The NHL has been around for 90 years. Yet of the top 39 goal scorers of all-time, all at or above the sacred 500-goal marker, just two are American-born.
Joe Mullen, whose 17-year NHL career included stops with St. Louis, Calgary, Pittsburgh and Boston, was the first U.S.-born player to reach the milestone, retiring with 502 tallies in 1997.
“It shows how amazing it was for Joe Mullen to do it in the era he played in,” said Sharks Radio Play-by-Play man and noted hockey historian Dan Rusanowsky. “He was the first to accomplish it and he overcame so much. He started skating on roller skates in New York.”
Unlike now, where Americans in the first round can take up more than one-third of the slots, in Mullen’s day, it was highly unusual for an American to produce at such a high level.
Following Mullen, it would be almost 10 years before another U.S.-born player reached 500 goals. In 2007, Mike Modano hit the career milestone and then surpassed Mullen to become the all-time leading goal-scorer among U.S.-born players. Now another player is set to close in on the mark as the Sharks Jeremy Roenick is just three goals away from 500 following a two-goal performance in just his second game in teal (Oct. 5 at Vancouver).
Mullen, Modano and Roenick are all pioneers in raising the level of American play and awareness of hockey. But when Modano and Roenick were youngsters, it was the 1980 Miracle on Ice at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid that influenced their love for the game.
“It made me want to be a pro athlete,” said Roenick. “I remember sitting there with my equipment on in my friend’s living room waiting to go to play a game.”
“Modano and Roenick became a part of the next era,” said Rusanowsky. “They were around 10 when the 1980 team won and were the perfect age to be inspired by it. It helped change the perception of what Americans can do in the game.”
That part had yet to sink in on Roenick.
“I was too young to understand (what it would do for American hockey),” said Roenick.
Eight years later the results would be evident.
“Modano played Canadian junior and went first overall,” said Rusanowsky. “Roenick played at Thayer Academy, played in Hull (QMJHL) and was drafted eighth overall.”
The draft status of the two showed something not traditionally awarded to young American talents – respect.
“They were highly regarded,” said Rusanowsky. “When Mullen came in, U.S. players weren’t as respected. That (U.S. players being drafted first and eighth overall) showed the development of U.S. hockey in the eyes of the NHL.”
Roenick and Modano were from traditional American hockey hotbeds in Massachusetts and Michigan respectively. Now, in part because of their influences as American NHL All-Stars, a Southern California prospect was taken in the first round, a Jr. Sharks player was nabbed in the third round and a Dallas area player was selected in the fourth round of the most recent NHL Entry Draft.
“It’s flattering,” said Roenick. “Seeing kids wear your jersey or pretend to be you playing street hockey is great. Hockey has made a nice life for me and there is no better gift as a person than to have a positive influence on kids involved in the game.”
While in the prime of his career, Roenick joined the fledgling Phoenix Coyotes who had migrated south from Winnipeg and saw the sports Sun Belt growth first hand.
“When I got there, there were two rinks,” said Roenick. “Now there are 15-16 in the area. It shows how popular the sport is. It’s a great to raise kids playing sports and it’s a very disciplined game. There are worse places to spend the summer than Arizona.”
For Sharks fans, if Roenick hits 500 at home, they will be witness to history, and it will be a tad ironic. When Roenick broke into the NHL, no American born player had reached the 500 goal plateau and there weren’t franchises in San Jose or Phoenix.
As for reaching the 500-goal plateau, Roenick is aware it’s there, but it’s not at the forefront of his mind.
“I haven’t thought about it since scoring the goals,” said Roenick. “I’m just happy to be playing here. The goals and records will come, but winning championships is the hard part.”
Hopefully the 2007-08 campaign will provide Roenick with the goals and the championship.
DAY OFF The Sharks flew to Chicago on Monday and took a day away from the ice. They will practice in Chicago on Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. PST match up that will be available on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.
RADIO NOTE Each weekday prior to Sharks broadcasts, Dan Rusanowsky will do a drive-time segment with Tim Jefferys on 98.5 KFOX for each weekday contest. The interview can be heard approximately one hour and forty minutes prior to 6 p.m. or later starts and about one hour ahead of earlier starts.
KFOX WEEKLY COACH’S SHOW EACH TUESDAY Head Coach Ron Wilson visits with KFOX morning show host Greg Kihn each Tuesday at 6:50 a.m. Don’t forget to tune in.
OAKLAND ICE On Wednesday, October 3, Sharks Ice General Manager Jon Gustafson announced that San Jose Arena Management (SJAM) has been awarded the Oakland Ice Center management contract for the next three years and two months. The facility, which will officially be known as the “Oakland Ice Center managed by Sharks Ice”, will be under SJAM management beginning on Monday, October 29, 2007.
Opened in 1995, the Oakland Ice Center is a public skating facility conveniently located in the heart of downtown Oakland at 519 18th Street. The rink features one Olympic-sized rink and one NHL-sized rink, eight spacious locker rooms, two party rooms, meeting space for group events and a dance studio. Additional facility highlights include spectator seating for 1500, a state-of-the-art sound system, a fully stocked snack bar and full-service pro shop featuring ice hockey and skating equipment as well as Sharks merchandise.
In preparation for the management change, the City of Oakland has overseen a variety of capital improvements to the facility including the replacement of the rink dasher boards and player boxes, repairs to the ice making equipment, and cosmetic upgrades throughout the space.