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Rejuvenated Roenick's perseverance honored

by John McGourty

Jeremy Roenick has 10 game winning goals that tops the San Jose Sharks and is second overall in the NHL.      Jeremy Roenick highlights
Jeremy Roenick feared his career might be over last spring after the 18-year NHL veteran's return to the Phoenix Coyotes resulted in an 11-goal, 28-point season. That followed a season in which he had just nine goals and 13 assists for the Los Angeles Kings.

Those were hardly typical years for Roenick, 38, who has 509 goals and 694 assists for 1,203 career points in 1,313 regular-season games. An NHL All-Star Game participant nine times, Roenick was used to being a headliner, not a part timer. In his best season in 1993-94, Roenick had 46 goals and 61 assists and was sixth in League scoring.

The poor seasons in Los Angeles and Phoenix had Roenick thinking it was time to hang 'em up. But Roenick welcomed a call last summer from San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson, his former teammate with the Chicago Blackhawks, and signed to play a week before training camp opened. He's had an interesting season. The Sharks are well stocked with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau centering their top two lines. The rapid development of Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell have only strengthened the team.

Yet, coach Ron Wilson has found an average of 13:44 minutes per game for Roenick to do what he does best: create offense. Roenick has 14 goals and 16 assists in 69 games. But his 10 game winners top the Sharks and are second overall in the NHL.

"This year has been awesome, fantastic, and very gratifying after the couple of years I had there before," Roenick said. "I'm a 20-year veteran who is loving being on a winning hockey team. I feel like I have a second life, a second opportunity, on a team that is completely first class and treats me with respect. We're winning hockey games and the coach uses me in every situation. How can you not be in total awe and have complete satisfaction about this when you have been playing as long as I have?"

Roenick is the Sharks' nominee for the 40th Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy that honors the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Each NHL team has a nominee. The decision is made annually by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

"It would be an unbelievable joy if I could win the Masterton," Roenick said. "During the past two seasons, I was pretty much deciding I didn't want to play any more. My body dragged through the seasons and my mind was beat up. To come back, to have worked as hard as I did to be in this shape, and enjoy the level of play I've had this season has been fantastic. I'm happy that people are noticing how much I'm enjoying the game again and enjoying being able to play at a high level.

"I'm the first one to the rink every day. I'm a rink rat and I'm the last to leave. Hopefully, other people are feeding off my enthusiasm, just seeing that you can be around as long as I have and still be very, very passionate about hockey. I don't have good days and bad days any more. They're all great days. It makes all the work I've put in worthwhile."

In the three years prior to the 2004-05 work stoppage, Roenick had been a team leader for the Philadelphia Flyers, helping them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004. But he was traded to the Kings in the summer of 2005 after the Flyers signed Peter Forsberg to be their No. 1 center.

"That I understood," Roenick said about what had to be a disappointing turn of events. "I understand the business aspect of professional sports as much as anybody. I was fine with them going after Forsberg to replace me.

"What really hurt me was missing a whole year at that point in my career and not really taking care of myself,” he said. “I was almost revolting against the League. You live, you make mistakes and you learn. I might be brash in certain aspects and my attitude hurt me there and it hurt the way I performed. By the time I got in shape, things were out of my control that hampered me big time. I had trouble with my skates and I had trainer issues.

"People might call that a cop out, but they don't understand being a professional athlete. The way I play, my skating ability, when that's not at its proper level, I can't play at my proper level. It's not a cop out, it's a black-and-white issue. Being on losing teams is also frustrating and hard to deal with."

When he turned 60, Mickey Mantle famously said; "If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself."

Roenick never played the game with an eye to saving his body for his late 30s. He's been a crasher and banger from the get-go and has suffered his share of serious injuries. One of the worst was his broken jaw and concussion that resulted from being hit in the head with a shot in 2004. He returned in time for the playoffs, then suffered another concussion in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final. He was also hit by a ricochet of a Mark Recchi shot in practice that season.

"I took that blow that broke my jaw and came back after seven weeks," Roenick said. "In the playoffs, I suffered a pretty good concussion in the conference final against Tampa Bay. Two big concussions, back-to-back, takes a toll. I didn't feel right until December of the next year. It was difficult to come back and get over the facial injury, plus the fact I had serious brain issues."

Roenick realizes that he's going to suffer injuries, given the way he crashes through bodies to get to pucks and the devastating checks he's been known to use to separate the puck carrier from the puck.

"I give every ounce of energy that I have in every game," he said. "I leave my body, my muscles, my mind out on the ice. I truly believe that if you're going to play for a team, a city or a country, you go out and give everything you have. That's the one thing we players can control. We can't control the score or our goals and assists. The most important thing I've tried to portray in my career is that I work hard every night."

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