Modano and Phil Housley are the others). and he's one of four 500-goal scorers from below the 49th parallel (Modano, Keith Tkachuk and Joe Mullen are the others).
Perhaps Roenick's biggest impact on the game was what he did for the United States in international play. Roenick, along with players such as Tony Amonte, Mike Richter, Mike Modano and Chris Chelios were the nucleus of the best prolonged run of success by American hockey in international competitions. Prior to this group coming along, American teams were long shots for bronze medals at tournaments. Success such as the gold medals won at the 1960 and 1980 Olympics were rare, unexpected occurences. But when Roenick and others came along, they made the United States a legit threat in any tournament.
Roenick also had a huge impact off the ice. He was the NHL's version of Charles Barkley except he wasn't a fat, disgusting pig of a human being. Sure, Roenick would say some things that were outright stupid such as the time he told fans to kiss his rear during the NHL lockout, but he was honest and he had personality. He didn't just recite the boring old, "Well, we gotta go hard on the forecheck and dig in the corners." And that's something you don't find in abundance in NHL locker rooms.
All in all Roenick was good for hockey. He might've blurted out things that made you cringe or even made you angry, but he always went all-out on the ice. And you can never bemoan a player of any allegiance for doing that.
And he made Wayne Gretzky's head bleed (Link NSFW).
Here's Roenick as we prefer to remember him, as a Blackhawk through the voice of Chicago play-by-play man Pat Foley:
We also prefer to remember Roenick as the dynamo who would rip one-timers set up by Steve Larmer on NHL '94: