The 2015 NHL All-Star Game in Columbus will be remembered as a finesse-filled, high-scoring affair, with the statistics not coming close to resembling an average regular season game.
First, the names of the teams were player-based for the third consecutive season. Team Toews and Team Foligno were selected in a draft that featured a “trade” for the first time ever: Nick Foligno “traded” Phil Kessel to Team Toews for Tyler Seguin in a move that patterned a real-life deal when Kessel was traded by Boston to Toronto in exchange for some draft picks, one of which turned out to be the second overall pick in the 2010 Draft, which wound up being Seguin.
Second, a relaxed and celebratory nature of the show was evident all weekend, right down to the Jonathan Toews comments about how Kessel was among the “most coachable” in the League, which was a friendly slap directed at the real-life comments made on the Madison, Wisconsin native’s coachability.
Third, Team Toews defeated Team Foligno, 17-12, in a finesse-oriented game that featured no penalties, 92 shots between the teams, and where the goaltenders weren’t reaching for ulcer treatment when the puck went into the net. The total of 29 goals was a new All-Star record, and the four goals recorded by John Tavares of Team Toews tied the all-time record held by Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Vincent Damphousse, Mike Gartner, and Dany Heatley. The Sharks’ Brent Burns represented his team and his city well, getting into the high 90’s with his heavy shot, and scoring a goal and an assist in the game, including the last goal of the contest late in the third period.
With the World Cup of Hockey returning in 2016 for the first time in 12 years, with the NHL participating in each Winter Olympic Games since 1998, and with the Winter Classic and Stadium Series games reaching the height of popularity, a lot of people have wondered whether the mid-season All-Star game is really serving a purpose any longer. My answer is: “Yes.”
To provide more background for my answer, I’ll draw on personal experience from the two All-Star Games that I have been privileged to attend: the game in San Jose way back in 1997, and another one at Madison Square Garden in New York way, WAY back in 1973.
In the 1970’s, it was a little bit closer to a regular game than perhaps it is now, and the format was a little more traditional, pitting the East vs. the West. Instead of a 17-12 football score, it was a game won by the East, 5-4. There were penalties called in the game, all minors, assessed to Bobby Orr, Gary Bergman, Ken Hodge, and Bill White. With two goals, Pittsburgh’s Greg Polis was named the game’s MVP.
For me, a kid from Connecticut lucky enough to have an uncle who worked for a Manhattan-based company, Exxon, that had tickets available, it was an absolute thrill to be able to go to the game. I had been to two other NHL games to that point, and understood that this game didn’t count in the standings. However, the greatest part of the experience for me was to see so many of the NHL’s top players in person.
These were players that I had heard about while listening to NHL games on the radio. Occasionally, I was able to watch some of them on TV in those pre-cable days. In that game, I got a chance to see Bobby Orr and Brad Park play together on the power play, which was something that couldn’t happen in the regular season and doesn’t really occur in the modern All-Star Game.
For me, while moment-by-moment memories are somewhat faded, here are a few things that stuck with me: I got to see the “MPH Line” of Pit Martin, Jim Pappin, and Dennis Hull play together, as they did normally for the Chicago Blackhawks. I saw Stan Mikita play in person. I was very impressed by the goaltending of LA’s Rogie Vachon, whom I had only heard about but who I gained more respect for after seeing him play acrobatically in person. I even got to see Joey Johnston of the California Golden Seals play in the game, along with some of my other favorites, including Jean Ratelle (NYR), Dave Keon (TOR) and Yvan Cournoyer (MTL).
The entertaining humor in the game was also evident during the introductions. When members of the arch-rival Boston Bruins were announced, the Garden crowd began its high-decibel level of booing, which brought smiles to all of the players, including the Bruins, who had defeated the hometown Rangers in the previous Stanley Cup Final. Phil Esposito was introduced to a chorus of boos, and he playfully shook his fist at the crowd, which brought an even louder decibel level of hostility.
Then, Bobby Orr was introduced, and for the greatest player of his generation, the boos subsided. There were some cheers from the New York fans as Number Four reached the ice. Coming to a stop, Orr’s skate hit a rut on the ice, causing him to trip and fall flat on his face in front of the 16,986 assembled fans. It was probably the only time that Orr ever actually misstepped in his entire NHL career. He made up for it by looking great in the game.
Fast-forward to 1997, and we had the All-Star Game right here in San Jose, and we had the magic of Owen Nolan’s “called shot” on his hat trick, and a truly great weekend that gave an up-close-and-personal look at Silicon Valley to the rest of the hockey world. Masterton Trophy winner Tony Granato was in the starting lineup, which represented a tremendous comeback from a serious brain injury the year before he came to San Jose. The goals were up from 1973, as the East beat the West, 11-7, and Mark Recchi was awarded the MVP in spite of Owen’s memorable performance.
Beyond the game, some of the more memorable moments for me included the NHL Alumni game, where Walt McKechnie skated onto the ice in the old-time CCM Tacks that were painted white by edict of Seals owner Charles O. Finley, the late Fred Glover found some peace and memory behind the bench, and where Mr. Hockey himself, the great Gordie Howe, made an impression on adults and kids all over the city. I also remember Gary “Cobra” Simmons huffing and puffing as he played the game in spite of recovering from pneumonia only a week or so earlier.
There was a great event at the airship hangar in Mountain View that was packed to the gills with people, and postgame, a memorable downtown party had the fans sharing time with the players themselves. I remember thinking that no other game would have something like that happening, but it did, in San Jose, in 1997.
Today, as the hockey world celebrates Wayne Douglas Gretzky’s 54th (!) birthday, we can reflect positively on the evolution of the NHL All-Star Game, and enjoy its place in the pantheon of all of the great events that the League puts on each year.
We have more goals being scored, and less penalties (none this year) being taken. We have flashy uniforms, teams named after players, a fantasy draft, and even trades consummated. With these changes, what we still have is a unique showcase which puts a spotlight on individual NHL cities, and an exhibition emphasizing the truly magnificent skill of the players, not all of whom get as much exposure in person for the fans in attendance. It’s a lot of work for the League and the host city, and it’s still a great, unique event.
Next month, we’ll get some outstanding exposure for Northern California’s support of the sport at the Coors Light Stadium Series game at Levi’s Stadium between the Sharks and the Kings. That’s also going to be a memorable day in the annals of hockey here in the Golden State. I’m looking forward to that experience, and I know that you are, too.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
Make sure that you’re tuned in to the game tonight in the State of Hockey. It’s sure to be a big one for the Sharks and the Minnesota Wild, for a variety of different reasons.
San Jose recovered nicely from their recent disappointments at home with a strong road performance in blustery, cold Winnipeg last night. The goal by Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 5 seconds to play was certainly one to remember, and it was the second one that he has scored in the closing seconds of the third period.
You remember the first one: on December 20th vs. St. Louis, the Sharks were trailing, 2-1, Antti Niemi was on the bench for an extra attacker, and Vlasic forced OT with passes from Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson with 21 seconds to play. Brent Burns later won it in overtime with a 4-on-3 power play goal.
This time, Karlsson had put the Sharks in front, 2-1, with a nifty give-and-go play from Joe Pavelski and Burns. But Jay Harrison, on a broken play, scored a power play goal to tie it, and everyone was preparing for overtime.
Then, Vlasic got back on the ice. On a brilliant faceoff play, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture combined to get the puck over to Vlasic, who was moving in from his position on the left point. Vlasic’s shot got by goaltender Michael Hutchinson at 19:55, and just as quickly as that, the Sharks added 2 points in the standings and the Jets, who were expecting to add at least 1, added zero.
It should be a great game tonight. Both previous meetings have been decided by a single goal. On Oct. 30th at Xcel Energy Center, Antti Niemi stopped 43 shots as his team faced a season-high 46 attempts on goal. The Sharks led that game, 2-0 and 3-1, before Kyle Brodziak scored twice in the third to force overtime for the Wild. Then, Jason Pominville got the game deciding goal in the shootout.
On Dec. 11th at SAP Center, St. Paul native Alex Stalock got the call for the first time in his career against his hometown team. He made 18 saves, and Joe Pavelski got the game winner for him in the 2-1 victory.
Is Stalock playing tonight? Well, in the immortal words of my former color commentator, Pete Stemkowski, “when they drop the puck, we’ll know.” But if he does get the start, it would be his first-ever NHL assignment in his home state, and that would make it a big night for him.
For the Sharks, it’s a big night either way. They’re at the halfway point of the season, and they’re tied with Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Winnipeg in the increasingly tight Western Conference playoff race. A win would take them into a big game in St. Louis with a chance to sweep a trip and gain ground.
For the Wild, it’s an increasingly desperate situation. They’re 7 points out of the playoff pack, but they do have 3 games in hand on the Sharks, L.A., and Winnipeg. They didn’t play last night. They are going with Darcy Kuemper in net, and they’ll be without Nate Prosser (sick) on defense.
While tonight’s game is nationally televised on NBC SportsNet, we appreciate the fact that many fans would like to have a local broadcast that is in synch with the TV picture. We have that option for you on the San Jose Sharks Radio Network. Our coverage begins on affiliate stations and sjsharks.com at 4:30, and flagship station 98.5 KFOX joins us at 5:00. To synch up the radio feed with what you see on TV, we have directions right here on our website:
Enjoy the game, and the rest of the road trip! I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
I’m thinking about a phrase that my former broadcast partner Pete Stemkowski always uses at this time of the season. As the teams skate toward Christmas, Stemmer has a tendency to say, “It’s still early, but you’d better hurry up before it’s too late.” In the case of the San Jose Sharks, one of the reasons that they have been on this recent run is that they continue to play as if that phrase applies to them all the time.
Perhaps it does. That’s the focused strategy that is needed in the NHL, and the Sharks are hoping to continue that progress as they face Edmonton and St. Louis to close out what has been a good home stand.
Technically, the Sharks are tied with Vancouver for 2nd in the Pacific Division with 38 points, but the Canucks have a game in hand. That reminds me of a redacted phrase, “(Forget) the games in hand,” that former NHLer Reggie Fleming used to say when looking at the morning newspaper in the locker room. We won’t forget the games in hand completely, but we will note that the Sharks are finding ways to rack up those important points in the standings.
But that brings us back to the focused intensity that the team has been showing and the standings seem to be requiring from everyone. While they’re tied in the points for second in the division, they’re also tied with Winnipeg for the first wild card spot, are only 2 points ahead of Los Angeles for the second wild card spot, and are two points ahead of a team, Calgary, that are on the outside looking in when it comes to the post-season.
When you look at the full NHL standings, make sure that you keep an eye on the “ROW” column, which isn’t normally printed in the morning editions of the nation’s press. That column, which stands for “regulation and overtime wins,” shows San Jose with 15, which is 1 behind Vancouver, and just 1 ahead of Winnipeg, Calgary, and Minnesota.
Yes, it’s the little details that will make the difference. Here are a few:
Joe Thornton has 8-13-21 even strength, which ties him for 11th in the NHL (Tyler Johnson of TB leads with 8-20-28). He leads the Sharks with 8 even strength goals, tied-25th. He’s 8th (56.4% faceoffs). T-24th in NHL with 24 takeaways.
Tommy Wingels is 3rd in NHL hits w/124, 1 behind Cal Clutterbuck (NYI), 20 behind Matt Martin (144).
Antti Niemi has won his last 5 straight games, including the 2-0 victory against Nashville on Saturday. Over that span, he has stopped 92.7% of his shots. In the same span, Alex Stalock has gone 2-1-0 in 3 starts, and has stopped 92.9% of the shots he’s faced. That’s good goaltending, but it’s also indicative of solid play in the defensive zone.
Brent Burns is on top of the team’s list with an average of 23:29 of ice time per game. He’s one of the top scorers among defensemen, as one would expect, and he’s settling in well to a partnership with Brenden Dillon on the blue line. Against Nashville, he played 26:20, was +2, had 3 shots 3 hits, and 4 blocked shots.
Justin Braun leads the Sharks with 56 blocked shots, ranked 32nd in the NHL overall.
Joe Pavelski has 9 goals at home, which tie him for 9th in the NHL, but they’ve come in only 14 games. He’s also 5th in the NHL with 116 shots on goal.
Patrick Marleau is on pace for 18-51-69. The assist total would be 1 shy of his career best, and if he can get over 70 points, it would be the 7th time in his career that he’s reached that mark. He also has 10 hits in his last 3 games, and when he gets involved physically, he usually winds up with more offensive opportunities.
The Sharks look to continue to develop these little details as they develop their team culture, and if they continue that, they’ll be ready to deal with any battle, and they won’t have to worry about the games in hand or hurrying up before it’s too late.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
The quarter pole has been reached in the 2014-15 San Jose Sharks season, and it’s been quite a ride so far. The team has endured a previously unprecedented start to the campaign, gone through some rough times, and has emerged in a relatively positive place. In other words, they have survived it!
With regard to the road-heavy schedule, a lot of people have been asking me, “Has anything like this ever happened before?” Well, the answer is yes and no, if you want to know the truth. For more details, let’s consult the world famous Elias Sports Bureau, also lovingly known to us as the “Patrick Elias Sports Bureau” in most cities, or the “Elias Lindholm Sports Bureau” when we’re in North Carolina.
A few things have happened so far that are unprecedented:
- For the first time in history, a team has played 16 of their first 21 games on the road. Yes, there have been seasons where a team has begun out of town due to construction on a building, such as when the New York Rangers began their year with 9 straight on the road in 2013-14. That deserves much attention, but don’t forget that the Rangers played 12 of their first 21 on the road last season.
- To find another team that came close in recent years, look no further than the Sharks in 2009-10, when they played 9 of their first 12 away from home, and 13 of their first 21. That’s a schedule that is comparable to what the Rangers had to endure last season.
- Last season, the Rangers went 3-6-0 in their first 9 road games, 10-11-0 in their first 21, and 6-6-0 in those first 12 road contests. The Sharks had a better record.
- But the old champions in this one area are the California Golden Seals, the team that played in Oakland for 9 years from 1967-76. In their final year in the Bay Area, the Seals played 14 of their first 21 on the road. To quote Krazy George, “Ooh-ooh!”
- The Sharks put together a 10-9-2 record in those 21 games, including an 8-6-2 record in their road schedule. By comparison, the Seals started their year at 7-12-2, including a 4-9-1 road record in that span.
All in all, Sharks Hockey held up reasonably well in those games, even with the valleys (at Florida, at Columbus, at Buffalo) that went along with the peaks (at Anaheim, at Tampa Bay, at Carolina).
Individually, San Jose got pretty solid goaltending from all three of their netminders. For the first time ever, three separate goaltenders recorded shutouts in their season debuts. Rookie Troy Grosenick, of course, had the most memorable performance, with a 45-save night at Carolina that turned out to be the most saves a Sharks goalie had ever made in a shutout, eclipsing Antti Niemi’s record of 41 last year against the Rangers.
If you go back in history, Evgeni Nabokov, Nolan Schaefer, and Vesa Toskala each recorded shutouts in the 2005-06 season, and in 2002-03, Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Vesa Toskala each recorded a shutout. However, neither instance occurred in the first 20 games of a season.
That state of affairs has only happened on two other occasions in NHL history, according to our friends at the “Patrick Elias Sports Bureau.” In 2007-08, the Coyotes got shutouts from Alex Auld, Mikael Tellqvist, and Ilya Bryzgalov in the first 20 games. In 1998-99, Pittsburgh also accomplished the feat, courtesy of J-S Aubin, Tom Barraasso, and Peter Skudra. That’s all, folks!
On defense, Brent Burns finds himself among the NHL leaders in scoring. Through his first 23 games, Burnzie had 7 goals and 12 assists, and his 71 shots on goal were right at the top of the list of men who patrol the blue line.
Rookie Mirco Mueller may have had the most humorous moment of the trip in the waning seconds of the first period in Carolina. With the last couple of seconds ticking down and Mueller with the puck behind the net, he turned his back to the play and had some eye contact with a group of fans in the first two rows of the building until the horn sounded. No one was anywhere near him, but a good laugh was had in the radio booth over that one.
Up front, Joe Thornton was the Sharks’ best player on the road trip. He recorded a point or more in every game of the swing, and scored 4 goals and 4 assists.
You have to take the good with the bad, of course, and so along with the thrilling comeback in Dallas, the sensational team performance in Tampa, and the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious goaltending of Grosenick in Carolina, we also saw some disappointments in Columbus, Florida, and Buffalo.
Now, the Sharks are in the midst of a lengthy homestand. They’ve had some practice time. They’ve gotten some rest. They ‘re on to the next phase of the season.
We are likely to have many more unique experiences on the schedule this coming season, and the Sharks just have to keep on trucking. It’s all about the journey, so let’s enjoy it!
When Brent Burns stepped forward last season to create “Burnzie’s Buzzcut” for charity, few would have believed that transforming oneself from a rugged mountain man into a lean, mean, coiffed-for-the-military machine would generate so much attention and interest from hockey people everywhere. But it’s all in a day’s work for #88, who has tirelessly worked with his wife, Susan, his teammates, and his friends to help those in need ever since he joined the Sharks three years ago.
On Monday, “Burnzie’s Buzzcut” expanded its reach, as several of Brent’s teammates joined in the annual fray. Inspired by his program, Joe Pavelski, James Sheppard, Scott Hannan, Mirco Mueller, Chris Tierney, and Barclay Goodrow all stepped forward for a festive post-practice hair-zipping session.
The event not only raised money, it raised awareness for three deserving non-profit organizations. Defending the Blue Line (DTBL), one of Burns’ favorite projects, ensures that children of military members are afforded every opportunity to play the game of hockey. Whether their parents are deployed overseas or simply stateside at a military base, DTBL ensures that these kids have things taken care of on the home front when it comes to exercise, teamwork, and the great camaraderie that is such a huge part of this sport.
The event also saw Burnzie stepping up for a former teammate. The Katie Moore Foundation (KMF) was founded out of sadness when former Shark Dominic Moore lost his wife Katie to a rare form of liver cancer. KMF funds research to advance cancer care, but perhaps more importantly, it provides resources and a lot of hope to families battling rare diseases.
We all know that Brent Burns loves animals, so it probably makes sense that he would also step up to raise awareness for wildlife. Inspired by a new baby gorilla that has arrived at the San Francisco Zoo, Brent and Susan added the organization to the list of places benefitting from his annual buzz-cutting event.
Of course, none of it would have been possible without the engagement and generosity of Sharks fans everywhere. Over $15,000 was raised on this day, and it is going to benefit these three great causes.
The entire event showcases how leadership bubbles to the surface in interesting ways. As is the case with fresh water springing from the ground in unexpected places, Brent Burns not only participated, he got his teammates, his friends, and his fans to take part. The fresh water of this leadership will sustain many in times of trouble, and it will bring everyone closer together, with shorter hair, of course.
Perhaps the best part of the story is that we can look forward to more leadership sustenance springing forth as the season goes on, both on and off the ice.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
As the Sharks move through the young season on this East Coast road trip, I was thinking about something that we’re all witnessing that’s awfully rare at the National Hockey League level. However, in order to relate that properly, I have to venture back in time for a brief story.
Back in the halcyon years of my hockey youth, I used to listen to a lot of New York Rangers games on the radio, and in those days, the Broadway Blueshirts had a player on the roster named Ron “Harry” Harris. Harris, who also was a member of both the WHL’s San Francisco Seals and the NHL’s Oakland Seals earlier in his career, was a journeyman defenseman from Verdun, Quebec who had a mean streak and a rugged playing style that was appreciated by fans in Oakland, Detroit, Atlanta, and New York.
To counter the brusque, bullying style of the Philadelphia Flyers and other clubs in those days, Rangers’ legendary GM/coach Emile Francis decided one day to skate Harris on the right wing. If there was trouble, Harry would put a stop to it, and he often did. It was a rare experiment that worked.
But Harris was the equivalent of a sixth or seventh defenseman for the Rangers back in those days, and as a right wing, he was generally on the fourth line.
Back to the present.
Over the course of his career, Brent Burns has played both right wing and defense in the NHL, and regardless of what position he’s playing, he’s slotted in one of the top two forward lines or the top four defensemen. He is a physical specimen, with tremendous skating ability, great size, a physical presence, and the ability to score.
Whether Burns plays forward or defense, he’s an impact player for his team. While with the Minnesota Wild, Burnzie scored 17 goals as a defenseman in 2010-11. Last season, he scored 22 goals as a right wing, notching a career-high 48 points and finishing 5th on the team’s scoring list while playing on a line with Joe Thornton.
What’s interesting is how rare it really is to see a player excel at both forward and defense in the National Hockey League. On October 11th, we saw an even greater rarity: two such players competing against each other in the same game. At SAP Center on that date, Burns was opposed by Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien, who finished 3rd among defensemen in 2010-11 when he was with the Atlanta Thrashers and who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010. In this game, Byfuglien was back on the wing with the Jets, and as is the case with Burns, he cuts a large swath on the ice with a big presence.
Going back in NHL history, I can think of only two other instances of players who excelled at this high a level at both forward and defense:
When he began his professional career with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, Howe was a winger, and in 6 WHA seasons, he scored 30 or more goals 5 times while playing alongside his father, the legendary Gordie Howe. Moving to Hartford, Philadelphia, and Detroit in the NHL, he converted to defense and broke the 20 goal mark 3 times, scoring a career-best 82 points with the Flyers in 1985-86. Paired with the late Brad McCrimmon, he was regularly at the top of the plus-minus stats in the League.
Howe was selected as an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
When the family of the late Red Wings owner-president James Norris presented a trophy in his memory to be given to the NHL’s best defenseman, its first winner in 1954 was Leonard “Red” Kelly, who happened to play for Detroit at the time. Kelly distinguished himself for many years as a top blue liner, finishing as Norris Trophy runner up on two more occasions. He may very well have won another one, had Doug Harvey not have been playing at the same time in history.
But when he moved to Toronto in the 1960’s, GM/Coach Punch Imlach decided to convert Kelly into a center. Easily making the transition, Kelly had three 20-goal seasons with the Leafs playing up front.
Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969. He won a total of 8 Stanley Cups, 4 with Detroit and 4 with Toronto.
Playing defense with the legendary Fern Flaman and forward with Don McKenney in Boston, Mohns was one of the more proficicent users of the slap shot in the 1950’s, but was often lost in the aura surrounding Bobby Hull and “Boom Boom” Geoffrion. He played both forward and defense over a 22-year NHL career. In Chicago, he played wing on the “Scooter Line” with Kenny Wharram and Stan Mikita, and was 9th in NHL scoring in 1966-67. Later in his career, he played for Minnesota, Atlanta, and Washington, and was the very first captain of the Washington Capitals. He wasn’t a Hockey Hall of Famer, but he did play in seven NHL All-Star games, and excelled at both forward and defense over 1,390 regular season and 94 Stanley Cup playoff games.
Burns is back on defense this season, but he’s also at or near the top of his team’s scoring list. He’s on the ice for more minutes, playing 22:02 and 25:08 in the recent back-to-back set of contests at New Jersey and at Madison Square Garden. He’s looking good alongside the promising Mirco Mueller, which bodes well for the Sharks as they skate forward.
Remember, when you watch or listen to Brent Burns’ exploits this season, you’re witnessing some history, but you’re also seeing a unique level of excellence in the National Hockey League. That’s the case, whether he happens to play defense, as he is now, or forward, which he certainly can do with elan.
Winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal for every National Hockey League player, but being selected in the NHL Draft is the first dream that comes true en route to that unforgettable achievement. Such a selection is a tremendous honor, and it’s the first sign that a player has a chance to make it to the greatest hockey league in the world.
But the Draft has not always been the main way that players arrived on the scene. In fact, the original draft that was held in 1963, then called the “NHL Amateur Draft,” held the position that today’s free agency holds in one sense: it produced some NHL players, but was not the primary method of procuring the future stars of the world’s fastest game.
For instance, if the San Jose Sharks were in business back in the 1960’s as one of the “Original Six,” the media guide would not have had the following phrase next to Logan Couture’s name: “Selected by San Jose in the NHL Draft (1st round, 9th overall).” Instead, the more likely phrase would have been, “Product of San Jose Sharks organization.”
Now, even though one could use that phrase about many current Sharks, it had a slightly different meaning back in those halcyon years. By the mid-1940’s, NHL clubs were directly subsidizing what are now called “major junior” teams, and had either outright ownership or working agreements with affiliated American Hockey League clubs, and that gave them exclusive playing rights for the players who played on these teams and who had signed a “C-Form” commitment. Once a player signed such a form, he became an apprentice in the trade of professional hockey, and his entire existence was in the control of the NHL team that had signed him.
Transporting a modern player into that era, a young Logan Couture would have likely signed a C-Form after being watched as a bantam and perhaps a midget by Sharks super-scouts. The Sharks would have subsidized a team in, say, the Ontario Hockey League, and Logan would have automatically become property of that club. Invited to an NHL training camp, he would have likely progressed through a team’s system, first to the American Hockey League, and then to the Sharks.
As is the case today, the rare exception would jump directly to the NHL, and that’s essentially how it all happened for one of the greatest players of all time, Bobby Orr. Signed to a commitment by scout Wren Blair and the Boston Bruins when he was just 14 years of age, Orr played junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals, the Bruins-subsidized organization in the OHL. Then, at 18, in 1966-67, he cracked the Bruins roster, and the rest was history.
While this system certainly vacuumed up most of the burgeoning young talent and provided them a competitive place to play, there were always those who developed later or whom the scouts missed. The NHL Amateur Draft was developed as a way to distribute those talented players around the League.
So it was on a quiet summer day in 1963, at a non-public event at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, that the first NHL Amateur Draft was conducted. The first player ever selected was Garry Monahan, a winger who wound up playing in 748 NHL games for Montreal, Detroit, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Toronto.
After the 1969-70 season, the last vestiges of this system slipped into the modern format of what is now the NHL Draft, which today is a hugely public event that is conducted with much pomp and circumstance over two days, including prime national television coverage. It is in this system that the San Jose Sharks will select their future stars, and in which they possess three picks in the top 60.
The Sharks will select 20th this year, based on their ending position in the standings. Over the course of their history, they have selected with the 20th pick only once. It was 2001, at what is now known as the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, and the Sharks stepped to the podium to select center Marcel Goc.
Goc, of course, would have a memorable first run in the NHL during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. After spending a full season in the AHL with the Cleveland Barons, he found himself in the lineup for his first NHL game of any kind in Game 5 of the first round against St. Louis, and he picked up an assist on the series-winning goal by Mark Smith. Then, in round two against Colorado, he scored his first-ever NHL goal of any kind in Game 6, on a play that turned out to be the series-winning goal.
Some other notable 20th-overall selections in the history of the NHL Draft include Larry Robinson (Montreal, 1971), Brian Sutter (St. Louis, 1976), Michel Goulet (Quebec, 1979), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey, 1990), Scott Parker (Colorado, 1998), Brent Burns (Minnesota, 2003), Travis Zajac (New Jersey, 2004), and Michael Del Zotto (N.Y. Rangers, 2008).
Who could the Sharks get with the 51st and 53rd selections? Historically speaking, here are a few names for you: Butch Goring (LA, 51st, 1969), Nicklas Lidstrom (DET, 53rd, 1989), Patrick Elias (NJ, 51st, 1994), David Booth (FLA, 53rd, 2004), Mason Raymond (VAN, 51st, 2005), and Derek Stepan (NYR, 51st, 2008), to name a few.
But in every draft, there is always the hidden gem who turns up, and these players are prime examples of that in Sharks history: Marcus Ragnarsson (99th, 1992), Alexander Korolyuk (141st, 1994), Evgeni Nabokov (219th, 1994), Vesa Toskala (90th, 1995), Miikka Kiprusoff (116th, 1995), Matt Bradley (102nd, 1996), Mark Smith (219th, 1997), Mikael Samuelsson (145th, 1998), Douglas Murray (241st, 1999), Ryane Clowe (175th, 2001), Joe Pavelski (205th, 2003), Alex Stalock (112th, 2005), Justin Braun (201st, 2007), Tommy Wingels (177th, 2008), and Jason Demers (186th, 2008).
Beyond that, there are the free agent players who are also scouted, signed, and developed alongside all those who had the “head start” of being selected in the draft. An outstanding example is Andrew Desjardins, who played in the OHL for four years and was neither drafted, nor signed immediately, by an NHL team. His path to the League went through Laredo, Texas (CHL), Phoenix, Arizona (ECHL), and Worcester, Massachusetts (AHL), before getting to the NHL here in San Jose for the first time in 2010.
As is the case with all of the draftees, past and present, “Desi” has worked his way up through the system, and has earned the right to be identified as the earlier players used to be: “Product of the San Jose Sharks organization.”
It is a designation that all home-grown Sharks players have the right to be proud of, and it is a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of these players, and that of the staff that discovered them, that deserves to be celebrated this week. Whether they’re drafted, acquired in trades, or signed as free agents, they all become products of the organization that developed them.
Make sure that you pay close attention to each and every selection that is made at this week’s draft. You’ll be reviewing some household names of the future, and some Stanley Cup champions in years to come. But on Friday and Saturday, you’ll also see the first dream of young players coming true, with the chance to achieve the ultimate goal.
See you at Stanley’s on Friday at Sharks Ice at San Jose, for the NHL Draft Viewing Party, presented by Coors Light. For more information on that event, click here.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
The FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, an event that occurs every four years, is now underway for the United States, and sports fans from around the world will be following the exploits of their respective nations in what is sure to be a dramatic scene in Brazil. As is the case in international hockey, there are favorites, underdogs, upsets, strange bedfellows, and tremendous competition.
From a hockey fan perspective, it’s interesting to contrast our sport’s premier event, the Stanley Cup playoffs, with what’s happening now in cities like Sao Paolo, Belo Horizonte, and Recife. There is nothing like the World Cup every four years for soccer fans, but there is nothing like the Stanley Cup playoffs every year for a hockey fan.
From a San Jose Sharks perspective, of course, there are no smiles over what occurred this past spring, and it seemed appropriate that the final day was Friday, the 13th of June. On that evening, the Los Angeles Kings overcame a 2-1 deficit, tied the game on a power play in the third, and won the Stanley Cup in front of their fan base at the Staples Center. It was the second Stanley Cup championship for the Sharks’ arch rivals, and it capped a spring of disappointment and soul-searching for the Men in Teal.
But beyond the too-early end for the Sharks, the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs were truly a remarkable showcase of the greatest game on earth, and unlike the World Cup or the Olympics, it happens every year, not every four years. Aside from the many remarkable, albeit painful stories that led to the Kings’ championship, there were so many others.
The New York Rangers made it back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years, and that was quite an accomplishment for the Broadway Blueshirts, an excellent and improving team over the course of the season. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 7 games, fell behind Pittsburgh 3 games to 1 in round 2, and roared back to take Game Seven at Burgh Hockey in a comeback that rivaled any in this post-season. Then, in a traditional Original Six matchup, they took the Montreal Canadiens in six games, setting things up for the Final against the Kings.
The Chicago Blackhawks, like the Sharks , saw their season end too soon, and as was the case with San Jose, they were defeated in Game Seven at home by the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Chicago trailed its series 3 games to 1 before fighting back to force Game Seven. But as was the case for three great teams, they dropped Game Seven at home to the Kings.
One of the most interesting aspects, of course, of the Stanley Cup playoffs is how grueling it is over the span of years. Consider the path of the two Finalists. The Kings have played an NHL record 64 playoff games in the past three seasons, which gives them a grand total of 276 games played. But the Rangers, with 57 playoff contests in the last three years, are not far behind, with 269 games played. By comparison, the Sharks have played in 23 playoff contests in the last three seasons, ranking them 8th among all teams. That’s a total of 235 games overall for the Sharks in that span.
The new season officially kicks off with the NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, with the first round scheduled for Friday, June 27th. The future stars of the world’s fastest game will be selected, and the Sharks will begin their long journey to training camp, looking forward with excitement. The coaches, players, and hockey staff are already doing so.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky for sjsharks.com.
I don’t think that there is anyone who believes that the NHL’s conference final series are “over,” but everyone must agree that the hockey that is being played is absolutely spectacular.
The sight of Martin St. Louis taking advantage of an opportunity and scoring a superbly placed OT game-winner for the New York Rangers against Montreal certainly was inspirational for Gotham hockey fans.
Meanwhile, in the LA-Chicago series, the Blackhawks made it close the night before, but the Los Angeles Kings got a big goal from Drew Doughty in the third period and took a 2-1 series lead in their 4-3 victory.
One of the interesting notes about the Kings and the Rangers is that they’re the only teams in the NHL with 50 or more post-season games played in the last three seasons. As of today, here are the top 10 post-season teams in that time span, arranged by winning percentage:
|1||LOS ANGELES||55||35||20||0.636||150||109||9||8||1||0.889||Won Stanley Cup|
|2||CHICAGO||44||27||17||0.614||119||103||7||6||1||0.857||Won Stanley Cup|
|4||NEW JERSEY||24||14||10||0.583||60||58||4||3||1||0.75||Lost Final|
|5||PHOENIX||16||9||7||0.563||37||35||3||2||1||0.667||Lost Conference Final|
|6||N.Y. RANGERS||50||26||24||0.52||118||107||7||5||2||0.714||Conference Final|
|7||ANAHEIM||20||10||10||0.5||56||55||3||1||2||0.333||Lost Round 2|
|9||NASHVILLE||10||5||5||0.5||22||21||2||1||1||0.5||Lost Round 2|
|10||PITTSBURGH||34||17||17||0.5||110||103||6||3||3||0.5||Lost Conference Final|
It really is amazing to note that both Los Angeles and New York are playing fresh hockey, even though they’ve endured so many grueling games over these past three playoff campaigns. They each have played in more than 50 post-season contests in that time span. Chicago has also played in 44 playoff games, while the Canadiens have 20. San Jose, by the way, has played in 23 playoff games, 8th most in the NHL since the 2011-12 season.
The remaining teams are all strong in goal. With Carey Price out the Canadiens have been going with Dustin Tokarski, who won the Memorial Cup in 2008 and MVP honors with Spokane, won the World Junior Tournament for Canada in 2009, and added the Calder Cup championship in 2012 with the Norfolk Admirals to his resume. Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford have Stanley Cup championships, and are looking for another, while Henrik Lundqvist is an elite netminder looking for his first Stanley Cup crown.
All four teams have excellent defensemen who are firmly in the prime of their NHL careers. All have been doing an admirable job in both ends of the rink. When considering this position, think Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Ryan McDonagh, and P.K. Subban.
Up front, each team is configured slightly differently, but even though the road has been grueling, players like Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Thomas Vanek, and Lars Eller have been making tremendous offensive contributions.
The role players, as is usually the case with teams that advance this far, are all significant with the four clubs.
Here is a tip of the hat to the NHL and the clubs still competing for the Stanley Cup. It’s been quite an amazing ride for them. I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
The regular season has come to an end, and we are about to throw all the stats out the window. The Sharks have finished up with a two-game winning streak, and the pump is primed for what is sure to be an epic first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings.
Here are a couple of notes:
• With his 2 goals in Phoenix, Joe Pavelski became the fourth Shark to hit the 40-goal mark, winding up with 41. He’s the first Sharks 40-goal man since 2009-10.
• Two assists in the Phoenix game put Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle officially over the 200 assist mark in a San Jose uniform. Boyle is the only defenseman to record 200 career Sharks assists. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (134) and Brad Stuart (132) are next on that list.
• Boyle (201 career Sharks assists) is only the 6th player to reach the milestone. He’s now tied with Jeff Friesen. Players ahead of them: Joe Thornton (567), Patrick Marleau (493), Owen Nolan (245), and Joe Pavelski (224).
• Pavelski’s 40th goal came on the power play. It was his 16th power play goal of the year, which is second only to Alexander Ovechkin (24). His 41 goals ranks him 3rd overall, behind Ovechkin (51) and Corey Perry (43).
• Penalty killing is an important factor in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and so is the concept of staying out of the box. The Sharks allowed just 33 power play goals by opponents, which is the lowest number they’ve allowed in a full-length NHL season. They were only shorthanded 219 times, which is also an all-time team low.
• Scoring balance is also important when preparing for a long playoff run. The Sharks have 10 skaters who have scored 10 or more goals this season, 4 with 20 or more, and 2 with 30 or more. Four players have 50 points or more.
• In goal, Antti Niemi had a very strong night in the desert, capped by his terrific stop on a breakaway by Shane Doan in the second period, when the Coyotes outshot the Sharks 16-13 in the middle frame. He wound up tied for 2nd in wins with 39, and the Sharks are in the top 5 in goals-against average.
• Tomas Hertl is back to health, and the two games that he played will be very valuable preparation benchmarks for the playoffs.
Now, it’s time to throw those stats out the window, and get ready for a series that everyone concedes will be an epic one: the San Jose Sharks against the Los Angeles Kings. Let’s get started!
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.