"You don't understand the feeling you get as a professional athlete, being on the ice, being on the field, being in a situation where you are surrounded by as many fans as we are. The emotion, the noise, the adrenaline that goes through you. It's addictive. Standing there and feeling that this could be the last time I am in this sort of atmosphere, it was scary for me. I don't want to say it is an eye opener, you know when your whole life flashes before your eyes, [but...]"
>>Jeremy Roenick, via Sharkspage
I don't think much has been made of this (obviously, there is a more important story line playing out with the Sharks at the moment), and I mentioned it only as an aside in my Game 6's post, but this was something I noticed while watching both Games 5 and 6 of the Sharks-Ducks series: Jeremy Roenick appeared to be in a meditative -- and somewhat frightened -- state...
I'm not saying that's how his play looked (he's become more of a role player and veteran presence, anyway). Just that in the Versus on-ice interview before Game 5, and every time he was shown on the bench during the final two games, his facial expression carried the look of a guy all too aware that the end was near. [Note: To be clear, Roenick has not decided whether he's playing next season.]
We're used to hearing these stories when they work out well: Andreychuk gets his Cup in 2004, the overdone "win Ray the Cup" campaign in 2001 -- heck, even the Islanders stars who retired in the '80s had the identity of the dynasty to look back on and ease the pain of retirement. Not as much when the old veteran's team falls short, though.
So it's really interesting to hear Roenick discuss this aspect of a player's career. Given how outspoken and frank he's been throughout his time in the NHL, he's the perfect guy to give us a portrait of the athlete as a no-longer-young man.
While none of us can identify with making millions of dollars playing a child's game (We can't ... right? No millionaire athlete readers here? If so, drop me a line and we can talk about that groundskeeper position), it's not hard as humans to place ourselves in the shoes he describes. Even if it's not adoration we seek, the sheer energy of the crowd watching, living and dying with what happens on your ice must be a constant source of adrenaline that is hard to walk away from. We feel that adrenaline as spectators -- it's part of why, like addicts ourselves, we keep returning. It must be amplified a thousand times for an athlete.
Have you ever skated or been on the ice in an NHL arena? Suddenly 200' by 85' feels really, really small, when surrounded by 20,000 seats that climb up to the rafters.
Add a "white out" or "orange crush" or "sea of red" of rabid fans to that mix, and it's easy to believe why an aging star would have an almost out-of-body experience contemplating this rush nearing its end.
Here you are, you're nearing 40, it may be the half-way point of your life, you've spent every waking year of it playing increasingly "important" games, you haven't really had to worry about money -- and now in a day, in an hour, in a minute, it could be gone. Never to be experienced again.
Add to it that any further play he can muster now is necessarily but a shadow of the center-of-focus star he was when he began, and it must be quite the contemplative state he's in.
I'd be happy if Roenick wrote a book of on-ice tales from throughout his career -- whenever it ends. But I also wouldn't mind hearing more reflections from him on what the final years were like from the inside. Something tells me he'd have stuff to say.