You can talk about the season series and the playoff race all you want, but after Saturday night’s game at Levi’s® Stadium in Santa Clara, it’s pretty clear that Northern California is Sharks Territory.
It was a celebration of hockey’s highest level in front of a capacity crowd in a state-of-the-art stadium that was decked out in Teal everywhere you looked, including the stands, which were decidedly favoring the home team. Oh, yes, there were enough numbers of Los Angeles Kings fans, decked out in the colors of their favorite team, to fill most NHL arenas. But when Brent Burns scored what proved to be the only Sharks goal of the night, I only could wonder whether the roof would have blown off if you could compress that sound into the SAP Center.
There were some interesting facts and tidbits concerning this game, and so, in the spirit of our feature on 98.5 KFOX, let’s go “Beyond the Numbers,” brought to you by SAP:
You probably are aware of the fact that this number signifies the attendance at the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on Saturday, but for those of us who have been part of this journey since October 4, 1991, that number is another sign that the dreams of one man, George Gund III, are coming true. For those of us who knew, loved, and still miss him, the one regret that we all have is that he wasn’t here to see a crowd of this magnitude celebrating his favorite sport in the heart of Silicon Valley.
If George were here, he would have probably wanted to skate on the stadium ice every chance he could get. He would have loved to play a pickup game there at 3:00 in the morning, followed by a sumptuous meal with his closest friends. He would have adored the jackets that the coaches were wearing, and would have eyed one with great longing until he somehow procured one. I can definitely see him wearing the jacket, roaming the concourse, watching all of the happiness with a sparkle in his eye and a smile from ear to ear. It’s a great image.
The attendance at Levi’s® Stadium was also a number that is nearly 6.5 times the size of the first Sharks home crowd at the Cow Palace on October 5, 1991, the night after they opened their hockey history in Vancouver. 10,888 fans jammed the Daly City arena that night, and not too many remember that San Jose’s Wayne Presley and Mike McHugh scored goals, Jarmo Myllys made 34 saves, 60 penalty minutes were called by referee Bill McCreary (only 4 of them to Link Gaetz). The final score was 5-2, Vancouver.
The 70,205 people also represents a figure that is nearly 4 times the size of the first Sharks home crowd at SAP Center on October 14, 1993, when 17,190 fans experienced NHL regular season action for the first time in downtown San Jose. Kip Miller scored the first goal in the building, but two future Hockey Hall of Famers, Al MacInnis and Joe Nieuwendyk, scored for Calgary in a 2-1 Flames win. The building has added 372 seats since then.
The attendance also equals approximately 7% of San Jose’s estimated 2014 total population of 1,000,536, a percentage that definitely rises when you include the number of people either listening on the radio, watching on television, accessing via newspapers or the internet, and generally paying close attention.
900 in 6
Believe it or not, Saturday’s Coors Light Stadium Series game was technically the 900th regular season home game in San Jose Sharks history, even though it was not played in the city of San Jose or at SAP Center.
Over the club’s history, they have played in 6 different arenas that hosted Sharks’ “home” games, four of which are in Northern California. Can you name them? Here they are:
|ARENA||LOCATION||GAMES PLAYED||W-L-OT/T||POINTS %|
|SAP Center||San Jose||814||439-259-116||.610|
|Cow Palace||Daly City||81||22-55-4||.296|
|Yoyogi Arena*||Tokyo, Japan||1||0-1-0||.000|
|Ericsson Globen*||Stockholm, Sweden||1||0-0-1||.500|
|Levi’s® Stadium||Santa Clara||1||0-1-0||.000|
|ALL-TIME HOME RECORD:||900||462-317-121||.581|
* Totals do not include Sharks “road” games played in same neutral site arena. All totals as of 2/23/15.
By the way, since we’re talking games played, Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings will mark the 1,800th regular season game in Sharks history. The 900th regular season road contest will be played on Tuesday, March 3 in Vancouver.
Sticking with a similar theme, the Sharks played their 800th regular season game at SAP Center on Dec. 30 against the Canucks, and it had the distinction of being the second Sharks game to feature two penalty shots by San Jose players. Joe Pavelski hit the cross-bar in the first period, and Joe Thornton scored against Ryan Miller in the second stanza.
#4 = #7
The Sharks owe a great deal of gratitude to the San Francisco 49ers organization for their hospitality, assistance, and encouragement. It’s not always an easy thing to give up one’s home to a visitor, but they did a terrific job in making the Sharks feel at home. Everyone at the Sharks and the NHL appreciates what Jed York’s staff provided. The locker room was converted into a palatial home for the players, there were Sharks and NHL Stadium Series logos everywhere, the Sharks ice sculptures looked fantastic, and the venue certainly looked spectacular to television viewers everywhere.
Inside the Sharks locker room, things were reconfigured a bit to the standard NHL setup, which features a main locker room area, and a changing room for the players. There was plenty of room to do this, because there are twice as many players on an NFL roster as there are in the NHL. With Sharks teal banners everywhere, it really looked like home.
Trivia of the weekend: as it turned out, 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick’s locker area was assigned to Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon.
2 + 2 = 2
After Friday’s initial practice, players, families, and other members of the hockey staff were allowed to skate once the official session ended. I’m happy to report that there were two marriage proposals on the ice at the stadium, with positive results. The funny thing, as the news floated around the office, we heard, “Norma and Carl both got engaged on the ice.” An immediate, incredulous reaction from some was, “To each other?” The answer was, of course, no, since they have had important significant others in their lives for many years. But that certainly was a moment of humor for all of us as we congratulated our friends.
10 + 11 = 21
There are 21 games remaining in the regular season, beginning with the Detroit game. The Red Wings are one of four remaining teams that the Sharks have not yet faced this season. All four as one would expect, are in the Eastern Conference. At least three of them are solidly in the playoff hunt, and a case could be mathematically made that all four could still be in the race: Montreal (1st – Atlantic and 1st – Eastern), Detroit (3rd – Atlantic), Pittsburgh (3rd – Metropolitan) and Ottawa (6th – Atlantic).
Ten of the games are in the friendly confines of SAP Center at San Jose, with six of those being against Western Conference teams. Of the remaining 11 road games, only five are in the conference, with the season finale at Staples Center in Los Angeles against the Kings.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Beyond the numbers, Levi’s® Stadium was THE place to be in Northern California on Saturday night. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard already about the night, whether it was from our friends at 98.5 KFOX and 95.7 The Game set up at Gate A to greet the throng, the amazement of some stadium staff when the vast majority of the hockey crowd stayed in their seats for the entire game (“The building was full the whole night. It looked awesome,” said one), to the GoPro camera set up to time lapse the melting of the ice sculpture, to the closeness and importance of the game itself, to how the crowd sounded after the Brent Burns goal, and to how this sets things up for the stretch drive that ends up, of course, in Los Angeles for the season finale on April 11.
It was a night to remember, and it was a privilege to be there to broadcast the action to all of you. Congratulations to the NHL, the Sharks, the Kings, the 49ers, and all of the fans who made it so special. This is clearly “Sharks Territory.”
A couple of weeks ago, it was my pleasure to host a panel at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco following a sneak preview of Red Army, a film now playing in local theaters and deserving of your attention. I was captivated by the chronicle of one of the greatest eras in hockey history that is rarely spoken about, even in hockey circles, and of its amazing connection to social and political changes in the world that continue to resonate to this day.
The film, made by former Yale University hockey player and Chicago native Gabe Polsky, is part sports documentary, part historical chronicle, and part social commentary that should prove to be a fascinating piece of entertainment for anyone, regardless of whether hockey is appreciated or not. It is a story that is larger than sport.
On Monday night, during the Sharks-Calgary radio broadcast, we aired a portion of my interview with Mr. Polsky about his film. You can find a podcast of the interview here.
Usually, when you put hockey together with a dramatic story that is bigger than the sport, you think of the incredible story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal in Lake Placid, which surely can be connected to all of these themes. However, as the title indicates, Red Army is the story of the team that lost one of those fabled games in Lake Placid – the national team of the Soviet Union – and the amazing connection between the assertion of the star players’ individuality and the historical events that saw the hammer and sickle replaced by the white, red, and blue tricolor of the Russian Federation.
In San Jose, we have an amazing connection to part of this story, as two of the featured players in the drama were integral parts of the early development of the Sharks franchise: Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. But while these two greats are not interviewed and take a back seat in the film to the experiences of defenseman Slava Fetisov, it is the same story, the same human drama, and another example of how much respect these players deserve.
For me, the hockey story is intensely interesting, but the human story is even more fascinating. The subjugation of these elite athletes in the name of the Communist system obviously did not work in the long run. But within the dictatorial world of that system, the artists-cum-hockey players enjoyed enough freedom to express their creativity that they could not possibly have expressed in the world of politics or business. Ultimately, as human beings, they sought to gain the freedom to live the way that they wanted to, and within that sphere, the Fetisov-Larionov-Makarov rebellion against the system serves as a microcosm for the larger events happening in Russia at that time. It allows us to understand Russia and Russians better, something that is certainly necessary in these uncertain times.
This film allows us a close look at the beautiful artistry of the Central Red Army hockey team, essentially from the moment of the 1980 Olympic loss to the U.S. to the early 1990’s, when some of the greatest hockey in history was played outside the confines of the National Hockey League. It is a story about creative expression, fighting dictatorship, and ultimately being a large motivator of change in a society. That battle continues to be waged today.
There are some things that I wished were in the film that were not. As San Jose Sharks people, it would have been nice to see a bit more of the Larionov-Makarov part of this story. But they are as intimately part of it even without holding a major role in the film, which was really told from Fetisov’s point of view. That kept the film focused.
Unlike many appearances of these great players in formal interviews, the film really humanizes Fetisov, opening a window into his soul and that of his teammates. It tells of his own personal tragedies, including the loss of his brother, the damaged relationship with his best friend, and his many triumphs, which are splashed onto the screen through the clever use of graphics.
As you watch the film, you’ll be struck by its photography, its humor, and its ability to weave different areas of society into one consistent story. In that way, it is reminiscent of the film Senna, which accomplished some of that in its depiction of the 3-time Formula One World Champion Ayrton Senna, but in many ways, this film does a more effective job of accomplishing that challenging task.
In many oppressive societies, the related areas of sport and art are the places where individuals can really be individual. It’s an area where one can escape from the bad parts of life, and live in a world where one can feel free. It’s why some of the most beautiful works in the classical repertoire were written by the likes of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, why some of the greatest theater and ballet companies have been in oppressive societies, and why, under the whim of a brutal dictator like Joseph Stalin, a creative genius like Anatoly Tarasov could build the Soviet program into a world powerhouse.
One other thing that comes out is the role of the individual within the team concept. The players on this team were not robots. They were amazing athletes who were fully invested in working together, and what they produced on the ice was pure art.
Yes, there is no “I” in team. But there is an “M,” and there is an “E,” and that spells “ME.” Within the concept of dedicating oneself to a team, the individual is still very important, and he deserves to reap the benefits of what he has produced and to be able to enjoy it without interference. That, in many ways, is what Fetisov and his teammates were fighting for, and it’s something that anyone in America can fully understand as they enjoy this terrific film.
Red Army is playing now at Camera 12 in downtown San Jose, at the Landmark Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley, and Regency Cinemas in San Rafael. It has been acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival, and it has made a lot of people who aren’t hockey fans interested in sampling the sport. Go see it today!
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.