USA Hockey is celebrating Hockey Weekend Across America and a full listing of events running across the country can be found at HockeyWeekendAcrossAmerica.com.
USA Hockey recently completed a Q&A session with the Sharks Jeremy Roenick, one of the most decorated American skaters of all time. He's one of only three American born players to score 500 or more goals in the National Hockey League and has bee an important part of the U.S. men's national team throughout his career, playing in two Olympic Games. 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.
The interview begins with Jeremy reflecting on his favorite youth hockey memories and also some of his favorite pro hockey memories and commenting a little bit on how the game has changed in the United States over the course of his career.
JEREMY ROENICK: Good morning, everybody. I'm very happy to be on this call. I think the development of USA Hockey is very important to me and obviously in keeping our tradition going in United States hockey. 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 and 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.
You know, growing up in Boston, which was a big hockey hotbed, I was able to play in some fantastic competition, USA 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.
Growing up, again, through the 16 select teams that USA Hockey puts on to compete against other kids our age internationally at that level, it was obviously a huge part of my growth, testing my talents, comparing my talents to other kids, being able to go out to Colorado Springs at the age of 16. I learned how to be away from the family, learned how to deal with issues by myself, grew up a little bit faster in a hockey atmosphere, and that really helped my production as I got older.
To go into the World Juniors was obviously huge. I still see that the USA is still very prominent in the U.S. junior teams, which is a good sign. It means there are some kids that are still coming up that are going to continue USA Hockey’s growth, which is very important. A lot of people think it might be dying off with our generation. But with the success of our U.S. junior team in the last couple years, hopefully that will continue.
But it won't continue unless we continue to have the camps and USA Hockey continues to have the instructional videos they put out, the instructional camps they allow people to sign up for, the camps they put on all over the country that are obviously huge. With having the pro players that nowadays are in the NHL participate, I think that is also very important. It wasn't there when I was growing up. We didn't have too many USA Hockey players when I started to play the game in the '80s that we could bring on to help these young kids develop. I think that has turned the corner in the past 20 years. I think guys that are in the NHL now can really be a big part of helping USA Hockey grow as this game gets stronger and stronger.
The development of hockey has really grown in the last 20 years. It's more of a 12 month a year deal. When I started playing in the late '80s, you get to go to camp, you get ready for the season during camp, and you play, then you have four months off to do nothing. Nowadays your season ends, you have one week off, you get right back in the gym training. You see guys are tremendously fit, you see six pack abs all over the place. When I came in, there was not one ab to be seen, which is kind of a revelation if you want to call it that.
Kids are younger, they're faster, they're stronger, they have more ability. In order to keep that competitiveness, there has to be a lot of energy thrown into development of these kids, which if we don't as a country really buy into it, we're going to find ourselves falling and fading back into the B pools and the bottom of the ranks internationally. I think would be a shame after everything we've done as a country. Hopefully I can help do that. Hopefully Keith Tkachuk can help do that, Mike Modano can do that and Chris Chelios can do that. It's really helped my production.
USA Hockey is very dear to my heart and I'm going to do what I can to help it grow and help it produce some more players like Mike Modano, Chris Chelios and Keith Tkachuk. Guys like Patrick Kane in Chicago are going to be a part of keeping that tradition going. We have to keep those guys up in the forefront of our minds, in the papers, in the magazines, and keep kids that are growing up right now interested in guys like that that.
NARRATOR: Jeremy, thanks very much. You mentioned the World Junior Championships. I'm not sure everyone knows, but still today, Jeremy played in that tournament two years, '88 and '89, and he is the all time United States point leader in the tournament, 25 points, 13 goals, 12 assists, 14 games. Still very much at the top of the record book in many categories for the World Junior Championships in the U.S.
A couple other things I wanted to mention. I think you all know, too, on this coming Sunday, it will be the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Olympic women's ice hockey team winning the first ever gold medal awarded in the sport. It was February 17th of 1998 when the United States had that terrific victory over Canada. And I'd also direct you to the NHL Network in the U.S. They have a lot of programming over the course of the three days of Hockey Weekend Across America specific to American hockey, including top 10 draft picks of 1988. That's Friday at 6:00 eastern. In the draft of 1988, Mike Modano and Jeremy Roenick. .
Q. I want to take you back in time a little bit. I'm doing a piece on the contributions that parents make. I remember many years ago the story with regard to you were living outside Maryland or outside Washington, D.C. and you were commuting trying to get to New Jersey. Can you walk me through what your family had to do in order to prepare you.
JEREMY ROENICK: Well, first of all, I was living in Virginia. I moved to Virginia when I was 10 or 11. The hockey was O.K. there. It was not great, but I think when I got there we boosted it up a little bit. My dad did, in terms of introducing it to more of the Northeast.
The second year I lived there, I had the opportunity to play in New Jersey, which was one of the powerhouse teams in the division that I was playing in, the New Jersey Rockets. We had a chance to win a national championship and I wanted to be a part of that. In order to do that, I had to leave school at 1:30 every Friday afternoon. My mom would pick me up from school and take me to Dulles Airport, which was just outside in Virginia. I would jump on a Peoples Express commuter plane up to Newark. She would just drop me off at the front gate, front curb. I was 14 years old. I had to find my way through the airport, onto the planes, Peoples Express, up to Newark.
I'd get picked up by a family friend whose son was also on the team. I would practice on Friday nights and we would play Saturday and Sunday, whether we had to travel, whatever we had to do. Then I would fly back the last flight, Sunday night. I would go to school for the week, then I would do it all over again the next weekend.
After doing that for a year, my family decided that we needed more, and my dad gave up a six figure job to move the family to Boston so they could send me to a prep school, a private school, to play hockey. They made a decision not to send me away. They didn't want to send me away to a boarding school, so they moved the whole family. He probably took a half a cut in pay just to move the family so I had the opportunity to play the best hockey I was able to play.
Q. In retrospect, at the time it seemed like the logical thing to do, but that's quite a sacrifice. Have you had a chance to talk about that with your family?
JEREMY ROENICK: My dad and I, we talk quite often. It never goes unappreciated. I never forget it. It's worked out for our family. It's worked out for me. You know, my dad gets a lot of appreciation out of it. He gets to sit there and watches me on the tube every night and I know the sacrifice he made has allowed me to get to where I am. He gets a lot of enjoyment out of sitting in front of the TV and watching me, you know, battle night in, night out on a professional level. I think that in itself is a huge gratification.
Q. I wanted to ask you about your relationship with Ron Wilson. He gives you a little run for your money for being the most glib guy on the team. You know him pretty well. Is that humor one of the reasons why he's sort of a likable guy to play for, because he does have a good sense of humor? Makes it a little fun, anyway.
JEREMY ROENICK: 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. 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 because 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.
Q.Tell us, what would be your proudest moment in the Team USA sweater.
JEREMY ROENICK: Well, I think a couple moments. Obviously winning the silver medal in the Olympics in 2002 has been one of the greatest achievements I've had in hockey. 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. It was something that I will always remember.
Q. Two years from now it will be 2010 in Vancouver.
JEREMY ROENICK: Awesome.
Q. I wanted to get your thoughts on the U.S. team. A lot of young U.S. guys are breaking through right now in the NHL. What are your thoughts on what that team is going to look like?
JEREMY ROENICK: First I'll start by saying I think it's an awesome, awesome venue for the Olympic Games. When I saw that Vancouver got the Olympic Games, I couldn't have been more happy for the site they picked. Whistler being close by, with the excitement that Vancouver hockey players and fans bring to the game, it's been one of my favorite places to play in my career. So I was really happy. I mean, I might even venture up there to bring my son up there so he can experience it. That's just the kind of feeling I have about Vancouver.
Hopefully the U.S. guys, guys like Patrick Kane, we're going to need guys like him to bolster a group to compete in that. I mean, it's going to be some great hockey. Obviously the Russians are still strong. The Canadians are the ever so powerful dynasty that. If we want to do anything in the Olympics, guys like Patrick are going to have to really step up and show why they're so dominant in the National Hockey League and why they're stars.
But it's good because we are so close to the States, being in Vancouver, it's right across the border, I think a lot of U.S. people can get up there and support the team and see what I think is like the next generation of players coming into international hockey, which is very, very important.
Q. I don't know if you saw what happened last night in Buffalo with Richard Zednik.
JEREMY ROENICK: I did.
Q. Just your thoughts on all the years you played in the game. Thank God we don't see this too often, but obviously it brought back memories of Malarchuk.
JEREMY ROENICK: I remember Malarchuk’s injury. I think I was just stepping into the league back when that happened. Those things are scary. There was also another incident in Montréal with McCleary when he got the slapshot in the throat there.
I think anything that scares the life out of you, which might even cause a life threatening injury, it takes your breath away. It makes you step back and realize there's more important things than just hockey. When you get the boos, people that boo you, people that write negative things about you, you take criticism for how you play or how you produce, then you see an injury such as that, it shows what we're actually putting on the line. Sometimes there should be a lot more respect in the fact of what we do as athletes and as professional athletes and as hockey players, the danger that we put ourselves in every night.
Unfortunately it goes by the wayside. People don't realize it. They get caught up in the moment. Someone gets hurt. They get up and they get booed because they stop the play or whatever. We put ourselves, our bodies and our well being in jeopardy every night and it should be more appreciated.
Q. Whenever there's a serious eye injury, the whole visor debate sparks up. With this, being cut in the throat, one wonders if all the players should wear throat protectors.
JEREMY ROENICK: No. You know what? You're never going to protect yourself. You're never going to be out of the woods in terms of staying away from major injuries. That's what our game is. We play the game with the obvious dangers involved. You know, that has to be appreciated by the people that watch it, that we're willing to go and play with all these possible injuries that could happen.
You know, it does bother me a little bit that when something happens, you have to change things to prevent it from happening again. I mean, we play this game for the love of it. We play this game knowing that the dangers are there. It's like a race car driver. You try to make everything safer, but someone's going to perish in an accident, someone's going to get hurt in an accident no matter what, but they still do it anyway.
Q.I don't know if you've heard, yesterday Simon Gagne suffered what looks like his third concussion of the year. You've been through this more than anybody playing the game right now. Can you describe just the uncertainty he's feeling right now and also talk about, if you can, how the league has adapted to this issue over the years. Where do you think it's at? Do you think everything is being done that can be done to protect guys and to treat guys who go through this?
JEREMY ROENICK: Well, I think that is the one major injury that the NHL has done the most to try to prevent, try to help since I've come in the league. When I came in the league, concussions and all that stuff were absolutely pushed aside. Nobody knew much about them. No one looked into the effects of a concussion. I mean, I remember getting totally, totally knocked out, unconscious, not remembering about 15, 20 minutes of my life in Minnesota when I got elbowed by Jimmy Johnson. I woke up in the training room 15 minutes later and had no idea how I got there. Totally spaced me out.
I played the next night back in Chicago against Minnesota, scoring a hat trick, which is kind of ironic, but they let me play the exact same day. It was a 24 hour span, without any questions of how I felt.
Nowadays, it's a mandatory one week leave from the game when you have a concussion, symptoms or any concussion problem in the game. They at least sit you out for a week. They have the baseline testing you have to go through before you can come back and play. The NHL has really taken a big stand on trying to protect players with head injuries.
It's a terrible thing to have to go through. Your body pretty much shuts down in terms of its response, its reaction to sound, its reaction to light, the energy that you get. It's amazing what the brain can do to your body when it gets injured.
It's a terrible, terrible feeling to have to go through. The more that you damage your brain, especially in a short period of time, the more you have to think about your well being, like when is that next time going to end up with severe brain damage. The NHL, they've fitted the helmets to try to prevent concussions. I think all the headgear we have has been vamped up in terms of its protection. But we get hit so darn hard, the players are so strong these days, that there's nothing that's going to prevent head trauma. It's unfortunate, especially Simon, as great a player as he is, as young as he is, he's got to really be careful of his well being right now.
Q. You had at least nine as of a couple years ago. What number do you think you had?
JEREMY ROENICK: Might be a couple more. Over the span of 20 years, I think I'm ahead of the curve.
Q. You say that very easily. You must really think about this.
JEREMY ROENICK: I think about it a lot actually. It's in the back of my mind. I think it's probably one of the reasons why I am I'm a little bit more reluctant to go into those scoring areas, into the heavy traffic areas, because in the back of my mind, you know, I think about it. In the forefront of my mind, I'm gung ho. In the back of my mind, which I think subconsciously makes your decisions on what you do, where you go, I am very cautious about where I put my body because after the amount of head injuries that I've had, especially the ones that I had in Philly my last year, you never know. You never know when that next one might be the killer.
Q. I have a strategy question about overtime games. Obviously some games have two points, some have three. How do you sort of approach the last minutes of a tie game? Do you try to win it in regulation? Does it matter what team you're playing?
JEREMY ROENICK: Yeah, it all depends on the team that you're playing. I think if you're playing a team that's within your division, you have to be very careful about the strategy that you use to try to win the game. It's best to get in there and try to get the push, maybe at least get a point.
The last thing you want to do is lose an extra point to the team you're playing. Obviously with a shootout, it's a little different scenario. The team with the better shooters usually are going to get the extra point. But if we're playing a team from the east, I think we're more inclined to really institute our defense into the play on the four on four, try to get the extra two points. If we do lose that extra point, at least we're losing it to a team that's in the other conference, it really doesn't affect our standings too often.
But, you know, with all the games that we play against our divisional rivals nowadays, it's taken very seriously about how you structure your overtime play, for sure.
Q. I notice that your team has seven overtime losses, which is a little bit more than the average. Is that something you're looking for?
JEREMY ROENICK: It's just I think our lack of ability to score in shootouts.
Q. In your opening remarks, you were talking about some of the young players coming up. T.J. Oshie plays for the University of North Dakota and has been drafted in the first round by the St. Louis Blues, calls one of his fondest hockey memories being out on the inline sport court with you during one of the times you were out there back in early 2000. Can I get some of your thoughts about the pride you feel, the impact you've had, not only on individuals such as that, but just the overall growth of youth hockey in America?
JEREMY ROENICK: I mean, hearing things like that make me really, really proud. 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. 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.
You know, that made me feel really good to know that a guy who's now a very big star in the National Hockey League, you know, 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.