Jeremy Roenick was eating dinner with family and friends in an upscale Scottsdale restaurant on June 9, 2001. He vividly remembers the date, if not the meal, because that same night, roughly 850 miles away in Denver, Ray Bourque was playing for his first and only Stanley Cup.
So, if you were in Scottsdale that night, the guy you saw running back and forth between that swanky restaurant and the local bar three blocks away was good old J.R.
"The closest TV was three blocks from the restaurant," Roenick told NHL.com. "I got up three different times and ran three blocks to see where it was in the game to make sure I got to see Ray Bourque raise the Stanley Cup. I specifically remember running three blocks, leaving my family and friends, to watch him do that."
If Roenick gets his wish now, someone will be running to watch him raise the Cup for the first time ever this coming June.
Roenick was a star on the Chicago team in 1991 that won the Presidents' Trophy and went to the Stanley Cup Final. He was also a key contributor on the Philadelphia team in 2004 that went to the Eastern Conference Final.
Despite those close calls, Roenick has never been as optimistic about his chances as he is this year with the San Jose Sharks. So, it's certainly possible that that Roenick becomes this year's Bourque, Dave Andreychuk or Dallas Drake -- the respected veteran who finally reaches the top.
"Absolutely, no doubt, this is the best opportunity I ever had and will ever have, to tell you the truth," Roenick said. "My timetable is getting very, very short, so it's desperation time."
Roenick, 39, said if he does win that elusive Cup this season he will most likely retire on that high note to go out in a similar way to guys like Bourque and Drake and even someone like Ken Daneyko, who retired in New Jersey after winning his third Cup in 2003.
If it should come to that, Roenick is hoping the fans and the media will look at him through those same rose-colored glasses. He hopes that he's earned that kind of respect and admiration after giving it everything he's got for 21 years.
"I know how I felt watching Ray lift it, and that would be very special," Roenick said. "I hope that's the feeling. I hope I have worked hard enough and established myself in the League as someone that is respected, admired and liked enough to where people hope for good things for me.
"I have been around for a long time and haven't won one and that's frustrating," he continued. "It's nice to know people would be wishing me good faith and good luck in trying to get the Cup. That would make my career very, very complete knowing that I have that support behind me. So, yeah, I do wish for that. I do hope for that. It's very important to me. The fans are very important to me."
Make no mistake, however. Roenick is not just taking up space on the Sharks' bench, dragging his career on just long enough to maybe win a championship.
That's not Roenick's way. Since coming back from midseason shoulder surgery, the veteran forward has been a key component in the Sharks attack. He's playing more than 17 minutes a game since rejoining the lineup on a full-time basis late last month and is one of the major voices in an experienced dressing room.
"He plays important minutes and he's important around the room," Sharks defenseman Rob Blake told NHL.com. "The guys really respect his opinion and how he motivates before games and during games. You take all that into account, but we understand why he's here ready to compete now. He's had a couple of tough injuries with his shoulder, but he's worked himself into a position where come playoffs, when it's the time to come and play, we know what he can do."
Roenick came out of a short-lived retirement two summers ago to join the Sharks because of his relationship with GM Doug Wilson and the hope he had for the team his buddy -- and former teammate in Chicago -- had built in San Jose.
Roenick doesn't think he would have come back to play for any other team.
"I knew San Jose was one of the elite teams in the last five or six years and my agent and I attempted to get traded there a couple of times throughout my career knowing that Doug was there," Roenick said. "San Jose was always on my radar. My relationship with Doug is very special, so I don't think it could have happened anywhere else."
Wilson wanted Roenick, but made absolutely zero promises to get him. Wilson made it abundantly clear Roenick had to earn his roster spot, earn his ice time and earn the respect of his teammates.
"All we did was give him the opportunity," Wilson told NHL.com. "He deserves all the credit for going and doing the work necessary to play in this League at this time. It's one thing to say you want to play, but to commit to it…You see how he plays with his passion. He's got skill, but he's got grit. He'll go around you. He'll go through you. He'll take a hit. He'll block a shot. I think that all relays to the fan in seeing a guy who truly loves to play the game."
It certainly hasn't been easy for Roenick.
This season, in fact, has been especially trying. Roenick had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder Dec. 15 and missed the next 28 games. He returned for five games before reinjuring the same shoulder.
"I probably had an injury that I could have played with," Roenick said. "It would have bothered me and I would have been 60 to 70 percent all season, and I don't know what effect I would have had on the team, so I had surgery to put myself in the best position I could to best help my teammates. But, that whole rehab was frustrating."
Roenick said he did 10 weeks of two-a-days in the gym, bag skates after practices and "probably two stages of the Tour de France on the exercise bike."
"You have to work doubly hard the older you get and it was very trying for me, but the guys around me everyday are so great and so much fun to be around that it really cushioned that anxiety," Roenick added. "I thought I had a lot of fun last year and this year has just blown away how much fun I had last year. I'm really, really fortunate to be in the situation I am, on the team I am on and in the city where we play."
Should the Sharks go all the way, Roenick is hoping for just that little bit of pomp and circumstance guys like Bourque, Andreychuk and Drake received.
It would be a fitting end to one of the all-time great careers.
"When you have been around this long you sense that opportunity, and you can see it in his eyes," Blake said. "This is probably one of the best shots he's ever had to accomplish that goal, so we've got to make it happen."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com