It was tempting for his critics—and there were many over his 20-year career—to dismiss Jeremy Roenick as the NHL's Ugly American, an egocentric attention hog in a sport dominated by quiet Canadians, non-English-speaking Europeans and a conservative, team-first ethos. But then Roenick, who retired last week at age 39, would probably have taken it as a compliment. Nicknamed Styles, he understood that it took something beyond hard work during the game and bland quotes after it to put fannies in NHL seats. "This is the first place I can entertain, be myself," Roenick told SI a few weeks into his first season with the L.A. Kings in 2005. "They get it here. They understand the entertainment factor."
Not that Styles was short on substance. In stints with the Blackhawks (1988--96), the Coyotes (1996--2001), the Flyers ('01--05) and then, in his hockey dotage, the Kings, Phoenix again and finally the Sharks, the Boston native proved himself to be a talented scorer and supremely tough. The center's 513 goals are the third most by a U.S.-born player. He never won a Stanley Cup—his one trip to the finals was with Chicago in 1992—but he was a money player. The six goals he scored in postseason Game 7s are the second-most alltime.
As a talker Roenick was in a league of his own, eager to speak the truth about the league ("Our sport is still great, it's just ruled by Neanderthal people," he once said), players (the union "might not have been right" during the 2004--05 lockout) and fans (he hissed that those who thought players were spoiled could "kiss my ass"). But his chattiness wasn't just self-promotion. It was a way of drawing attention to the sport, something the NHL desperately needs as it slides further from the mainstream. Whether his résumé is strong enough for the Hall of Fame is open to debate. But there's no arguing that Styles was great for the game.