In 1989, I was six and a half years old. Jeremy Roenick made his NHL debut and my life would never be the same.
I don’t remember when I first saw him play, but I do recall my dad talking about some 18 year old on the team. It wouldn’t have made such an impression on me if I never saw him play. When I did, he was like something I’ve never seen.
As the youngest player in the league at the time, he skated like his feet were doused in gasoline. He could stickhandle like a wizard, and he never shied away from contact. It wasn’t just that though.
This wasn’t like watching Denis Savard. I never could relate to Savard, what with the white skates and the wispy mustache. He looked like my dad. This was something entirely different.
Roenick looked like a kid and he played like one. Not only that, he just looked like a really cool guy.
In a 4 year stretch from 1990 to 1994, Roenick put together arguably the greatest stretch of individual play the Blackhawks organization has ever seen. He scored 190 goals and 221 assists in that time frame. In three of those seasons, he topped the 100 point mark.
During that same period of time, the Hawks won a Presidents Trophy, the Campbell Conference, and two Norris Division championships.
As Bono says, this was the golden age. It looked like the Hawks were going to be a perennial power for the next decade. With Roenick, Chelios, and Belfour, they only needed a solid cast of secondary players to legitimately contend for the Cup every year.
Then Derian Hatcher stuck out his leg. Roenick shredded his ACL, and the rest is a dark chapter in Blackhawks lore.
I’m not here to rehash what everybody knows already. This is about what Roenick meant to my generation.
When I played hockey, I tucked my jersey in the same way Roenick used to. Left side of the jersey tucked, hanging out on the right. I started to wear a girdle with shell pants because that’s what Roenick wore. I even bought the same Easton Aluminum shaft he used. It was gold with red letters. That was, until he got the blue shaft with white stripes the next season. Something about dropping another $95 on a stick didn’t sit well with my parents.
I hardly think I was alone in this admiration. Hell, Sam wrote his tribute to Roenick nearly five months ago. I know my (website) partner feels the same way as us.
It’s funny, since news of retirement first broke, I’ve tried to remember goals he scored while I was in attendance. I can’t remember a single one and I used to go to at least half a dozen games a year. Looking at his stat line, I find it highly unlikely he never scored when I was at a game. He had to of; I just can’t recall. Sadly, my last live memory of him in a Hawks sweater was his last lap around the United Center after Sandis Ozolinsh and the Avalanche knocked out the Hawks in a hard fought Western Conference Semi-Finals.
My other memories of him are a little clearer.
I remember staying up past my bedtime to listen to Game 3 against the Avs on the radio and Roenick scoring on a breakaway. Pat Foley depicted it so accurately that when I saw the highlight the next morning, it was exactly how I pictured it in my head.
I’ll never forget watching his overtime game winner against Toronto on Hawkvision and I’ll never forget the celebration that ensued afterwards.
I remember his goal to force overtime against the Blues in Game 4 of the ’92-93 playoffs. While the majority of his teammates had already packed it in, Roenick tried to single-handedly carry his team to a Game 5.
I’ll never forget how he rushed himself back from his knee injury to re-join the team during their playoff push in ’94-95.
I remember seeing his face in the waning moments of Game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and thinking, he’ll get another chance.
He never did.
So long JR, your play inspired a generation of hockey players in the Chicagoland area and you won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
See you at your Heritage Night.
Until then, enjoy and try to tell me you don’t get goosebumps watching this.