Roenick delivers hit, to delight of crowd

Posted: February 03, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Jeremy Roenick promised to be the first guy to hit someone in the All-Star Game.

"Why not?" Roenick asked. "It's off the cuff. I try to do things a little differently."

Yesterday, the Flyers center, playing for North America, delivered on his promise when he buried unsuspecting Alexei Zhitnik at 8 minutes, 56 seconds of the first period with a hit that knocked the Buffalo defenseman on his fanny, to the delight of the crowd at the Staples Center in the 52d NHL All-Star Game.

Roenick had the only hit for either team in an 8-5 loss to the World All-Stars.

"Well, I'm from Philadelphia," Roenick said. "You know, Broad Street Bullies, roughneck days. Actually, I had to show him the Philly mentality so I had to hit him early."

Zhitnik admitted he was surprised.

"Yeah, I was," he said. "Nobody wants to get hit, but you have to be ready and always in control. That's the way it goes. Body contact is illegal in the All-Star Game, but once in a while it happens."

Actually, it's not illegal, it's just an unwritten rule that no one hits each other. Roenick said he could not resist.

"It was a perfect setup. I had a good angle on him going into the boards," Roenick said. "I took him by surprise, for sure. You don't expect to get hit in the All-Star Game. Like I said, the element of surprise is always the best hit. It has nothing to do with him. I have a lot of respect for Zhitnik."

Zhitnik said nothing to Roenick after the hit, but said that Roenick apologized after the game.

"I got myself on the TV highlights and people liked it," Zhitnik said. "No one got hurt. It's just part of the game."

More offense. Hockey's No. 1 ambassador says the NHL needs to make even more changes to add offense and goal-scoring. It's an oft-repeated theme at All-Star Games, but when it comes from player/owner Mario Lemieux, it carries significant weight.

"Maybe [taking] the red line out would be something that would open up the game," Lemieux said. "Give the players some room, especially in the neutral zone. Maybe moving the nets back to where they were before [10 feet from the boards instead of 13], giving the good ice to the players in front instead of behind the net. There's a lot of times you have four or five guys below the goal line. You don't score too many goals there."

Lemieux said he was confident the league would find ways to increase scoring and create more speed, especially in the neutral zone, that "would create a lot more offense and would be a lot better for the game."

What was commissioner Gary Bettman's reaction?

"There are ways to deal with where the nets are placed in terms of the size of the zones and other ways, including making the blue line wider," he said. "There are a whole host of ways to do it."

Tim Panaccio's e-mail address is tpanaccio@phillynews.com.

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