In 2009 Jeremy Roenick retired from the NHL after a 20-year career with the Blackhawks, Coyotes, Flyers, Kings and Sharks. He finished with 513 goals, second most by an American-born player behind Mike Modano. In his second career, Roenick has been a fixture on NBC's coverage of hockey as an analyst on the NHL and the Olympics. He has also authored two books, including Shoot First, Pass Later. In addition to providing an inside perspective on the oddities of life as a pro athlete, Roenick's new book also examines how he approaches his job as a commentator. In this excerpt, he sizes up Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin:
Fans frequently ask me to name a current National Hockey League player who plays the game the way I played, and I'm forever stumped by the question.
I've never seen a player who reminds me of me.
Maybe I was unique. That was true in the 1990s, during my prime seasons, when I could be entertaining on and off the ice. Who else could dash around the rink and dance with the media the way I could?
Whenever my mouth would get me in trouble, somebody would say that they threw away the mold after J.R. was created.
At the very least, I was a one-of-a-kind showman.
The current player who most resembles me in style and personality is Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.
That statement probably shocks the many fans who believe I have a Cold War attitude about Russian players. Despite what you may have read or heard, I don't hate Russian players. In fact, I greatly admire the top players in Russian hockey history, including Ovechkin.
Ovechkin is a bigger man and a more skillful goal scorer than I was. I played a smarter all-around game and was a better playmaker. But our passion for the game is the same, and Ovechkin's rambunctious playing style is similar to the way I whirled around the ice like the Tasmanian Devil.
I'm proud that I always thundered up the ice as if I were leading a full cavalry charge, and my sense is that Ovechkin also loves skating with the throttle wide open. Ovechkin seems to enjoy running over people the same way I did.
And clearly, Ovechkin samples the nightlife as much as I did during my heyday.
Ovechkin and I are also similar in our willingness to speak our minds whenever we are in the mood to do so.
The media blasted Ovechkin during the second round of the 2015 NHL playoffs when he guaranteed a victory in Game 7 of a series against the New York Rangers. Ovechkin's haters said that given his poor playoff history, he had no right to channel his inner Mark Messier and guarantee a victory.
Of course, I loved what Ovechkin said, because it reminded me of something I might have said if a reporter asked me what was going to happen in a Game 7.
Remember, I'm the guy who predicted Team USA was going to win the gold medal in the 1996 World Cup. I didn't end up playing because I didn't have a contract, but I'm the guy who first said we were going to win the damn gold medal. Team USA general manager Lou Lamoriello wasn't happy that I supplied Canada with bulletin board material, but as far as I was concerned, the prediction needed to be made publicly. We needed to be on record saying we intended to beat Canada.
Here is what Ovechkin said before his Game 7 against New York: "We're going to come back and win the series. We're going to play our game, and we're going to come back and we're going to play Montreal or Tampa [in the conference final]."
Those words, by themselves, would have created only a small bonfire, but earlier in the series he trash-talked Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist after scoring a goal against him.
"All series, baby," Ovechkin said.
Later in the series, he said the Rangers were afraid of the Capitals' offensive might. When you piled the guarantee on top of Ovi's previous comments, his body of work suddenly became the target of media criticism. The prevailing sentiment was that Ovechkin should keep his mouth shut.
Maybe it's media members who are anti-Russian. Reporters and analysts used to celebrate when I opened my mouth and let the cockiness flow. Why don't they have the same level of enjoyment when Ovechkin has something to say? It makes you wonder.
I respect Ovechkin's rants and I wish he would do it more often. It would be good for the NHL, and it would be good for his teammates to be reminded regularly how passionate he is about our sport.
What I enjoyed most of all was Ovechkin's reaction when he was told that fans and some members of the media disapproved of his guarantee.
He said he didn't care what other people think of him.
As the team’s captain, Ovechkin should go strong to the microphone. His coach, Barry Trotz, said he appreciated that Ovechkin was breathing fire before a big game. And I guarantee you that his teammates were fired up to hear that Ovechkin believed they were going to kick ass and take names.
Nobody wants to hear their leader be wishy-washy, or hopeful, or merely confident. Players want to hear their leader say, "We are going to win the f----- game."
Captains are supposed to stand up and challenge themselves to carry the load. Don't ever say you hope to win. Say you will win. If you believe it, it'll come true.
I was proud of Ovechkin for picking up the Capitals' flag and leading the charge. It takes guts to do something like that, because he knew he would be carved up in the press if he didn't play well. He showed large balls by making that prediction.
As it turned out, Ovechkin played well but the Capitals lost. But that didn't make his guarantee any less important. His teammates will remember how badly Ovechkin wanted to win that game.
Some of my readers are going to remember that I was brutally critical of Ovechkin for his minus-35 performance during the 2013–14 season. You probably believe I'm a hypocrite. But my response to you would be that Ovechkin deserved the criticism for that minus-35 two seasons ago.
How bad do you have to be defensively when you score 51 goals and still end up at minus-35?
The answer is that a player has to be horses--- defensively.
I'm paid by NBC to be an NHL analyst. Ovechkin had a ridiculously poor season and unfortunately I had to take him to the woodshed because of that. I called him out, and I think Ovi understood.
But I saw a different Ovechkin in 2015. I saw a player who is fully committed to implementing Trotz's system. I witnessed Ovi transform himself from a goal scorer to a superstar who is trying to be both a scorer and leader.
All of the talk about how I was anti-Russian started before my criticism of Ovechkin. It had more to do with what I’ve had to say about Alexander Semin and Ilya Kovalchuk in the past.
Perhaps it was also fueled by my admission in my first book that I didn't have much use for my former Phoenix Coyotes teammate Oleg Tverdovsky.
As I explained, he was my all-time least favorite teammate because he wasted his tremendous talent. He had a poor attitude, and he screwed up drills time after time in practice because he refused to focus.
Weary of his attitude, one day I dropped my gloves in practice and beat the f--- out of him. The kid had probably never had a fight in his life, and he had no answer for my fury.
My issues with Semin and Kovalchuk has nothing to do with where they're from and everything to do with what I perceive to be their selfish playing style.
When the Carolina Hurricanes signed Semin to a five-year, $35 million contract in 2013, I said on the air that it was the worst signing or move in franchise history. I didn't believe Semin would work hard enough to earn that money. I viewed him as a selfish player, a player who puts his interests above the team's best interests.
That was based on watching him play, not on his passport. I've seen him abandon a back check to leave the ice, even though it created an odd-man rush against his team.
I've witnessed Kovalchuk do that as well, and I've also seen Kovalchuk not back check because he was busy scolding his teammate for not passing him the puck on a 2-on-1 break. It was during a game against the Los Angeles Kings, and the Kings scored on the play.
Those are selfish plays, and I'm sure a Russian coach would have been just as disgusted at those players as their NHL counterparts were.
The truth is that I've marveled at the skill of the top Russian players from the time I started facing them in the World Junior Championships. I played on a line with Tony Amonte and Mike Modano, and we were matched up against the Russian super line of Alexander Mogilny, Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure.
In case you are wondering, the six of us combined for 2,883 goals during our NHL careers. Modano, Amonte, and I totaled 1,490 goals. Modano led with 561, while I had 513 and Amonte netted 416. The three Russian players totaled 1,393, with Fedorov scoring 483. Mogilny came in at 473 and Bure scored 437 times.
Bure was so f------ fast that he seemed bionic. He only needed two strides to reach top speed, and he seemed to look faster with the puck than he did without it.
All six of us could skate like the wind, but if I had to handicap the field I would say Bure was fastest, followed in order by Fedorov, Amonte, Modano, me, and then Mogilny.
People used to tell me that I was a graceful skater and that I made skating look effortless, but I always felt as if I was working my ass off.
Bure, Fedorov, and Mogilny always made it seem like they were hardly working. Mogilny could ramp up to top speed without showing a bead of sweat.
Igor Larionov was another Russian I loved playing against, because he was magical with the puck.
I was in awe of these guys, jealous of their skill, because I believed they were always about to do something spectacular. I wouldn't take my eyes off them in a game. They rarely disappointed me.
Today, I enjoy watching Ovechkin because he can take over a game like he's the king of the jungle. He can dominate with his physical play and his goal-scoring ability. With the way we play defense today in the NHL, not many players can do that.
I believe we have witnessed Ovechkin mature into a player who is fully committed to winning. He still loves to have a good time at night, but he knows when it's time to go home.
At the All-Star Game in Columbus, Ovechkin hung out with my group at a bar. Late into the night, some of us ended up at a local strip club. I believe it was a member of Ovechkin's posse who came up with the idea. Truthfully, I had not been to one in years. The theory was that Columbus is a college town -- the home of Ohio State -- so a strip club there would be hopping and fun.
Boy, were we wrong in that assessment. We should have left the minute we walked in the door. The crowd was not entertaining. The atmosphere was not fun.
I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that a couple of women were missing teeth. The place was not what we expected.
But we ended up staying because the place had a grill and a chef who was cooking up pancakes, waffles, and chicken. It was 3:00 in the morning and we were starving.
Women kept coming up to our table, offering to provide us with lap dances, but we shooed them away.
"No offense, honey," someone said. "But these chicken and waffles are far more desirable."
And where was Ovechkin as this debauchery was going on? He was at his hotel sound asleep. He had abandoned us hours before, because he had a game the next day.
Ovechkin, in the prime of his career, realizes that it is better for him and his image if he samples the nightlife in moderation.
That's the kind of realization that didn't come to me until I was 33 or 34. Probably, my NBC producer Sam Flood, my wife, Tracy, and others might argue that the realization still hasn't come to me.
-- Excerpted by permission from Shoot First, Pass Later by Jeremy Roenick with Kevin Allen. Copyright (c) 2015. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Jeremy Roenick on Twitter @Jeremy_Roenick. Follow Kevin Allen on Twitter @ByKevinAllen.