Flyers center vents his frustration

Originally Published: January 14, 2004
By Rob Parent | Special to ESPN.com

Down one tooth and a bucket of blood but up another seven stitches, Jeremy Roenick was issued a challenge Wednesday -- put your money where your mouth ... uh, used to be.

The scarred but never scared Philadelphia Flyers center had just been slapped with a one-game suspension without pay for throwing a water bottle out on the ice in the direction of referee Blaine Angus on Tuesday night in Buffalo amid the chaos of a 6-2 loss to the Sabres.

For his trouble, then, Roenick had forfeited 91,463 salary dollars to sit at home Friday night instead of reporting to work at The Wachovia Center for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But at least he was going to get his money's worth in black-and-white blood.

"I'm the one who gets punished and has money taken out of his pocket," Roenick said. "Not Blaine Angus, but me, because they refused to do their job correctly. Certain referees, and they know who they are, are held unaccountable for their poor, poor decision-making in how they do their job.

"You have good refs like Dan Marouelli ... Kerry Fraser is very good, Don Koharski is very good, certain referees who are very good at what they do. But there are three or four who constantly shove a fist up the Flyers' ... any time they get an opportunity. Then when tempers boil over, things get rowdy and things happen. Who pays the price? The players.

"[The NHL] is too Neanderthal to change it. That is why our game is sputtering the way it is."

There you have it, hockey fans. The NHL is bleeding bucks, barely beating beach badminton in television ratings and is by far the most overpriced major sporting event ticket on the market.

Now it's facing a labor war that could take the legs right out of what's left of the game's popularity. Why?

Apparently because cavemen run the sport but refuse to appropriately control their striped zebras. Maybe J.R.'s got a point here.

"[Roenick] is a different bird," said Maple Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe, a guy who often likes to cut his hair into a Mohawk and dye it blue. "But he is also very competitive. We all snap from time to time."

While not impressing anybody with his overhand bottleball, Roenick did exhibit his usual flair for the dramatic with the toss. But he had topped it with a monologue of mockery after the loss to the Sabres, repeatedly berated Angus for making "an absolutely terrible, terrible [non]call" on the apparent high stick by Buffalo's Rory Fitzpatrick that added another dent to Roenick's battered face.

But the angst coursing through his veins for the past two weeks has been just as calamitous and colorful.

... again the National Hockey League uses me as a guinea pig. They love to do it to me.
Jeremy Roenick
Roenick hasn't been scoring much, with just one goal in his last seven games.

No other Flyer has been scoring much, either, with 38 goals in 18 games that count out to a 3-7-4-4 skid.

Roenick hasn't been having as much fun, charged with a leadership role since captain Keith Primeau -- who should be back in the lineup Friday while Roenick sits on a stool in the corner -- has been out since Jan. 8 with a fractured thumb.

And under heavy pressure to keep the score down while the forwards struggle, the defense has begun to fracture. And now-backup goalie Jeff Hackett's frequent failures behind them haven't helped.

All the while, the Flyers have been flopping. Four losses in a row, six games without a win. And remarkably, just three wins in the last 18 games for the Eastern Conference's dominant team over the first two months of the season.

How fast it can all change, and how debilitating the effect it has had on Roenick's pride.

"He's just got to play," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said of Roenick. "He's a very emotional person. But it's not coming out the way he wants it to come out. Like, the way he commented on [Justin] Williams and [Simon] Gagne the way he did. It's like, what do you mean?"

Hitchcock was referring to another Roenick verbal downpour, this one after a dismal home loss Monday to Pittsburgh. Noting the building pressure on and criticism of young supposed star forwards Williams and Gagne -- who have combined for all of one goal over the last 23 games -- Roenick emotionally declared them to be "like my little brothers."

Then he slapped back at their old man.

"The coach is hard on them," Roenick said, "and in a way, that's affecting their play. It can feel like the whole world is coming down on them. You have to have as positive an attitude as you can."

That seemed to confuse Hitchcock, but he hadn't had the pleasure of hearing Roenick call him a "son of a [gun]" on an ESPN2 bite earlier that night. Roenick also thought to term Hitchcock "a pain in the ass right now," though he added a constructive edge.

"Anybody in their right mind who is coaching a team that is sputtering like we are right now would be a pain in the ass," he said. "We have to concentrate on getting our game back and not worry about him treating us like a bunch of dogs, because we are playing like a bunch of dogs."

Your comments, coach?

"That's just emotion talking," said the suddenly stoic Hitchcock.

Perhaps, but it could be translated as a shot between player and coach at odds. Or does this odd couple just have a strange way of paying each other their dues?

"There's a mutual respect that's there," said Hitchcock, well aware of the national perception that Roenick represents his latest Brett Hull personnel test. "No one out there knows about the good things that go on between us."

For Roenick, this hasn't been an easy couple of weeks. Before four straight embarrassing losses to dreg teams from Florida, Edmonton, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, Roenick already was hurting -- he was slammed in the face last week by a Mark Recchi slap shot at practice.

That produced 27 stitches along his right cheek and various shades of purple around the eye. So now Fitzpatrick has treated him to a complementary badge of dishonor.

"Considering I have seen guys throw things on the ice -- water bottles, sticks ... I saw a coach throw a bench on the ice -- and I have never seen a suspension for it, again the National Hockey League uses me as a guinea pig," Roenick said. "They love to do it to me. They screwed me last year when they suspended me two games for hitting Mike Modano from behind. I have seen hits from behind since then that have not been [penalized]. It's a double standard.

"There seems to be no feeling for the player, only for the referees, yet certain referees provoke this kind of response from players. The NHL refuses to make the referees responsible for their actions. Until that happens, things will continue to decline as a league, decline as a profession and a sport. People are sick and tired of watching this."

With that last observation, you knew that a weary, aching Roenick was again putting his bruised heart ahead of his bleeding mouth.

Rob Parent of the Delaware County (Pa.) Times is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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