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ROENICK THRIVES IN RETURN TO COYOTES

by Staff Writer / Arizona Coyotes
By: Matt Rosen

Photo Credit: Getty Images

If for some reason you've been on a deserted island and haven't picked up a newspaper, turned on computer or talked to anyone who is a Coyotes fan then you may not have heard, but it is true: fan favorite Jeremy Roenick is back in Phoenix and wearing a Coyotes jersey again. Roenick signed as a free agent during the off-season and he couldn't be to happier to don the Coyotes sweater for a second time, albeit different colors from the ones he wore during his first stint in Phoenix.

Roenick is excited to be back in Phoenix, however, before signing with the Coyotes, he was close to signing in Calgary and sporting the Flames logo on his chest. Then at the 11th hour, "JR" had a conversation with Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky, who tempted him with an offer he couldn't refuse.

"I was getting ready to sign with Calgary and (Gretzky) called," said Roenick. "The money was not an object for me; money was not part of the criteria in what was going to make my decision. I wanted a place where I was going to be happy, (I wanted) to come here and be home, to live in my own home with my family and my kids - the things that are most important to me ” was very intriguing."

Entering this season, Roenick was 46th on the NHL's all-time scoring list and third all-time for U.S.-born players with1,142 career points. His 484 goals ranks third all-time for U.S.-born players and 43rd in National Hockey League history. Roenick is the only player in NHL history to lead his team in goals, assists, points and penalty minutes in two different seasons (1999-2000 and 2000-01 with Coyotes).

Roenick is coming off his worst season since entering the NHL in 1988. Last season in Los Angeles, Roenick was able to net just nine goals and 13 assists in 58-games played. After failing to live up to his own expectations, Roenick contemplated hanging up his skates.

"I almost hung 'em up in January as the frustration (grew), as my comfort level on the ice (diminished) and the injuries I was going through," said Roenick. "I had a lot of issues with skate problems; I couldn't feel comfortable on the ice. I was not skating at all at the capacity that I could, that I knew I could, and because of that I was a deterrent to the team when I was on the ice, and that hurt me a lot mentally almost shut it down."

But Roenick rededicated himself to the game of hockey, decided his time had not passed him by and admitted to himself that he was not in great shape a season ago. This past summer, he worked out as hard as he ever had and got his body back to where it should be. Then he signed the deal to return to Phoenix.

"It is my home and I love it here more than anything and it is a place, that since we came here in '96, it's been very close to me," said Roenick. "My son is 9-years old and realizes what a professional athlete is and I think he's really enjoying the fruits of a professional father. He's big into hockey and the fact that he can come watch me play and be around me and the experience is something that he can take with him his entire life."

For most of Roenick's career he was the go-to-guy. He was the man, if your team needed a goal, out on the ice came Jeremy Roenick. At 36-years old, Roenick is not the same player he was when he entered the league 18 years ago, but he can indeed still play the game of hockey, and play it well.

"I'm going to be offensive regardless of whether I want to be or not, that's just my style of game," admitted Roenick. "Whether I score goals, make plays, be a playmaker or control the game, I want to be a hockey player. I want to be the player that dominates a game and I want to be a player that can make a difference. I know I can do that; I have done that this year. Yeah I have a different role, but I look to myself, I have high expectations of myself. Is it easier coming to rink knowing I don't have to be the offensive guy? Maybe a little bit, but I still put that kind of burden on myself. Right now I feel like I can control a hockey game. I can get that puck and I can take it from one end and take it all the way to the other end and make a play to set something up, and I haven't felt that in a long time."

Through the first 11 games of the season, and the Coyotes haven't gotten off to the start they had hoped for, but, in a press conference with the media, Gretzky stated that he believes Roenick might have been his best forward on the team through the early goings of the season. Those words being uttered by "The Great One" mean a lot whether you are a rookie playing in your first game or a veteran; it's a terrific thing to hear.

"It means everything in the world," said Roenick. "I have a total amount of respect for him. I've tried to come in and do everything he's asked me to do and keep my mouth shut and work and try and be a positive influence on his club like he's wanted me to. I said I was going to do a lot things over the summer and work hard to get my body in shape and just come back and be a solid asset to the team, and I am trying to do that, and it really gratifies me that a guy like (Gretzky) and your coach says such nice things. It really motivates me to come and work everyday."

Shane Doan is the captain of the Phoenix Coyotes. Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris and Ladislav Nagy are the alternates, but one doesn't have to be a captain to be a leader. Roenick knows this and embraces being a leader by passing along knowledge he has picked up over the course of his career to the younger players on this team. He hopes to teach them as much as he was taught by his mentors.

"I've always been like that," said Roenick. "I know when I was a kid, Steve Larmer, Michel Goulet, Doug Wilson, Denis Savard, they were constantly directing me, constantly saying 'do this, do this.' It was an everyday thing. I think sometimes it's easier coming from one of your teammates who has been there and done it rather than your coach. I am not afraid to give suggestions when I think it's needed. I know this game really well. I've played it for a long time. I know the do's and don'ts. I know the positioning. I know a lot of things and I think the kids would look up to the guys that have been around.I really enjoy that part of my job."

While the Phoenix Coyotes haven't had the start to their season that they had hoped for, Roenick says no player on this team is giving up, and everyone believes that things can and will get turned around.

"I don't think any of us would come to the rink with the excitement that we do everyday if we didn't (think that)," said Roenick. "I think we are a close knit team, a team that gets along with each other. We know we have guns. We have some key injuries right now that are very frustrating, but I think we have to step up as individuals and take control of that situation. But without question we have the guns to pull this out and have a solid year."

At 36 years of age and a career that spans three decades, Roenick continues to get the chills of a rookie every time he laces up his skates.

"I look forward to every second I am on the ice," he said. "Last year, I used to wake up and cringe that I had to go to the rink and put my skates on and get dressed but this year, I'm having a great time."

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