As I write this blog the Sharks are tied for 4th in the NHL in points, 7th in goals per game and 4th in goals against per game. With only 3 games left in the regular season the Sharks will start the playoffs at home against either LA or Minnesota. I say bring it on - don't care who the opponent is because the road to the Cup is supposed to be tough.
The stats say the Sharks are a very good team. What about opposing coaches, what do a few of them say?
Dan Bylsma, Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins
"They (the Sharks) play not only a physical game but a fast game and I think it's something that they counter quickly. They play that type of game. They are maybe the best team in the league at getting pucks and bodies to the cage and they showed that tonight."
Darryl Sutter, Head Coach of the LA Kings
"I thought we played real well, the challenge is that they're a really good hockey club."
Patrick Roy, Head Coach of the Colorado Avalanche
"They're a team that protects the puck really well and they had a lot of chances."
I can be nit picky and say the Sharks should have won this game, or how did they lose to that team. The bottom line, after 79 games, this is a very good hockey team that has a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup. Of course there are 15 other teams thinking the same thing and as we all know the teams in the West are very very good. I don't think anyone who has watched the West this season would argue there are 6 legitimate teams that could represent the West in the Cup Finals; St. Louis, Anaheim, San Jose, Colorado, Chicago and Los Angeles.
So here we go Sharks fans, the last week of the regular season and the best spectacle in sports, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs will be upon us. I hope you have enjoyed the journey so far, and I hope the best is yet to come.
The 2013-14 version of the San Jose Sharks has a different feel than in years past and in a very good way. It's called chemistry and character which is the foundation that is necessary if any team has a real chance of winning a championship.
I have been around a lot of teams over the years, some are more talented than others but there is one thing that I always look for in a team's identity and that is whether the players truly play for each other when it matters most. This team does that … in spades.
The Sharks played one of the most dominating team games I have seen in a long time against Pittsburgh this past week. As Vlasic said about that game, "We played hard, physical and fast. We raised the bar of how good we can be." Well said!
The following game, the Sharks shut out the Montreal Canadians for the second time this season. Two things stick out from that game:
- The ferocious back-checking of Patrick Marleau all game but in particular on the Couture goal. Patty used his speed and tenacity to create a turnover inside the Montreal zone that led to a perfect saucer pass from Nieto to Couture.
- With 8 minutes left in the game and the score 4-0, a Montreal forward had the puck in the neutral zone and was all alone heading towards the two Sharks defenseman. Joe Thornton back-checked as if his hair was on fire and forced a turnover.
When two leaders and star players like Marleau and Thornton back-check that hard, regardless of the score it sends a message to the rest of the team. Marleau and Thornton and both selfless, team-first players who once again held off from free-agency to sign with the team they love to play for. It starts with them and they are leading by example and want nothing more to help bring a championship to the city of San Jose.
It's about character and chemistry and this team has an abundance of both and it starts with the two leaders and all around great guys.
Twenty years ago was the day that started the biggest single season turnaround in NHL History. Here's a quick overview of what and how it happened!
January 12, 1994
If anyone had asked a Sharks fan on that day if the Sharks were going to make the playoffs, let alone beat Detroit in a seven game series and take Toronto to a seven game series they would have:
- Literally spilt their stomach from laughing so hard
- Fallen off the rocking horse multiple times
- Bet the farm, and the neighbors farm, that it wouldn't happen
- Said if that happens there should be a parade in downtown San Jose
Correct answer is D.
Here is why anyone and everyone outside of the players and coaching staff thought D would never have been the answer.
- Sharks record on October 25, 1993, nine games into the 84 game regular season was 0-8-1.
- Sharks record on January 12, 1994, 43 games into the season was 12-21-10.
- In the previous 14 games prior to January 12, the Sharks went 1-8-5
- Including a 10-3 loss to Detroit at home on January 6
- And In the next game, on January 11, it was a 2-2 tie at home to Los Angeles in a game where the Kings outshot the Sharks 39 to 10. After the game, Head Coach Kevin Constantine, who seldom lit into the team after a game, went absolutely crazy, yelled and screamed and basically called the way we played an embarrassment.
So it's game day on January 12, 1994 as the Sharks play the Mighty Ducks in Anaheim. It’s year three of the San Jose Sharks and year one in downtown San Jose where the team played in an arena known as The Shark Tank.
Despite the odds against them, on the evening of January 12, 1994, the San Jose Sharks beat the Mighty Ducks at the “The Pond” by a score of 5-2.
This was the first win in a 9-3-1 run over the next 13 games as the teething Sharks started to get some bite to their game.
The last three games of the 13 were, in a scheduling quirk, all against the very good Chicago Blackhawks. Back then the NHL played 84 regular season games with every team playing 2 neutral site games. One of the neutral site games was in Sacramento against Chicago.
February 8, 1994 - @ Sacramento, Sharks W 4-3
February 11, 1994 – @ San Jose, Sharks W 4-3
February 13, 1994 - @ San Jose, Sharks W 1-0
The 1-0 win was a classic in many ways but especially because of how it ended. With less two minutes left in a scoreless game, Sharks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh was doing his typical roaming in the offensive zone which drove the coaches crazy when Kevin Constantine yelled from the bench; “No Sandis, No Sandis, Great play Sandis” as he found a loose puck in the mid-slot and fired it past a sliding Ed Belfour to secure the Sharks 3rd consecutive win against a very good Blackhawks team.
Drew Remenda can tell the story better than anyone because he was an assistant coach and watched the video over and over again with the coaches … in disbelief!
Randy Hahn and Dan Rusanowsky have their versions and memories of that three game set against Chicago and the entire season as a whole, as does Wayne Thomas who was also an assistant at the time.
So on January 12, 1994 the Sharks were 12-21-10 after 43 games. The team would finish the final 41 games going 21-14-6 to finish in 8th place in the Western Conference with a record of 33-35-16.
So the Sharks went from:
0-8-1 on Oct 25, 2013, to
12-21-10 on Jan 12, 2014, to
33-35-16 on Apr 14, 1994
It was a unique experience, a unique team where there were no ego’s, everyone played for each other, respected each other and did what it took to win. The coaching staff was as prepared as any staff in the league as they put in more hours than anyone could imagine. It was, ‘a magical season’.
From 0-8-1 to making the playoffs, no way we could be Detroit, right?
So January 12, 1994 stands as the day that really started the biggest single season turnaround in NHL history. No one knew it was possible, well, except the players and coaches because you can’t accomplish that type of turnaround if you don’t believe! It takes “character and chemistry”, two characteristics that ’94 had an abundance of.
From there …
History Never Says Never!
Brett is the technology guru of the staff who oversees all the video, but he is also much more than that. As Todd McLellan said, “Brett is the unsung hero of our staff, doesn’t get much recognition and people outside don’t know how much he does. When he started he had technical skills but our staff is more efficient now because Brett’s hockey knowledge has expanded so much.”
On a typical game day Brett arrives at the rink at 6:00am and gets home around 11:30pm. On a practice day he arrives at 6:00am and gets home around 3 or 4pm. Long days, but passionate days as he works with some of the smartest hockey minds in the world.
Brett’s hockey knowledge, especially of how the San Jose Sharks are hoping or expected to play, is on display during a game. This is when Brett has to be, and is, at his best!
During a game Brett captures, edits and marks the live video using an advanced sports software system. He captures a live timeline of the game, a single video file for each period that he works of off. Here is a rundown of his in-game responsibilities.
- Breaks down and does a live capture of all the situations in a game whether they are systematic in nature or of particular players
- During a typical game Brett will mark and create 600 to 800 separate video clips
- He indexes points on the video using pre-set key strokes that are labeled for specific entries, for instance; system plays, scoring chances for and against, individual players, plays from different zones on the rink etc…
- Knows what the coaching staff is looking for in regards to the Sharks systems, opponents, players
- Identifies adjustments and/or tendencies that he sees while watching the game
- Is in constant communication with Jay Woodcroft who is on the Sharks bench.
- Brett will let Jay know if he sees something on video
- Jay will communicate with Brett something the coaches want to see at the end of the period. They can then show players the video.
While Brett’s most crucial value from a job description is his in-game video marking and analyzing, that’s not all he does.
Brett makes sure the assistant coaches are prepared and have what they need from a video standpoint to pre-scout the Sharks next set of opponents, typically 5 games out.
Brett sets up all the video equipment, configures the network for file sharing (more prevalent on the road in different hotels and arena’s), makes sure all the video clips are ready for coaches meetings and when necessary sets up projectors, network cables and lastly oversees all the data backup, storage and filing.
Brett does data and video analysis and provides stats for the coaching staff.
On a typical practice day Brett organizes all the clips for the coaches meetings and also identifies additional clips or information that is needed for the meetings. He is at the disposal of the coaches if they are having any technical issues, whether it is network, hardware or software related.
Bottom line, Brett gives the coaches more time to do what they do best, coach and teach. Brett Heimlich, the guy behind the scenes we seldom see or hear of but who makes the team and organization better because of the tremendous job he does.