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Jeremy Roenick: Courage Beyond Belief

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
This is an excerpt from the special Jeremy Roenick Heritage Night edition of Blackhawks Magazine, which also includes a fan Q&A with J.R., available at the November 15th game against San Jose.

Let’s get one thing straight: Jeremy Roenick hasn’t retired from hockey.

“It’s not ‘a retirement’ at all – it’s a transition,” says the 39-year-old Roenick, who… let’s go with ‘hung up his pads’ this off-season after a 20-year professional career. “Retirement means you’re done with something, and I know that hockey will always be a part of my life.”

A euphemism may seem odd coming from Roenick, consistently one of the National Hockey League’s bluntest voices over the past two decades, but all you have to do is ask about his “transition” in detail for his trademark tongue to go to work.

“Let’s put it this way: I’m enjoying not being out on the ice and getting my [butt] kicked left, right and center,” he says. “Twenty years was enough of a beating for my body. This transition has been really good for me and I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life. What that is, though, I’m still not sure.”

If you think that sounds like a man who gave everything he could for his team and teammates, you’d be right. Roenick’s defining personal characteristic, even more than his brutal honesty or theatrical style, was his toughness and dedication.

“He never got the credit for how tough he was,” former Phoenix Coyotes teammate Shane Doan told when Roenick announced his retirement. “He broke his jaw when he was playing with us against Dallas. Derian Hatcher hit him with an elbow and it split his jaw. Blood was pouring out. He came to the bench, spat out the blood and went out and played another shift. On the same hit they found out later that he broke his thumb and you would have never known. That’s how he played the game. He would refer to it as ‘J.R. Hockey.’ He was incredibly tough on top of being an unbelievable goal scorer.”

“He didn’t take it easy in his 20 years,” childhood friend and former teammate Tony Amonte recalled to “He played hard. He took on the best defensemen. He dropped the gloves. He had courage beyond belief.”

“I liked to be the guy who played through pain,” Roenick explains. “If I had the same injury as somebody else, I wanted to be the guy who came back in half the time they did. I wanted to be the guy who played hard and could do it all. If I was hurt, I wanted to be able to play hurt. I wanted to have that warrior mentality.”

It was that hard-nosed attitude matched with raw skill that drew the Blackhawks to Roenick in the 1988 Entry Draft, making him the eighth player taken overall. In his only year of junior hockey after playing prep at Thayer Academy in Massachusetts, Roenick recorded 70 points (34 G, 36 A) in just 28 games with the QMJHL’s Hull Olympiques. Roenick made his Blackhawks debut October 6, 1988 and scored 19 points in 20 games during his rookie season.

“I didn’t go into my career with any expectations – I was just happy to be in the NHL,” recalls Roenick. “I wanted to make sure that I stayed. Steve Larmer told me that getting into the NHL was the easy part; staying there was tough. I always played with that lesson in the back of my mind. I didn’t ever expect to do anything spectacular, but I just happened to blossom.”

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