J.R. bound for Calgary ... until Gretzky called

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

He says it was the hardest hockey decision he's made.

Jeremy Roenick opted to say no to Darryl Sutter after his old mentor gave him the opportunity to play for a Canadian franchise -- something the veteran forward coveted in the twilight of his NHL career.

The fact the Calgary Flames general manager stepped away from the bench to focus solely on his GM duties shortly after Roenick signed with the Phoenix Coyotes gives the outspoken player comfort.

"If I played here, I would have wanted him on the bench," Roenick said yesterday before his Coyotes played the Flames at the Saddledome.

"I would have wanted to play with him standing behind me so I guess I have a little bit of solace that he's up in the booth instead of on the bench."

Sutter and Roenick have a lot of affection for each other. The two greet with hallway hugs when they meet during a season.

That relationship initially made it an easy decision for Roenick to become a Flame this summer -- that is, before a phone call changed his mind as he was preparing to dial up Sutter and agree to a deal.

Roenick admitted yesterday he was about 30 minutes away from donning the Flaming C this season.

"I was actually ready to call Darryl and say, 'Let's do it,' " Roenick recalled, adding the idea of playing with Jarome Iginla and his buddy Tony Amonte were also part of the appeal.

"There wasn't any other team I wanted to play for.

"And then Gretz (Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky) called. There's one team that would have changed that decision and that was Phoenix."

Not that the Coyotes were a better team.

Roenick's family resides in Arizona and he's been without their continued company since his first stint in the desert ended after the 2001-02 season.

"We're struggling along here but I still go home and wake up to my son and my daughter, take them to school every morning. Pick them up from school every afternoon, pretty much. I can look in the stands at my home ice and see them," said Roenick.

"It's a pretty special thing, especially after not having them for three or four years.

"My son is nine years old, loves the game and is really into his dad right now. I don't know if this is my last year or if I have another one or two years left if I decide to, but I wanted to give him the opportunity to see me every night. I don't think I would have had that opportunity anywhere else."

While he doesn't regret his decision, Roenick admits it was tough when he finally got around to ringing Sutter.

He had to leave a lengthy message for his former Chicago Blackhawks coach.

"It killed me," Roenick said. "It was one of the hardest phone calls I've made."


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