On November 10, 2007, Jeremy Roenick became just the third American-born player in NHL history to score 500 career goals.
I was there that night at HP Pavilion, along with 17,496 fans in attendance to watch the San Jose Sharks play the Phoenix Coyotes. In a 1-1 game midway through the second period, the Sharks won a faceoff in their own zone, and the puck found the stick of Roenick who carried it across center and dumped it into the Coyote’s end of the ice.
Routine dump-in, right? Wrong. Perhaps destined to find the back of the net, the puck caromed off the Pexiglass and bounced towards backup goaltender Alex Auld, who couldn’t trap it at the side of the goal. So now, with the puck dangerously hanging around the crease with players closing in, Auld panicked and tried to play it with his stick. Instead, he took a weak poke at the puck, and knocked it into his own net.
The crowd erupted as people began to realize that history had been made. Roenick was jacked up and emotional on the bench, cheering along with the crowd.
Once the final horn sounded, Roenick was presented as the first star of the game, and saluted the crowd by taking a trip around the ice with his son, Brett, on his shoulders. He teared up in an interview with John Schrader, telling him and the entire stadium, “It’s truly an honor to be in the company that I am. I’ve played with some great teams, and I feel like I’m playing for the greatest one in my career right now.”
In his book, J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey
Roenick wrote that he gave the puck to GM Doug Wilson as a token of appreciation for signing him in the off-season. After a disappointing 2006-2007 season with the Coyotes that saw him being scratched for a number of games, Roenick was considering retirement because there were no offers from any teams to bring him as a free agent.
However, Wilson, who was Roenick’s teammate in Chicago during his rookie season, gave him a minimum contract at $500,000 and a chance to join the 500-club.
“Had [Wilson] not called me, I probably would have been forever stuck at 495 [goals],” wrote Roenick.
He did much more than that. Roenick finished the season with 14 goals and 19 assists as the third line center, and provided invaluable veteran stability. He came up huge in Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs, scoring two goals to help eliminate the Calgary Flames.
Although he will be remembered most for his time with the Blackhawks and Flyers, I will always remember him as one of the classiest men to ever play the game of hockey. There is no question that Roenick deserved to join Joe Mullen and Mike Modano at the time as the only American-born players to reach the 500-goal plateau.