GLENDALE – Coming from the Chicago Blackhawks, an “Original Six” franchise dripping with history and tradition, to the Arizona desert and a team in its inaugural season was a big change in itself for Jeremy Roenick 19 years ago.
But when he was introduced at a press conference as a new Phoenix Coyote in August of 1996, Roenick had another surprise waiting – the color splashed, Kachina-inspired Coyote sweater he slipped into in front of the cameras.
But there was one more surprise: He loved the ‘Robo Coyote” right away.
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"I know that jersey gets a lot of grief but I liked it. I liked it from the first time I saw it," Roenick said. "Not everyone like them and it was about 50-50 in the dressing room. There was a lot of 'I can’t believe we have to wear this thing.' I don’t think (Coyotes captain and good friend) Keith Tkachuk liked them very much, but he doesn’t like anything, so what’s new? But to me, they were creative and unique and they were colorful. They stood out."
Perhaps it’s not a big surprise he was drawn to the sweater. Creative, unique and colorful is perfect description of Roenick himself, who scored 152 of his 513 NHL goals during six seasons with the Coyotes and became one of the most popular players in franchise history.
His name is in the Ring of Honor at Gila River Arena and he’s the perfect poster boy for the team’s first "Throwback Night" on Thursday March 5 against the Vancouver Canucks. The Coyotes will put their current red and white home jerseys for the black throwbacks of 1996-2003 and 5,000 fans will receive Roenick bobbleheads with him wearing the old school logo.
"I love the bobblehead they are giving away," he said. "It’s the only one with the throwback jersey that they’ve done and I think it’s the most lifelike of all the ones they’ve done of me. I want this one."
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Former teammates Greg Adams, Sean Burke, Keith Carney, Craig Janney and Nikolai Khabibulin will join Roenick on the ice for a pregame puck drop. Janney and Khabibulin were teammates of Roenick along with Tkachuk, Mike Gartner, Rick Tocchet and Cliff Ronning on the early, potent Coyote teams that earned an immediate following in Arizona but couldn’t push past the first round of the playoffs.
Three of the 42 players who have scored 500 NHL goals (Gartner, Roenick and Tkachuk) were on the first Phoenix Coyotes team and Tocchet (440 goals) joined them a year later when they had the eventually Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings on the ropes before falling in six games.
"The town was rocking and we were playing well. Then we lost Khabibulin to an injury and that really hurt us," Roenick said. "That’s why I know there is a good fan base there. I’ve seen it."