Saturday Feb.11 at Jobing.com Arena Jeremy Roenick, known affectionately by fans as JR, will become the seventh player inducted into the Phoenix Coyotes Ring Of Honor.
The arena is sure to be buzzing Saturday with fans telling tales of their favorite JR memory, and there are a lot of them. Roenick has the a Hall Of Fame resume through his on-ice accolades (513 goals, 703 assist, 1463 penalty minutes), but his lasting contribution to the game came through his off-ice persona.
Roenick tells a story about seeing Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, playing in Hartford, Conn. The hockey legend came over to the glass where Roenick was and dumped snow over the top of the glass onto his head. Howe skated by a second time and gave the young Roenick a wink. He describes the moment in an interview with the Star Phoenix saying, "those five seconds changed my life."
A long time Coyote fan once told me a story about going to see JR at an autograph signing in Phoenix. Roenick stayed till every fan was gone and even thanked the fans for taking time out of their day to come see him. He got the big picture. He was fortunate enough to play the game he loved for a living, but the fans were the ones who kept the game going and he appreciated them.
Roenick worked hard to become one of the most important players in the history of 'Yotes hockey and the defining moment of his drive and hard work has to be his run in with Derian Hatcher of the Dallas Stars.
Roenick played the majority of his 20-year NHL career with a target on his back, and on April 14,1999 Hatcher hit the bulls-eye. Hatcher locked on and charged at Roenick, breaking his jaw in multiple places. Roenick got up after a few seconds on the ice, skated to his bench, spit out a mouthful of blood while adjusting what was left of his severely mangled jaw, and got back on the rink for his next shift. Oh and did I mention, his thumb was also broken on the same play. There were a lot of new JR fans after that game.
Can you think of a NHL player who brought as much attention to the game as Roenick? Sure, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are some of the best players off all-time, but neither of them can give an interview like Roenick. The guy was a fan-favorite when he played in Phoenix and now is a fan-favorite commentator on NBC. His charisma is unrivaled, and unlike a lot of other athletes the things he said felt genuine (even though sometimes very brash and controversial).
After Roenick's retirement in 2007 Yahoo! Sports Ross McKeon wrote, "Throw all the numbers out the window and try to find another player over the last 20 years who brought more attention to the league with his colorful personality, his outgoing nature and his honest, often controversial opinions than Roenick. Brett Hull is the only player who even comes close. And he finishes a distance second."
As a Coyote, Roenick led the team in scoring from 1998-2001 and was an All-Star twice. Roenick played 454 games for the Coyotes and amassed 152 goals, 227 assists, 379 points and 596 penalty minutes. Roenick scored 24 or more goals in five of his six seasons with the Coyotes. In 2010 Roenick was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, coincidentally in the same class as Derian Hatcher.
"We are very pleased to induct Jeremy into the Coyotes Ring of Honor," said Mike Nealy, Coyotes "JR was a very important and popular player for our organization who helped launch our franchise in the Valley in 1996. He had an incredible career and is deserving of this honor. We look forward to celebrating his career with the Coyotes on February 11."
I have left JR's most important contribution to hockey, no, the world, for last. Anyone who played EA Sports video game NHL 94 knows that JR was the one player in the game who could thoroughly dominate you. He would skate circles around your entire team and easily light up your tender.
"College kids come up to me and say that they made it through college simply by playing myself on the video games in their video game bets or their weekly playoff games. They've told me that they won money simply because they were me in their video games because I was a stud," Roenick said in an interview with NHL.com. IGN.com even ranked Roenick as the 4th best video game athlete ever.