After a 20-year NHL career, San Jose Sharks center Jeremy Roenick has officially decided to hang up the skates. The future Hall of Famer scored 513 goals, and registered 703 assists for 1,216 career points. And although Roenick's time in teal was short—much like Randy Johnson's presence for the San Francisco Giants this season—no other single player could have meant more to the club's core of young talent.
In two years with the Sharks, Roenick was able to rejuvenate his career and go out with a bang. Despite coming up short in his dream of winning a Stanley Cup, Roenick's fabulous career couldn't have ended in a better fashion. Granted, a Ray Bourque-esque Stanley Cup story would have been the picture perfect ending, but the fact "JR" got to play his last game in the playoffs is no insignificant notion.
Prior to signing with San Jose in 2007, Roenick was all but ready to call it quits before Sharks GM and former teammate Doug Wilson gave him a chance to finish his career on a high note.
Before enjoying his renaissance in San Jose, Roenick hadn't tasted the playoff atmosphere since prior to the lockout. In 2003-04 with the Philadelphia Flyers, Roenick scored the game winning goal in OT of game seven against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The goal sent his Flyers to the Eastern Conference finals where Philadelphia unfortunately lost in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
When the lockout concluded, Roenick spent the 2005-06 season with the Los Angeles Kings and put up just 22 points for a last place franchise. The following season Roenick returned to Phoenix where he had previously spent five seasons (1996-2001) and contributed a subpar 28 points. Ironically, Roenick's point totals were still fourth best on the Coyotes that year which, a testament to how awful the desert dogs were in 2006-07.
But these past two seasons, Roenick was back playing for a winner. Regardless of the notion that the Sharks are the NHL's annual "chokers", the Sharks have made the playoffs for five straight seasons and in 10 of the last 11. Playing in San Jose was the perfect fit for Roenick and JR didn't disappoint.
In his first season with the Sharks, Roenick scored 14 goals and tallied 33 points, the most since 2004. Although 33 points doesn't sound like much, his clutch performance is what really made JR the "feel good story" of the year. 10 of those 14 goals went for game winners, and one of those 10 just happened to be the 500th goal of his career. The 10 game winners were also tied for his third highest total in his illustrious 20 year career.
Not only did Roenick come through in the clutch with game-winning goals but he also netted three game-winning shootout goals as well. But all in all, his regular season performance doesn't even come close to his performance in Game Seven against the Calgary Flames.
As no Sharks fan will ever forget, Roenick gave the San Jose faithful the best playoff performance in Sharks history. After being scratched in Game Six where the Sharks didn't show up to play, Roenick gave the performance of a lifetime. The Sharks ended up winning by the final of 5-3, and JR led the way with two goals and two assists. His go-ahead power-play goal in the second period gave the Sharks the lead that they would never surrender. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_cTpl4yY0o
However, the Sharks would fall short in the following series and Roenick would have to return for yet another season to take another crack at Stanley Cup glory.
Unfortunately for Roenick, injuries limited him to just 13 points in 43 games this past season and the Sharks were yet again unsuccessful in their quest to win JR a Stanley Cup.
Now going into this offseason, the majority of the Shark fan base knew in their hearts that it was time for Roenick to call it quits. When Wilson signed veteran center Scott Nichol to play on the fourth line last month, it was even more obvious that JR's career would be over.
With the announcement finalized, and JR having officially said goodbye to his days as player in the NHL, it is time for someone on the Sharks to step up and fill the void left by one of the greatest players of all-time.
If you watched JR's press conference this morning, you heard him speak highly of youngsters Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell. Although he did mention Thornton as a good friend, he noticeably left out Patrick Marleau. In hindsight, it is clear that neither Thornton nor Marleau will fill the void left by Roenick's absence.
Granted Thornton and Marleau have the talent level to finish their careers with point total's similar to Roenick, but neither player has the passion for the game that JR had. That being said, it is left up to the young core of Sharks to take over the role JR played in San Jose.
The player that comes to mind (who may or may not have the pure talent to reach JR's career point totals) is none other than Sharks center Torrey Mitchell.
If there is any one player that reminds fans of a young Jeremy Roenick, it has to be Mitchell. In his first year in the NHL, Mitchell played in all 82 games, scored 10 goals and added 10 assists for 20 points. But although the point totals don't jump off the screen, it was the intangibles that he brings to the table.
In fact, Mitchell arguably played on the Sharks most productive line in the playoffs last season. Alongside the now retired JR and Jonathan Cheechoo, no other line provided the same amount of energy and intensity last April. Not only does Mitchell provide energy but like Roenick, he expects the best out of his teammates.
Like Roenick, Mitchell's first year with the Sharks was the 2007-08 campaign and like Roenick, Mitchell provided a memory the San Jose faithful will never forget.
In a game at Anaheim against the Ducks, Mitchell provided one of the highlight reel plays of the season. With his team struggling and down by one, Mitchell stole the puck in his own zone while on the penalty kill and took off for a breakaway down the ice. After being pulled down, Mitchell got back on his feet and made a nice deke to the backhand to tie the score. And as Sharks commentator Drew Remenda points out, Mitchell yells at his bench saying "Come on!!!!" after he scores: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Q44RRllsCg&feature=related
Couldn't that "1" on Mitchell's jersey just have easily been a "2" if you weren't watching closely? Does that hustle, does that emotion remind you of somebody?
Perhaps Mitchell won't ever become a player who is as well known as JR but if the Sharks don't want to have a let down in terms of heart and energy this season, Mitchell is going to have to step up and fill those shoes like he is capable of doing.
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