Roenick speaks his mind, and well

Updated: July 1, 2005, 3:09 PM ET
By Adam Proteau | The Hockey News

Under ordinary circumstances, hearing that an NHLer told fans to kiss his badonkadonk – that's what the kids call it these days, right? – would bring a sense of peace to yours truly.

If we were searching for a column topic prior to that, we searched no longer. We had the green light to soup up the soap box and spit out our sports theories, many of which are founded upon the undeniable chasm between most modern athletes and those who pay to watch them play.

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But when we realized it was Jeremy Roenick doing the lip-directing, you can imagine our disappointment. Shaquille O'Neal, Bobby Clarke and Anyone Who Dances Excessively Poorly rolled into one, J.R. is no tea-and-crumpets autograph-ducker, no churlish boor – and most assuredly, no loather of fans. And if you listened to everything the Flyers star said that day, you'd see that he's precisely the type of NHLer the moribund league so urgently requires more of.

Throughout his recent tirade at Mario Lemieux's charity golf tournament, Roenick talked about giving the game back to those who have suffered most during the lockout, the ones without the benefit of war chests and warmongers, the ones who'll get no place at the podium whenever the labor peace announcement is made – that's right, the fans.

"We are trying to get this game back on the ice to make it better for the fans," said Roenick, who went on to outline the devastation that stemmed from his union's once-fervent aversion to a salary cap. "We've hurt our league, we've hurt the reputation of our league and the integrity of our league by sticking up for something that might not have been the right thing to do."

Does that sound like a card-carrying member of the He-Man Fan Hater's Club?

Or somebody who's coming over for a weenie roast at Bob Goodenow's place this summer?

Roenick also wasn't far from the bull's-eye when discussing commissioner Gary Bettman's upcoming TKO victory over Goodenow.

"If we would have signed that (CBA) in February, in terms of what we're getting now, we would have looked like heroes," Roenick said. "Right now we look like a bunch of idiots."

Not much to debate there, either. Oh sure, you can argue the finalized labor deal could be an improvement on the league's $42.5 million ultimatum; but it is more difficult to dispute the players would've come away looking like gold – and the owners, like gold-diggers – had they signed on and saved the season.

Of course Roenick erred when he said, "Everybody out there who calls us spoiled because we play 'a game,' they can all kiss my a--." But understand this: J-Ro has never been a man of calculation or contrivance. The last of his concerns is the blowback factor. He is heat-o'-the-moment passion personified, with all the good and bad that comes with it.

And clearly, Roenick has brought far more good than bad to the NHL's table.

He is the game's most outspoken personality, giving good quote while leaving out the old-man-with-hemorrhoids crustiness that has completely enveloped his rival in SportsCenter appearances, Brett Hull. By a country mile, Roenick is the league's most accessible player, and the one most likely to be caught hamming it up in a different entertainment medium. And he can move from serving as the game's staunchest defender to its most pointed critic, all in a single bound.

Heaven forbid we wind up with more NHLers like him, more guys willing to speak their minds and give comfort to their consciences. Why, if publicity hounds of his ilk are allowed to run amok, pro hockey could spiral into an industry casual fans actually talk about at the water cooler! We can't have that! The NHL isn't about exclamation marks and primary colors! It's about being as bland and as beige as Ben Stein on downers! Smarten up, already!

And while you're at it, plan a nice goodbye to the hockey fans who remain, because other leagues will be primed and ready to swoop in and pick at the NHL's scrawny bones. The successful leagues know full well that it doesn't necessarily matter what they say about you, so long as you continue as the topic of conversation. That will never happen to the NHL if we harp on the minor missteps of its most colorful personalities.

If the game can't handle a little poke-and-prod action every so often, even when it originates from a proven aficionado like Jeremy Roenick, we shouldn't be shocked when fans don't want to dance with it anymore.

After all, shrinking violets have never cut a single rug worth remembering.

E-mail Adam Proteau at aproteau@thehockeynews.com.

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