Jeremy Roenick spent much of the summer coming to grips with the realization that his career as a professional hockey player was over. That was, until he received a phone call from friend and ex-teammate Doug Wilson.
Wilson, the executive vice president and general manager of the San Jose Sharks, called with an offer that Roenick just couldn’t refuse.
“When someone shows the respect and confidence in you to ask you to play for them, especially when nobody else seems to want to take a chance on you, you get excited, especially with the level of team that we have here,” Roenick says of the phone call that breathed new life into his 19-year career.
That excitement reached a new level on Nov. 10, when Roenick fired a dump-in shot from outside the blue line that took a strange carom off the boards and past Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Alex Auld to score a goal that even he calls “one of the luckiest without question” of his career.
But as luck would have it, it would propel the Boston native into the lofty status as the third American-born hockey player to score 500 goals.
Roenick celebrated by hoisting his son, Brett, onto his shoulders and taking to the ice to share the moment with San Jose fans. It was an experience that was “extremely, extremely special [and something that] I will never forget.”
During his milestone march, Roenick and his coaches tried to not focus on the statistic. While they figured he would plug away and eventually reach the mark, nobody expected him to do it so quickly.
For the first time in his career, Roenick is not being called on to carry the offensive load, but rather play smart, disciplined hockey.
“We were really up front with him about our expectations. His role on the team is as a leader and someone to bring experience to a young team,” says Sharks head coach Ron Wilson.
So far it’s been a different Roenick, both on and off the ice. In the past few seasons in Phoenix and Los Angeles, the colorful JR has made more noise with his off-ice antics than with his on-ice actions. Wilson made it clear that things would have to be different in San Jose.
“You have been a caricature of yourself the last couple of years,” Wilson told JR. “He appreciated that we showed him the respect to offer him a slot on the team after a bad couple years. He has a new lease on life.”
That new lease is what has re-energized JR and propelled him to second in team scoring early on behind superstar Joe Thornton.
“I can go to the rink and be a cheerleader. Be a guy that brings some energy and some experience for some of the young guys and just be one of 25 guys,” says Roenick, who turns 38 on Jan. 18.
“I’m just a normal guy that’s on a team that’s full of talent, and that’s a fun atmosphere for me to be in. I’m really enjoying it.”
As Roenick has enjoyed a season of rebirth and rejuvenation, Wilson says that he is “not surprised at all by what he’s done on the ice, but I am a bit surprised by how peaceful he is.”
“He plays with his heart on his sleeve, which has also gotten him into trouble in the past,” says Wilson. “When you’re happy, good things happen in your life, it shows up on the ice.”
As he looks back on his illustrious and often colorful career, Roenick thinks that his legacy in the hockey world will be a positive one.
“Myself, [Mike] Modano, [Keith] Tkachuk, [Brian] Leetch, guys of this nature, we built a new image for American hockey,” he says.
When Team USA won Olympic Gold in 1980, it inspired JR and many others to want to be an Olympic and professional athlete. He is hoping to inspire future generations of American
“The Patrick Kanes, the (Joe) Pavelskis, the guys that are really coming up in the league now are going to help build that tradition that we have worked so hard for the last 20 years to make so good and to get respect out of the world of hockey,” Roenick says.
“We are now being known as a powerhouse for the last 15 years, and that’s due a lot to the guys who are now skating out of the NHL and making way for the new group.” J