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Wally smiled, accustomed to his son's intensity. "What would your legs have to say about that?"
"Screw my legs," J.R. replied. "Let's go. Drop the puck."
Step aside and let the fat man eat.
Jeremy Roenick is a throwback. Respectful of his elders, modest to the extreme, this tough, talented former preppie, for heaven's sake, emerged last season as one of the top centermen in the game. He is a total team player; if he could trade stitches for powerplay minutes, he would. He has. If his coach declared he was not giving enough of his body and soul in a particular game or practice, he would give some more.
The coach, in Roenick's case, is Mike Keenan, the successful, tyrannical drill-master who has left a trail of bruised psyches and broken wills in Philadelphia and Chicago. Roenick is Keenan's type of guy. "He has the skills, the drive, the intensity, and is determined to be one of the best," says the Blackhawks' coach. "I think he plays a lot like the old-time players. In the playoffs a couple of years ago, we were playing St. Louis. Jeremy had his front teeth knocked out [actually they were badly chipped] by a high stick [from then Blues defenseman Glen Featherstone]. That meant a major penalty. To ensure that a major penalty was called, Jeremy kept the teeth [chips] on his tongue and skated over to show the referee. Then he came to the bench, and as a 19-year-old, he came back as a leader. He said to the players, 'Let's get the job done.' "
The ending of the story is that Roenick, who already had taken eight stitches in the face that game to mend a gash by a skate blade, scored the subsequent power-play goal against the Blues, and the Hawks went on to eliminate St. Louis. "It's kind of like the old school on our team," Roenick says. "If you get hit, you get hit. You get sewn up and come back and play. If you get beat up, you come back for more."
"He still won't get his teeth fixed," says Wally, a district coordinator for Mobil Oil in New England. "He says, 'The hell with it, they'd just knock them out again.' "
Considering the players that Roenick has tangled with in the past, not fixing his teeth is probably a prudent move. His adversaries read like a who's who of NHL thugs. Featherstone, Detroit's Gerard Gallant, Toronto's Craig Berube, Los Angeles's Marty McSorley. "He took on McSorley right in front of our bench," recalls Keenan with pride. "Marty was so surprised. He's standing there, and Jeremy drops his gloves. Before they could get going, the linesmen jumped in, but Jeremy never backed down."
"I try to get guys off their game by chirping at them," Roenick admits, recalling the time that he baited Gallant, while the referee was watching, until Gallant punched him in the face with his glove. Gallant received a roughing penalty, and the Blackhawks scored on the power play. Next time Gallant came within earshot, Roenick needled, "Hey, want to do that again? We really had good success when you hit me last time."
What's a nice young Thayer Academy grad doing in a league like this? Roenick's road to the NHL has to be one of the most unusual in hockey. He started skating in Mil ford, Conn., when he was four years old, at the urging of the parents of a playmate, who had moved from Minnesota and wanted their child to have company in the local hockey program. Wally was often transferred around the Northeast, and in each new stop—Glastonbury, Conn., Rochester, N.Y., Ridgefield, Conn.—J.R. joined a hockey program. When he was 12, the family moved to Fairfax, Va., outside Washington, D.C.—not exactly a hockey hotbed. Still, Roenick joined the Washington Metros, a travel team whose closest opponent was based in Philadelphia. The team played in Long Island, Providence, Boston, Chicago, Quebec City, and Roenick, who once scored 350 points in a season as a Squirt (when he was 11), impressed enough people that the next year he was asked to join a Bantam team in Totowa, N.J., called the New Jersey Rockets, who won back-to-back national championships in 1984-85 and '85-86.