Truth be told, I wish Jeremy Roenick could have played forever. Maybe just his mouth can show up from now on. That was often the best part of JR anyhow.
Roenick, who retired—this time for good, he says—from the NHL the other day after 20 seasons, was one of the few guys in the league who had the personality of something better than a dish rag.
The NHL is an association of nice guys. It could stand for the No Heathen League.
A bunch of quiet, unassuming, humble dudes from places like Brantford, Ontario and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. You’ve heard us media folks gush about their demeanor and how gosh darn terrific they are.
No offense, but at the same time, NHL players aren’t the Valhalla of good copy.
You’ll find more quips at an accountants convention.
So it was that Roenick was a breath of fresh air.
He could score on the ice, and register on the Richter scale off of it, with his mouth.
His latest salvo was fired just a couple months ago, while the Red Wings were engaging the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Roenick, a former teammate and current friend of defenseman Chris Chelios, blabbed that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock held some sort of ill will toward Cheli, and that he “never liked him.” Roenick cited mysterious incidents that supposedly occurred that lent credence to his assertion.
That was why, JR said, Chelios wasn’t going to play in the Finals.
Yes, it was another eye-roller from Roenick, who was full of them over the years.
But he was one of the few who dared to try to put the NHL on the map through means other than propping up star kids like Sidney Crosby.
Roenick was like Brett Hull—another superstar who shot from the hip and didn’t care who got in the line of fire.
But players like Roenick and Hull were too few and far between. The rest of them were the same guy.
It’s true. The more hockey players you talk to, the more they sound like the same person. Nice, polite, soft-spoken, full of cliches.
There’s nothing wrong with that—if you’re not battling NASCAR and soccer and lawn darts for your share of the public’s consciousness.
But the NHL doesn’t have the luxury of blandness. They can’t afford a league full of prim and propers. They need the Roenicks and the Hulls and the Don Cherrys.
With Roenick retired—he tried to quit before but the San Jose Sharks talked him out of it—who is now the league cut-up?
Take your time. I’ll wait.
The NHL used to have clowns and jokers sprinkled throughout its six-team alliance.
There was Eddie Shack, who even had a song written about him.
“Clear the track! Here comes Shack!”
Eddie played for a bunch of teams and had a bushy, Fu Manchu-like mustache and didn’t so much skate around the ice as figure eight around it in a reckless manner.
There was Howie Young, who played for the Red Wings—a carousing man off the ice and a carousing man on it, too. Howie didn’t win all of his fights—far from it—but there was never a man he didn’t want to take on.
There was Bill “Cowboy” Flett, who was the first player to wear a full beard on the ice.
Bob “Hound Dog” Kelly. Dave “The Hammer” Schultz.
I remember seeing John Wensink, who played for the Boston Bruins and wore a silly-looking Afro-like hairdo that looked like a fright wig, take on the entire Minnesota North Stars bench one night at the Boston Garden.
There were no takers.
Even our old Red Wing, Ted Lindsay.
Terrible Ted responded to death threats during the playoffs in Toronto by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime and skating around the Maple Leaf Gardens ice, pretending to mow the Toronto fans down with a machine gun—his hockey stick. (see above)
So farewell, JR. You were often a clown, sometimes a jerk, but rarely dull.
The NHL could use a few more like you, I’d say.