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NHL OPENING NIGHT | Kings at Dallas, 5:30 PDT; Ducks
at Chicago, 5:30 PDT

Let Him Entertain You

Roenick was acquired for his on-ice skills, but his off-ice personality draws the attention

October 05, 2005|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Rolling down the Imperial Highway ...


Jeremy Roenick was behind the wheel of his silver Porsche -- rolling down Imperial Highway -- chic sunglasses cutting down the glare and cellphone in hand. He might as well have been signing off on a deal to co-star with Bruce Willis.

Instead, retired Arizona Diamondback first baseman Mark Grace, an old friend, was on the line.

"Gracie, how are ya? What do you think I'm doing, I'm cruising around in the Southern California sun. Hey, we're all going to Sky Bar tonight, come on by."

Rarely have an athlete and a city seemed to mesh so well.

This is Los Angeles -- La-la-land, at least to those from the East Coast -- where palm trees and three-movie deals grow and media outlets are on nearly every street corner.

When the salary-heavy Philadelphia Flyers had to unload Roenick and his $4.94-million contract in August, he approved two destinations: Phoenix, where he lives with his family in the off-season, and Los Angeles, which, to him, was to die for.

"This is Tinseltown, this is L.A.," said Roenick, a seven-time NHL All-Star. "People here have heard it all and seen it all.

"There are bunch of actors here and, God knows, I have been an actor for a long time now in one way or another. I have always enjoyed the camera and I always enjoyed a microphone and there seems to be an abundance of those things here."

Scene one. Take one. Roll film.

The greatest marketing tool the Kings could have hoped for in this post-lockout era is now at their disposal.


... Santa Ana winds blowin' hot from the north and we was born to ride ...

Roenick was handed a microphone during a Kings' promotional event and skated toward the 200 or so fans watching rinkside. Like a big-tent faith healer, he raised his left hand and said, "Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your neighbors, come on out and watch us play."

The Kings have had high-profile players before, the highest when Wayne Gretzky arrived in 1988. But this, everyone says, is different. Gretzky is portrayed more as a fine wine, to be sipped and savored. Roenick comes off as a brew at the bar, with a handful of beer nuts.

There was the Great One and now there's the Great Tongue.

"It's totally different than Wayne," said King forward Luc Robitaille, who played with Gretzky. "Wayne is Wayne, and there is nobody like him. But J.R. is what this city needs [for hockey].

"I was here when the Lakers had 'Showtime,' with Magic and those guys. It was entertaining. That's what J.R. brings to our team. He's going to make sure the fans are going to be entertained."

The entertainment value could come in handy. With Phil Jackson back in town as the Lakers' coach, the Angels in the playoffs, USC ranked No. 1, UCLA undefeated, and the Dodgers letting their manager go, who can get Southern Californians even thinking about hockey?

Roenick can, even if his brand of entertainment has been controversial at times. For example, his comments that the hit he took two weeks ago from Phoenix's Denis Gauthier was unnecessary and his criticism of Canadians became media fodder for days, especially north of the border.

"I don't stop myself [from talking]," said Roenick, who suffered his 11th concussion as a result of that hit. "But sometimes when I leave, I go, 'That one is going to be heard. That one is going to cause a problem.' Sometimes I care, sometimes I don't."


... roll down the window, put down the top ...

Roenick stepped into the limelight, with half a dozen cameras and a room full of reporters at his coming-out news conference in August. He was asked about the Mighty Ducks, that team down in Anaheim, and said, "We're going to kick their [butts]." Asked later if he wanted to amend that, he said, "No, because we are going to kick their [butts]."

King General Manager Dave Taylor thought he was getting a veteran center, one who had Hall of Fame credentials but was in the final face-offs of his 17-season career. Of course, Taylor had heard the Roenick sound bites but said he went for a player, not a personality.

Taylor soon found out he had both.

Roenick, who is 25 goals shy of becoming the second American-born player to score 500 in the NHL (Joe Mullen, now a coach with Pittsburgh, was the first), brought west the type of chatter too often missing from the Southern California NHL scene.

"I didn't realize what kind of impact he has," Taylor said. "I got a good indication of that at the first press conference."

His impact on the ice is to be seen. At 35, and with those 11 concussions, Roenick admits he may not be the player he once was. But there is still considerable talent, as his three assists in the Kings' first exhibition showed.

Off the ice, well, the Kings' marketing and media relations departments are still a bit dizzy.

Roenick has appeared on "Last Call With Carson Daly," "Party at the Palms With Jenny McCarthy," "Best Damn Sports Show Period" as well as appearances on sports news shows throughout the Southland.

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