GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Coming from the Chicago Blackhawks, an Original Six franchise 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 1996, Roenick had another surprise waiting: the color-splashed, kachina-inspired sweater he slipped into in front of the cameras.
But there was one more surprise: He loved the "RoboCoyote" right away.
"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 liked 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) 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, who scored 152 of his 513 NHL goals during six seasons with the Coyotes and became one of the most popular players in their history.
His name is in the Ring of Honor at Gila River Arena and he's the perfect poster boy for their first Throwback Night on Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks. The Arizona Coyotes will put away their 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."
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 along with Tkachuk, Mike Gartner, Rick Tocchet and Cliff Ronning on the early, potent Coyotes who earned an immediate following in Arizona but couldn't push past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Three of the 42 players who have scored 500 NHL goals (Gartner, Roenick and Tkachuk) were on the first Coyotes team, and Tocchet (440 goals) joined them a year later when they had the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings on the ropes before losing 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.
Jeremy Roenick (Click to enlarge) Photo: Getty Images
"I know they built the arena in a difficult place (West Glendale), and you have to give people a reason to drive out there to see you. You need some big names, aka myself and Keith Tkachuk, those guys that people love or hate, but want to watch either way. Shane Doan has been a great player and ambassador for the team, but he's the ultimate nice guy. We were cocky, arrogant and tough to play against. It was a good story every night."
Though Thursday will be about looking back, the event comes when the Coyotes are in another state of flux, with a focus on the future.
Three years after reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time, the Coyotes have one of the NHL's worst records. General manager Don Maloney reset the organization at the NHL Trade Deadline, trading defensemen Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek and center Antoine Vermette to playoff contenders in return for prospects and draft picks that will make up a 3-5 year rebuilding plan.
Roenick said he approves of the plan and the biggest moves.
"You have to rebuild. It's the only way to go," he said. "They haven't won anything. They had a nice playoff run (in 2012) and they had a hot goalie (Mike Smith) who won two playoff rounds for them by himself. They haven't been to the playoffs in three years and it was getting worse.
"Now they are acquiring young players and draft picks and the ownership situation is positive. They understand what is needed. I like the Vermette deal. They got a first-round pick, which is a prime commodity. They got one from the Rangers too, and I really like the kid they got for Yandle (forward Anthony Duclair), he has a lot of pizzazz to his game and he's a goal-scorer with a lot of energy and ability. But they paid a heavy price.
"I love Keith Yandle. He's one of the most talented defensemen in the League. I know they have [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson to be that guy for them, but you look at Yandle's offensive numbers on that team without a lot of firepower up front. I'm really interested to see what happens with him on a team like the Rangers."