Jeremy Roenick is closing in on becoming the most decorated American-born hockey player ever. He also is arguably the most recognizable name, face and voice in the NHL.
So just how did Roenick evolve from a pip-squeak Massachusetts teenager to one of the fiercest competitors in the game? In this edition of Facing Off, we find out how J.R. could be the next big star in Hollywood, what he would like to say to USA Hockey after his Olympic snub and why he isn't prepared to walk away from the game just yet.
Question from David Amber: You've been out with a broken finger since the middle of December and expected to return shortly, but how frustrating has it been not being able to play?
Answer from Roenick: It's been tough, my season hasn't gone as expected this year. I haven't been able to play the style of hockey I like to. I've been working hard and I'm feeling better. I expect to come back and rip it up, to tell you the truth.
Q: Why did you struggle so much at the start of this season?
A: I struggled 'cause I couldn't get my skates sharpened the way I like. I wasn't confident in my footing. I wasn't confident in my feet. When you feel like you're going to fall down and you're off balance, you're going to struggle.
Q: So, it was an equipment issue?
A: Yeah it was. When you can't skate the way you like, it leads to a bad back, bad groin, bad hamstrings, bad hips. It's been a battle from the beginning. I have a different skating radius than most guys, so when I change teams, it's tough for the trainers to find the right lie and the right cut that I need to use with my skates, so it's tough.
Q: Why have you been so accessible to the media throughout your career?
A: I believe the media has a job to do. The media gets us into the public eye. The media has to relay what we're doing to let fans know, and at the same time, we can use the media to get out our persona and give a glimpse into our personalities.
Q: What would you like to tell hockey fans who don't know as much about Jeremy Roenick as they should?
A: That I'm not as cocky and brash and arrogant as my media persona may dictate. I'm a very happy-go-lucky guy. I'm very passionate about the fans and the game. I'm friendly and very approachable. I'm very confident, some people read that as cocky, but that's just me loving who I am and because I love who I am. I can love other people.
Q: What were you like as a kid?
A: I was a huge athlete. I played every sport. After school, I always went to soccer or hockey practice. On the weekends, I was traveling all over the country and to Canada to play hockey. I was an extreme athlete. So I was busy.
Q: I read you played football in high school, but why were you the kicker?
A: My football coach was also the hockey coach, and he refused to allow me to do anything but kick, 'cause we'd be screwed for the hockey season if I got hurt. But I made the all-league team as a kicker, so I did pretty well.
Q: What was the longest field goal you ever kicked?
A: In a game, 42 yards. In practice, I kicked a couple of 52-, 53-yarders. I had a pretty big foot. I was a soccer player by nature, probably better than hockey.
Q: You were drafted eighth overall in 1988. What was that moment like, realizing your NHL dream had come true?
A: It was amazing. I was told as a young kid that I was destined to play in the NHL, but until it happens, you just keep working and keep having fun. I was 160 pounds in 1988. I knew I still had a lot to do to make it in the league. When I finally realized that I needed to be a gritty, mean player, as well as a talented player, that's when I realized I was going to have a long career.
Q: You made the jump straight from major junior to the NHL. What was the toughest part of that adjustment?
A: Playing against guys that were so much older and so much bigger than me. I remember Mike Keenan grabbing me around the throat and threatening me to play a certain way when I didn't think I could. He taught me the mental toughness and the ability to overcome adversity when you don't think you can. I learned a lot as a young player.
Q: With a coach physically threatening you, some guys would thrive under those tactics and some guys would fold. How close were you to folding?
A: I would never fold. I have very thick skin. There is not one person in this world that can tell me that I suck, that I'm not a good hockey player, that I don't belong somewhere. I make those decisions, nobody else makes those decisions, and that's how you become successful. Keenan saw something in me that he wanted to make sure it thrived, he didn't want to see me waste it, so he was hard on me and I realized that. He taught me I could overcome anything.
Q: What is your greatest hockey memory so far in your career?
A: I think the 2002 Olympics. Getting to the gold-medal game against Canada and having it be such a good game and all the hype about winning the silver medal. That I think I would have to put No. 1.
Q: Now that you've had a few weeks to reflect, how do you react to being left off the U.S. Olympic team?
A: I'm pissed. I feel extremely disrespected. I am right up there with any American to ever play the game. Look at Shane Doan. He has struggled all this year, but he has been in the Canadian system for years, and Canada has respect for the guys that have won medals for them, so they selected him. That wasn't the case with the U.S. I think it was totally disrespectful. I have no love for USA Hockey at this point. If they ask me to do anything for USA Hockey again, it will not be done.
Q: Will you watch the Olympic hockey games?
A: Yeah, I watch the games because I love the guys. These are all my boys, these are the guys who I grew up playing with. These guys helped me and I helped them build USA Hockey to where it is today. I love these guys with all my heart and want them to do well.
Q: Do you deserve the title of "Greatest American-born NHL player ever?"
A: I think it's a tie between me and Mike Modano. In my opinion, Modano is one of the best players ever to play the game, regardless of where he was born. His talent is second to none. I have had to do it more with grit and fight and all-out work. Mike is more talented. But I think that's a question that will be raised a lot, who is better, Mike or me.
Q: With the way the team has played of late, should we view your Los Angeles Kings as a legitimate threat to get to the Stanley Cup?
A: I'm hoping our Kings team is like Calgary from the last Stanley Cup. We have a goalie that can take us there. We have a team that is close knit. We have all the intangibles, we have goal scoring, we have toughness, we have grit, so I really feel we can do it.
Q: So what's your role on this team?
A: I'm a big rah-rah guy. I'm a guy that leads by example. I keep it loose in the locker room. I keep it fun, I keep the guys together. On the ice, I work my ass off. When the young guys see a 35-year-old working as hard as I do, they have no choice but to follow suit. But really, I'm the jokester, I dance in the locker room, I'm happy to be there and make it fun to come to the rink every day.
Q: What do you think it's like playing against Jeremy Roenick?
A: I don't think it's fun. Other players don't know if I'm going to burn you offensively and make a move and score a goal, or if I'm going to flat-out run your face through the glass. To me, it's the all-around threat. That's what I pride myself on.
Q: Is it only fitting that, if this is your final NHL stop, it's in Hollywood?
A: I have loved every minute here. I've had a lot of opportunities since I got here. I've been offered movie roles, I've been asked to do TV shows and have appeared on all sorts of late-night talk shows. I just finished filming a pilot for a new TV show on NBC called "The Heist."
Q: What did you do on "The Heist"?
A: I played a SWAT team cop, I knocked a couple of guys out. I can act. I've been on "Arli$$" four times, I have been on "One Life to Live." I love acting.
Q: So is that what we'll see from J.R. post-NHL, an acting career?
A: I'd rather have my own show on ESPN to tell you the truth. I'd want to have athletes on the show and make sure they are candid and honest. I want to be that guy who can get the truth out of athletes, get them to say those things they might not want to say because they're afraid.
Q: What kind of Hollywood types come out to Kings games?
A: Cuba Gooding Jr. is at every game. Sandra Bullock comes to a lot of games with Jesse James. Cindy Crawford has been to games, Mark McGrath, Kiefer Sutherland and Jerry Bruckheimer all come to most of the games. So, we have a contingency of big name stars who come out.
Q: How would you describe the job Gary Bettman has done as commissioner?
A: He's been good for the owners. He's been steadfast in his desire to get the cap. He has helped bring parity to the league. I don't think he's a hockey guru, he's spent most of his time in the NBA. He obviously didn't play the game and he doesn't know what it's like to play the game and he's been trying to learn about the game for the last 10 years. His job was to do what's right for the owners and he did a magnificent job. He played hardball and got what the owners needed, but now he needs to do what's right for the game, and that's spend some money and get the product out there for the public. In terms of that, it's been less than stellar.
Q: Is the NHL better now than it was two years ago?
A: Absolutely, it's more exciting. The owners are making more money. The fans are coming back. I think it's a better product overall. Hopefully, ticket prices have come down to make it more affordable for fans. The only problem with the game is the TV exposure. Our TV package is atrocious. Our ability to show games on a network has been awful. OLN has tried the best they can, but nobody is watching hockey. The marketing of hockey is as bad as we've ever seen it. Until the NHL realizes that it needs to market the game better, the NHL will never gain any popularity.
Q: You're almost 36 years old. Considering all the serious injuries you've had, why do you keep playing?
A: I'm passionate about the game. I love it. I love being with the guys, being around the rink, the team atmosphere. That's what I was born to do. Injuries happen, you just need to learn to deal with them. I work hard to stay in shape, so I don't let injuries slow me down.
Q: Aren't you concerned what might happen to you after your career, with your body so beaten up?
A: No. I'm Superman, don't you know that? [Laughs] Nothing will happen to me, that's what keeps me going. It's the refusal to acknowledge that anything bad will happen to me, it's what keeps my edge.
Q: What do you think about your candidacy for the Hall of Fame?
A: I think it speaks for itself, the amount of games I've played the amount of goals I've scored, being in the Olympics, getting to the Stanley Cup final, all the All-Star appearances, not a lot of Americans have done that. Plus everything that I have done with the media. I'm hoping that would be enough reason to get there. That is something I would treasure, that would put the cap on a career that I never imagined I would have.
David Amber is an ESPN anchor and a contributor to ESPN.com.