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Roenick still sparks American kids

by John McGourty

Many of today's up-and-coming young players cite Jeremy Roenick as an inspiration. Watch Jeremy Roenick highlights
How long has Jeremy Roenick been skating in hockey's spotlight?

A look at the record book pegs the 1988-89 season with the Chicago Blackhawks as the starting point. In other words, a long time ago. So long, that many of today's up-and-coming young players cite Roenick as an inspiration. In fact, T.J. Oshie, the 2005 first-round draft pick of the St. Louis now playing for the University of North Dakota, said one of his fondest memories was at an inline-hockey event where he got to play with Roenick.

"Hearing things like that makes me really, really proud," Roenick said. "It gives me a really good feeling inside to know that I've helped some of the kids get interested in hockey, to have that effect on kids in terms of their wanting to be a professional hockey player.

"I remember when I gave out the trophies at the bantam national championships a few years back, a number of years back, in Phoenix,” Roenick said. “At the time I didn't realize it, but I was giving one of the trophies out to the team from Alaska that won the bantam national championship, and Scott Gomez was on the team. He had told me the story a number of years later; 'That was one of the greatest things -- winning the bantam national championships was something, but when you gave out the trophies, it made it even more exciting,'" Gomez told Roenick.

"You know, that made me feel real good to know that a guy who's now a very big star in the National Hockey League was at the tip of my fingers receiving a national award. It's gratifying, it really is. Hopefully, that will continue on for the next few years, the guys that are playing now can do that again for the young kids coming up."

Roenick is part of a generation of American hockey players who were energized by the "Miracle On Ice" victory of the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic team. He grew up in Boston a Bruins' fan, but there weren't nearly as many Americans in the NHL then as there are now. He's quick to credit USA Hockey for providing developmental opportunities.

"The development of USA Hockey is very important to me and, obviously, to keep our tradition going in United States hockey," Roenick said. "Me, being a part of what I believe is probably the resurgence of hockey internationally, being a part of the generation of Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Mike Richter, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, I think that helped put America on the map in terms of being able to compete with the Russians, with the Canadians, with the Finns, with the Swedes, and now trying to do that continually into the future.

"Growing up in Boston, which was a big hockey hotbed when I was growing up, I was able to play in some fantastic competition, American Hockey obviously having a big part of a lot of the organizations that go on throughout the Boston area, the camps, the conditioning programs, the coaches' programs, that are out there for kids to get involved in, to keep kids interested."

It certainly kept “J.R.” interested.

Roenick is the third-leading American-born scorer in NHL history, a 38-year-old center who has scored 504 goals and added 686 assists in exactly 1,300 NHL games.

Roenick has played for the winning Team USA in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the silver-medal winners in the 2002 Winter Olympics. He also represented the United States in the 1998 Winter Olympics and the 2004 World Cup, as well as the 1988 and 1989 World Junior Championships (Roenick's 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points in two World Junior championships lead all other American players), the 1991 Canada Cup and the 1991 World Championship. He was a member of the 1992 Chicago Blackhawks squad that contested the 1992 Stanley Cup Final.

Yes, hockey has taken Roenick all over the world to compete for its most important championships. He knows the role that USA Hockey has played in providing those opportunities. He'd like to see the next generation of American players enjoy the kind of success that his generation did.

Time moves on and the 1988 World Juniors seem like a long time ago, just as the 2002 Olympics will soon seem like a long time ago. Yet the value of those trophies remains undiminished and the trills and memories will last a lifetime, whether those memories are created in 1988 or 2010, when the Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver.

"I think a couple moments that I've experienced, obviously winning the silver medal in the Olympics in 2002, has been one of the greatest achievements I've had in hockey," Roenick said. "That was so special, just to be in an Olympic atmosphere and to win a medal. An actual medal of an Olympics is something that you always dream of as a kid, especially since 1980.

"Going to my first World Juniors in Moscow in '88 was just … it was like a dream for me to be able to travel to a country like that and play in such a high level at that time, was something that I will always remember."

Roenick is appreciated not only for his on-ice contributions to American hockey, but also for his off-ice support of succeeding American generations of hockey players.

"He also had a very big impact on the development and expansion of youth hockey in our country through the many activities that he's been involved with," Dave Fischer, USA Hockey Director, Media and Public Relations said, mindful that USA Hockey registrations have tripled during Roenick's NHL career. Certainly, Roenick isn't responsible for all of that but there have been a lot of American kids who have emulated him.

Today, Roenick is enjoying a resurgence -- six of his nine goals this season have been game winners -- in his first season with the San Jose Sharks, under coach Ron Wilson. Both men grew up south of Boston, Roenick in Weymouth, Mass., and Wilson in Riverside, R.I. Wilson coached that winning 1996 World Cup of Hockey team and the 1998 Olympic team. The San Jose coach has a style that Roenick likes.

"I've always liked Ron since I played for him in '98. I have really, really come to love him and respect him, playing for him this year," Roenick said. "He's been a breath of fresh air for me as a veteran player, to come and to be able to have a relationship with a coach that is very sarcastic, very fun, honest and respected. There's a lot of respect between the two of us, which I think allows our relationship to be so strong.

"I've been very lucky to be able to play for a guy like that, especially at this point in my career. He's very stern. He's very knowledgeable. But he's like one of the guys, which I think makes him so much better to play for ... I don't feel uncomfortable around him. That's a really good trait or quality to have as a coach, that you know how to deal with veteran players. And he is a guy that understands and gets the game and knows the game and appreciates it. He and I have a very, very good relationship. He's quickly become my favorite coach I've played for."


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