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Thursday, October 22, 2009

NHL Legend Jeremy Roenick On Retiring, Regrets, Fame & The Future

By Sarah Spain
Originally published 8/9/09 on MouthpieceSports.com

NHL legend and former Chicago Blackhawk Jeremy Roenick took time out to talk to MOUTHPIECESPORTS personality Sarah Spain about his decision to retire from the National Hockey League after 20 years. Roenick talks about leaving Chicago, the state of hockey and his advice for Patrick Kane and the rest of today's players. He even reveals which opponent he'd most like to deck.

SARAH SPAIN: Now that your hockey career is over, there's so much to reflect upon. Of all the things you’ve accomplished, what are you most proud of?

JEREMY ROENICK: I think just my career in general. I don’t think there’s any one specific thing, but if I had to pick one I think scoring 500 goals. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d be able to accomplish that, especially with as few people that have done that. But I think the fact that I’ve played the game as hard as I have for the length of time that I have, without really wearing down. I was able to keep up a very, very physical style of the game and my body withstood it right to the end, so I’m pretty lucky about that.

SS: Looking back are there things you regret—interviews, quotes, actions on or off the ice?

JR: The only thing I wonder is what would have been different if I didn’t get traded from Chicago in ’96. What would have happened if I would have stayed there. Obviously not all of it was my doing. The Hawks, at the time, didn’t believe in the big contracts and didn’t think that the contracts and the salaries would get to the level that they’ve escalated to, which is understandable—they had their belief and I had mine. You know, that pretty much led to my big move. But nothing that I said I regretted. I probably wish maybe I said it a little differently or made sure that the media understood it better so they didn’t throw me under the bus at times. But no, there’s nothing that I regret I said or did…but I would like to know what it would have been like if I had played my whole career in Chicago. It would have been pretty unbelievable.

SS: Now that that’s all over—and your career is over—do you see your departure from the Hawks the same way you did when it happened or is there some honesty and truth about what went down that was never really revealed at the time?

JR: You know, I think that’s all…well, Bill Wirtz had to run his business the way he saw fit. He did a lot of things that a lot of people didn’t like. You know, he didn’t put games on TV, he didn’t agree with the salary structure as it was moving forward. As soon as the salaries were being released and disclosure came about and salaries started escalating, he didn’t believe that they would go to the level that they did—and that’s perfectly fine. So…I understand, it’s his business and he can run it the way he deserves and he wants. I was in full agreement—it was with that same thought process that I ran my life; that was, at the time that I was in Chicago, I wanted to get paid $4 million. They didn’t think that I was worth that. They thought that that was a lot of money to pay an athlete. You know, they didn’t think that I’d be able to get that—well, big deal, four years later I was making double that $4 million. That was their thinking, they were wrong in their thinking in terms of where the salaries were going and, in general, it lost me for the rest of my career. I think it did hurt me a little bit…but it also hurt the Hawks with where they went for the next 12 years. It’s nice that Rocky [Wirtz] has changed all of that thinking and has really brought the Hawks back onto the map and done great things with this team. Now it’s paying off for them ‘cause the fans are coming back and it’s a full building and there’s excitement again. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

SS: You’ve mentioned several times that you’d think about joining the Hawks’ front office—is that still an appealing idea even after everything that has happened this offseason?

JR: Oh, absolutely. Without question. I’m a Hawk through and through, it’s in my blood. That’s where I started, that’s where the best days of my career were. I’m very, very proud that I got to wear the Indian Head on my chest. There’s no question. My loyalty is also to Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks and to the Flyers—it’s to the people that I worked for that showed me class and did things for me. You know, I’ll show my loyalty to them. If the Hawks ever came to me and asked me to do something and work with them, or to join the front office or something, that would be like a dream come true for me; to get to represent the team that put me in the life I’m in. I’m very, very fortunate for that and I would love that.

SS: Have you reached out to anyone in the Blackhawks organization or spoken to anyone about any of the offseason issues, whether it be keeping quiet about the Hossa injury or the problems with the qualifying offers?

JR: I have a lot of opinions. I understand that some things are business-related and have to stay under wraps. I have my own opinions about the Dale Tallon situation, I have my own opinions about the Hossa situation. But, you know what…you know, if I was in a media position…I would speak my opinions, but I’m going to be politically correct and say that they choose to do business the way that they want to do business and…you know, can’t fight them on that.

SS: During your retirement press conference you talked about a special moment you shared with Gordie Howe as a little boy and the effect that had on you for the rest of your life—how it made you always want to take time to connect with your fans. Have you ever had a teammate you felt you needed to tell to straighten up and be a better guy with the fans?

JR: Absolutely, and I have. I have gotten into a lot of guys’ faces and I have yelled and I have screamed. I preach to a lot of guys that they have to be better. I think Keith Tkachuk has gotten a lot better with the fans because of our friendship and me telling him that he’s gotta give more time, you know, to sign, and to not be so standoffish. I think Tony Amonte has learned a lot from watching me deal with the media and the fans and he has become very good with both. I think those are two examples of guys I think have learned from the way I’ve dealt with fans and media and have gotten very good at doing those things.

SS: What do you say to those who think your interest in fame and celebrity took away from your game at times?

JR: I think it’s all just excuses to try to find flaws, because if they can argue with 500 goals and almost 1,300 points and almost 1,400 penalty minutes and all the other accolades—having the most game-winning goals in American history. If they can argue that my media took away from my game, well I find it very hard for them to win that argument.

SS: Lots of talk about you taking a gig in broadcasting—do you ever worry that your sometimes controversial opinions would get you in trouble with a network or do you think you’d be more like Charles Barkley, who gets away with it because it’s clear he’s speaking from experience?

JR: I wouldn’t be affiliated with any teams, I’d be independent. I don’t answer to anybody, I answer to myself, so I would be very much like a Charles Barkley. I’d very much say how I feel and how I see it and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad. I’ll also maintain a level of respectfulness, not demeaning someone ‘cause of their race or their religion or their ethics. Just tell it like it is, whether it’s good or bad. If you don’t like it, see ya later.

SS: Are there guys in the league that you would like to call up, maybe tell them to spice things up? Maybe you think they have the opportunity to fill a hole that you’re leaving in the league, personality-wise.

JR: You know I’ll tell you the truth I don’t think guys have the guts to do it. I don’t think there’s guys out there that have the—for lack of a better word—I don’t think they have the balls to step up and be an individual and push the limits of what they can say and what they can do, because they worry what their teams are gonna say, their GMs are gonna say and what their teammates are gonna say.

SS: Do you think that that’s the state of hockey today?

JR: I think it’s the mentality of the league and the squeaky clean image that the NHL likes to have. That’s the vision that they hold and if that works for them and that’s what they want to do, like I said, I don’t tell people how to run their businesses or their companies or their leagues. Publicity is an amazing thing in this world and sometimes negative publicity is better than no publicity at all because it puts you on the map. But, the NHL is a wonderful organization, it’s a first-class organization and a squeaky clean organization. There are a lot of guys who will be very reluctant to challenge that and I totally understand it.

SS: So speaking of sqeaky-clean images, the Patrick Kane arrest situation is adding fuel to an already volatile situation in Chicago, what with the offseason the Hawks have had. Kane’s a young guy, what kind of advice would you give him?

JR: Well first of all he’s a hockey player and just saying that, he’s a respectful person and he’s a good person. I know him very well and I’ve talked to him at length at times. I know he’s a really good kid. People use youth as an excuse for a lot of things and I think he will use that, but I also think the experience he’s going through will teach him a lot about being a professional athlete, about being a celebrity and about putting himself in the proper situations and acting in certain ways. Patrick Kane is now gonna realize that he represents one of the most storied franchises in all of sports and one of the greatest organizations in the world, the National Hockey League. He’s gonna have to answer to those people and he’s not gonna like having to answer to those people with what happened and that will stick with him. He’s respectful and he’s smart and he’ll learn from it….he’s gonna become a better person because of it.

SS: Beyond the hockey-related gigs and broadcasting, is there another job or experience you hope to have that no one would ever expect from you?

JR: Yeah, I’m gonna sell insurance. Can you believe it? This is gonna be important to me, ‘cause who would have ever thought that Jeremy Roenick was gonna sell insurance? I was asked to join forces with an insurance company and a friend of mine here in Arizona. I said the only way that I will do it is if you make sure that you take care of the people that have taken care of me my whole career. And that’s make sure that you save them money, give them good coverage, and if I bring somebody’s account to you, you give them the best possible rate that they can find on the market. He promised that so I said: okay, let’s do it. I will go out and I’ll bring people to you and make sure that I take care of those people and all their coverage needs are well-met but they save money at the same time. It’s kind of like a way of giving back, also.

I’m dealing with an energy drink, too, called Verve. I’m doing things for kids’ charities. Trying to put some good juices and good vitamins into kids so they don’t have to drink the cokes and the sodas and the high sugar stuff. Trying to take care of kids out there.

SS: Alright, let’s finish with a speed round:

Toughest guy you ever played against? Mark Messier
Goalie you most hated to face? Dominik Hasek
Team you played the best against? Toronto Maple Leafs
Favorite coach to play for? Mike Keenan, but I also really enjoyed playing for Hitch [Ken Hitchcock] and Ron Wilson.
Biggest hockey idol? Rick Middleton
Player you’d most like to punch off the ice? Jordin Tootoo

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