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October 21, 2014

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NHL AWARDS:

Q&A: Jeremy Roenick talks NHL Awards, hockey in Vegas and his place in pop culture lore

20-year NHL veteran will present at next Thursday’s ceremony at the Palms

NHL veteran and sure-fire Hall of Famer Jeremy Roenick will serve as a presenter next Thursday night at The Pearl Concert Theater inside of the Palms, when the annual NHL Awards ceremony hits American soil for the first time.

In a 20-year NHL career spent with five teams, he's scored 1,216 points, making him the second-highest scoring American-born player in league history. Roenick spent last season with the San Jose Sharks, who earned the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but were bounced in a first-round upset by Anaheim, leaving Roenick deciding whether to play one more season in a quest for his first Stanley Cup title. The alternative is heading into retirement having accomplished everything else an NHL player can aspire to achieve.

Roenick sat down earlier this week to discuss the NHL Awards, Las Vegas's credibility as a hockey town, his poker skills and his place in 90s pop culture ... thanks to Vince Vaughn and EA Sports.

Click to enlarge photo

San Jose Sharks center Jeremy Roenick reacts after scoring the game's winning goal on a penalty shot against the Chicago Blackhawks in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008. San Jose won, in a shootout, 3-2. Roenick will be a presenter next Thursday when the NHL Awards come to the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms.

Jeremy Roenick -- The Blackhawk Years

Jeremy Roenick at the 2008 WSOP

Ryan Greene: So you're here early promoting for the NHL Awards ...

Jeremy Roenick: What a great show it's gonna be. It's the first time it's been in the States, so I'm sure the Palms is gonna put on a great show. I don't think people realize there's a red carpet, and everyone can come out and watch all the NHL stars and the Hollywood stars come out to watch the show. You've gotta have one of the best sports in the world show it off in one of the top entertainment places -- Las Vegas. It's a big change for the league, so it's gonna be huge.

RG: Of all the places to have it in the United States, Las Vegas is a town without an NHL team. Do you think this is a logical place for it?

JR: Yeah, it is, because they want the buzz. Las Vegas, there's no bigger buzz you're going to get for entertainment than here. All the players love coming here, it's a great vacation spot and it adds a different dimension to that location, so I think that's what their thought process is. They want to be glitzy, want it to be an Oscars-type of feel. It's black tie and obviously very exclusive. Tickets are $500, but people can come to the red carpet for free and sit outside and watch the guys get out of limos, see their favorite NHL players.

RG: It's kind of a feel you don't get with an awards ceremony for any other sport. Do you think this helps the NHL set itself apart?

JR: Yeah, they're trying to set themselves apart, trying to do things that are gonna help market themselves better to try and get the faces of the league out there a little bit more, try to give it more of a celebrity feel. I think that's something everyone can appreciate and be drawn to.

RG: You're also playing in the NHL charity poker tournament out here ...

JR: Yeah, PokerStars.net is putting it on. A lot of good NHL guys. (Alexander) Ovechkin, myself, a lot of old guys like Cam Neely, Pat LaFontaine, they're gonna be there. Poker stars like Vanessa Ruosso, Greg Raymer and Chris Moneymaker. So we've got a good mix of both NHL stars and poker stars. That's for a good cause, too -- Ronald McDonald House -- and NHL Goals and Dreams. Two good charities. That's important. It's not for benefit. Each player gets $2,000 to donate to our own charities, so it's totally charity-driven and it shows that the NHL is giving back.

RG: You're a very avid poker player. How long have you been in the game?

JR: A long time. Obviously, playing in planes for years and years. But I've come to the Rio many times and played in a bunch of World Series events. Cashed in two of them. So I like to say I'm pretty good with the cards.

RG: So poker's as prevalent in the NHL as it is in other professional sports?

JR: Oh absolutely. Lots of time on planes, lots of time in hotel rooms. You find things to do, and most of the time it's poker.

RG: Who are the guys who you think are suckers, and you can beat them any time you play them?

JR: NHL guys? Joe Thornton's a guy I think I can beat all the time. He's my go-to-guy where, if I know I need to make a run, I can bluff him out of almost any pot.

Jeremy Roenick tidbits

  • Age: 39
  • Drafted: 8th overall by Chicago in 1988
  • Career Games: 1,363
  • Career Goals: 513
  • Career Assists: 703
  • Career Points: 1,216
  • All-Star Appearances: 9 (last in 2004)
  • Web Site: www.roenicklife.com
  • -- Married to wife, Tracy, with a daughter, Brandi, and a son, Brett. Resides in Los Gatos, Calif.
  • -- Roenick is one of 3 American-born players (along with Mike Modano and Joe Mullen) to score 500 career NHL goals. He is the second highest-scoring American-born player ever behind only Modano.
  • -- Made his NHL debut on Oct. 6, 1988, at the age of 18.
  • -- Has several endeavors outside of hockey, including a number of gigs on TV and appearances in World Series of Poker events.
  • -- Known for years as one of the NHL's most outspoken stars.
  • -- Earned pop culture fame when Vince Vaughn name-dropped his NHL 94 prowess in the film Swingers.

RG: Who's the best?

JR: I think I'm one of the best players. But the best, I think is Travis Green, who's not in the league anymore. He's retired, but he's probably the best poker player out there. He's pretty much on the World Series tour now.

RG: Every poker player, well a lot of them, don't remember great wins, but they remember bad beats. What's the worst beat you can remember?

JR: Not that I lost on, but I watched, I witnessed a four-of-a-kind aces get beat by a royal flush. It was in an Arizona casino at their poker club. It was one of the most intense things I've ever seen. The guy had pocket aces, the flop came ace-king-jack. The turn came with the 10, and the guy had the queen. The river was the fourth ace. That was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen, and I believe anything can happen now.

RG: There are a lot of rumors surrounding an NHL team maybe coming to Vegas. Do you see this as a town that could be a hockey town?

JR: I think so. There's so many snowbirds -- people who come down from Chicago, Minnesota, Canada -- that move down here to work, and the population has grown so much out here. There's people moving to Henderson, to the north, to the south, it's really expanding. The amount of people that live here now can definitely support it. It's just trying to find the right entertainment, the right team, to do that.

RG: You played for awhile in Phoenix. What's the key to making the NHL work in the desert? It worked for awhile there.

JR: Marketing, for one. Getting the right players on your team. You get some entertaining players, guys who are fun to watch, that's huge and a big key. Being out here, I'm sure they can do a lot of different things with the aspects that come with Vegas. With the stars that come here, you could get big celebrities over there. You could really do a of different things. I said earlier, maybe the Maloofs own it and you can put blackjack tables around the concourse and people can play between periods. There's a lot of things you can do to help.

RG: So would you play for a team in Vegas?

JR: Oh, absolutely. It'd be a little dangerous for me, and I don't know how my wife would like it, but I would like it.

RG: Do you think a lot of guys would jump at the chance to play hockey here?

JR: More single guys, for sure. I think the single guys would love to be here. Married guys coming here I think it'd be a little bit tougher for them. There's a lot of things that maybe aren't marriage material here, but still, it's a wild place. If you like that fun, this is the place to do it.

RG: You, personally, how much hockey do you have left in you?

JR: I'm not sure. I'm right in the middle of trying to decide whether I want to play another year. I'm talking to the GM, seeing what's out there, what's available for me. My 20, 21 years has been a long time. Probably another month I'll take before I decide. That's a good question, because I don't even know yet.

RG: With all you've accomplished in your career, how much does getting a Stanley Cup mean to you?

JR: It means everything. That's what I play for. I don't play for the glory, don't play for the money, don't play for the accolades. I specifically play for the Stanley Cup and the love of the game. That would have been an unbelievable thing, and if I do play another year, that's what my goal would be. If I do, I could retire the happiest man in the world. It's very elusive, it's the toughest trophy in the world to win, and us being as good as we were last year and losing in the first round shows how tough it is to win. It's not the most important thing in my life, but professionally, there's nothing bigger.

RG: What's after hockey, whenever that is? You've done some TV, you love poker ...

JR: I'd love to do TV, I wouldn't mind being a professional poker player, either. That'd be cool. I think being an analyst, maybe having my own radio show. I've been approached. Maybe going into the offices of a team, being an assistant GM or a GM. Getting into the business side of it would be cool for me.

RG: So you're not just gonna disappear somewhere?

JR: I might disappear for about 6 or 7 months, take a little break, enjoy my family for awhile, but the opportunities will be prevalent for sure.

RG: Now last question. I always told myself that if I ever interviewed you, this was what I had to ask. My favorite movie quote of all time ...

Click to enlarge photo

This screenshot shows the virtual Jeremy Roenick (27) in action on NHL 94 by EA Sports, one of the 1990s' most popular video games. His character on the game earned a spot in pop culture lore when Vince Vaughn uttered the line "Y'know, it's not so much me as Roenick; he's good ..." in his first lead role in the 1996 film Swingers.

JR: Swingers. The best.

RG: How many times are you reminded of that a week?

JR: Twenty times a week. Easily 20 times a week. Sega. NHL 94. Greatest game of all-time.

RG: No question.

JR: It was rated one of the top three games of all-time, and if I had a nickel for every time someone said they got through college or played as me in college and won money, or played where the rules were you couldn't be Chicago or something like that, I wouldn't have to play this game for money, either.

RG: Or you could bankroll yourself as a professional poker player and not worry about it.

JR: Exactly.

RG: I grew up a Blackhawks fan, but always used Boston, because I thought Cam Neely ruled on that game. Who was better on that game: You or Neely?

JR: Oh I was definitely better. No question. I had a better scoring touch. Neely might have been a little tougher, but my rating was way higher than his.

RG: Have you ever met Vince Vaughn and talked to him about that line?

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John Favreau, left, and Vince Vaughn in Swingers.

JR: Yeah, he was actually a big fan of mine because he used to watch the games. He told me he put me in that movie totally out of respect. And everything he does, he tries to involve me with it. In Wedding Crashers, his fake name was Jeremy in the movie. That was pretty cool. He's a big fan of mine and a great dude. Great guy.

Tickets are still available for next Thursday's NHL Awards at the Palms. Visit NHL.com or palmspearl.com for ticket info.

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