On the cross-country flight to Detroit, the names Mike Smith, Scott Thornton, and Evgeni Nabokov are weaving together into an interesting yarn that brings several memories into one.
Thornton, of course, is the cousin of current Sharks captain Joe Thornton, and in the years that he played in San Jose, he was one of the more popular veterans on the team. Currently, “Thorty” is retired from the game, living in Collingwood, Ontario, and is taking part in CBC television’s popular “Battle of the Blades” program. That’s a show where Thornton, like some former NHL’ers before him, take on a different skating role in an ice dancing competition with a partner to raise money for a charity. Thornton is dancing with Amanda Evora of Sarasota, FL, and they’re trying to win the competition to raise funds for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
Smith is the starting goaltender of the Phoenix Coyotes, one of the better ones in the game. One of his major attributes is his “puckability,” as coach Todd McLellan described it on the October 5th edition of “Coach’s Chalkboard” on KFOX 98.5/102.1 and the San Jose Sharks Radio Network. On Saturday night, Smith entered history by becoming the 11th goaltender in NHL history to score a goal when he threw the puck the length of the ice into an empty net.
It wasn’t Smith’s first goal as a pro. In his first game for the ECHL’s Lexington Man O’War in 2002-03, Smith had the unique distinction of getting a major penalty for fighting and scoring a goal in the same contest. That’s rather unique, don’t you think?
Nabokov, of course, is the Sharks’ all-time wins leader among goaltenders with 293, and is currently playing for the New York Islanders.
There’s the background. Now, let’s start weaving.
Two weeks into the 2013-14 NHL season it appears that the Sharks have built upon their late season and playoff success from last spring.
Projecting veteran team fortunes is fairly simple. One can review career trends and past results. Using this information you can predict the ultimate success of that team. But when important veterans get up in age, their skills can quickly erode. If enough vets performances decline, it may be time to break up that squad and build for the future. Those teams often try to move quality players and stockpile prospects and draft picks. The history of NHL has many examples of teams in a constant rebuild mode. If scouts and general managers don’t have vision and a philosophy that works, teams can wallow in failure for years and even decades.
Teams that catapult into elite status are often driven by youth. Players who have been in the league for 10+ years are often there due to their consistency. That is a huge portion of their value to the team. Young players are a work in progress. Their job is to contribute, learn and get better. Some players succeed, but many more fail. Through the years many high draft picks with great potential fail. Other undrafted, poorly regarded players work at their craft, take advantages of opportunity learn from experience to become great NHLers. When a large portion of a club boasts young, talented players they can skyrocket into a Cup contender.
The Sharks are one of those teams. Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson along with his scouting staff and a solid coaching staff has provided San Jose fans with a competitive and entertaining team. San Jose has not needed to ‘rebuild’. Wilson has coined the saying that his job is to ‘reset and refresh’. In the past few season we’ve seen the emergence of Logan Couture. A first-rounder who has bloomed into one of the best players in the league. Young defensemen such as Marc-Edourd Vlasic, Justin Braun and Matt Irwin have worked on their games and have become reliable and trusted blue-liners. This season has debuted a pair of young exciting forwards, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto. Their speed, energy and skill has been in large supply and are a big part of the Sharks early success. Young veterans like Andrew Desjardin, James Sheppard and Tommy Wingels are showing better consistency and the coaching staff has come to ‘trust’ them, especially in important moments in a game.
Looking over the San Jose roster shows a great mix of young prospects, youthful veterans and star players. This is a balanced team. With the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelsk, the younger players have mentors both on and off the ice. It’s early in the season. Anti Niemi has played brilliant in net. It’s great that the Sharks sit at 6-0-1. Early indications are there that this could be a very special season for a much-loved team from Northern California. Enjoy the games!
I could go in several different directions in writing about the Sharks 6-2 win in St. Louis on Tuesday night but I’m going to pick the high road.
The way I saw it, Maxime Lapierre of the Blues delivered a dirty hit to Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle in the first period. Hopefully Boyle will be OK and will be able to return to the lineup soon. Now the incident is in the hands of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Lapierre is a repeat offender, having been docked four games in 2010 for a cheap shot on the Sharks Scott Nichol. My guess is he’s going to be suspended for more than 4 games this time around.
But how about the performance by the Sharks, who at 6-0 are now one of only two unbeaten teams left in the NHL along with Colorado? It seems as if the Sharks have won every game this season in a different manner. In St. Louis, they punished the Blues for their lack of discipline scoring three power play goals. And when the Blues went on the power play they could hardly get pucks through to the net thanks to the courageous shot blocking of Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun and the rest of the penalty kill unit.
Joe Thornton played his strongest offensive game of the young season with a goal and three assists. He continues to march up the NHL all-time points and assists lists. Tuesday night he passed Guy Lafleur and tied Mike Bossy and Joe Nieuwendyk, Hall of Famers all of them.
Six different Sharks scored goals and 11 had points in a very one-sided affair against a previously undefeated St. Louis team.
Tommy Wingels was the third star. He hit everything, blocked shots and became the sixth different Shark to record a game winning goal this season.
The list goes on and on. Patrick Marleau had a three point night, Braun had over 25 minutes of ice time and Antti Niemi was solid when he had to be, shutting the Blues out until almost halfway through the third period to record his league leading sixth win.
This was “another” team victory. It was also a win for Dan Boyle. His teammates couldn’t bear the thought of Boyle paying the price he did and then losing the game.
Here’s to Dan Boyle’s health and on to Dallas!
The Sharks are 5-0-0. Tomas Hertl has 7 goals. Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are flying. Antti Niemi is looking solid in goal. It’s an easy league, eh?
The answer, of course, is no, and the Sharks are not acting as if the answer is yes. They will get a significant test this week. They’ll travel to St. Louis and Dallas in the next chapter of the 82 chapter book that is the 2013-14 NHL season. They’ll face the team that sent them home early in the spring of 2012. They’ll face the team that sent them home early in the spring of 2008, 2000, and 1998.
No, the lineups are not the same as they were in those years, not by a long shot. But the memories linger as life lessons, ones that this edition of the San Jose Sharks are determined to learn from in their quest to conquer the challenge of the Stanley Cup.
What we’ve seen so far from the season is a great combination of size, skill, speed, and depth, not to mention goaltending. It’s a group that has been prepared very well for the challenge. But the coaches will be the first to say that it’s only Chapters 6 and 7 of an 82 chapter book, with hopes of an extended four-chapter epilogue that will bring joy and glory to all those who follow this great sport.
I think that everyone is looking forward to St. Louis. The Blues are an excellent team that has been building toward its own parabolic trajectory of Cup contention. St. Louis has opened its season a perfect 4-0-0 for the first time in its history. Its top line, currently comprised of David Backes, T.J. Oshie, and Alex Steen, plays extremely well in all three zones, and the amazing thing is they have yet to trail in a game this season.
Of course, the Sharks had that exact situation against Ottawa on Saturday, and they not only embraced the challenge, they blasted through it with a determination that produced a power play goal by Patrick Marleau in the second period, a 23 shot barrage in the third, and a play by Joe Thornton to Brent Burns that was as powerful as it was artistic in its significance.
It’s fortunate that Coach Todd McLellan feels that rookie Tomas Hertl will be available on Tuesday. The 19-year-old is really lighting up the League, and yes, he’s going to get lots of attention, both physical and psychological. Similarly, a young player like Matt Nieto will be challenged to reach a new competitive level from each squad looking to be the best.
Isn’t life grand? We look forward to calling the action this week on the radio for you.
Last night the San Jose Sharks began the road portion of their 2013-14 season in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. It was brought to my attention recently that the Sharks will log a league-high 57,000+ miles this season.
The team will make 57 flights, 114 takeoffs and landings. All in all the Sharks will spend approximately 150 hours in the air. That would translate into four work weeks for the average 9 to 5 worker. Don’t feel too bad for them as they fly on a charter with meals, internet access and an overhead compartment filled with DVDs.
This season, San Jose will visit 29 cities. Including home games, the Sharks will play 47 games in the Pacific time zone, 11 games in the Mountain, eight in the Central and 16 in the Eastern zone.
Due to so much travel the Sharks get the fewest practice days in the league. This means the practices they do have are important and must be quality sessions. It is essential that the players have a good diet and maintain a high fitness level.
Such a schedule can have up sides. There is plenty of time for the team to bond over meals, movies, PlayStation and good natured teasing. In the past, all but veteran players had roommates on the road. But the new collective bargaining agreement means everyone gets their own room. There is sacrifice… time away from family and friends and the toll it can take on both body and mind. It’s little wonder that home teams enjoy a home ice advantage. Last and by no means least is the Sharks equipment staff. These dedicated gentlemen work insane hours and are often working while the players and coaches are sleeping.
Sometimes it feels like being part of a rock band. The players are the stars and everyone else are the roadies.”
Well, you don’t see that every night!
That just might be the understatement of the season. What Sharks 19-year-old rookie forward Tomas Hertl did at SAP Center on Tuesday was nothing short of incredible. He scored his first National Hockey League hat trick in only his third game and then added a fourth goal that just might hold up as the NHL goal of the year.
Who saw any of this coming? Who saw the Sharks fall behind the NY Rangers 1-0 in the first period and then score six unanswered goals and eventually win by a 9-2 final tally? And who could have even imagined the fourth Hertl goal? Tomas Hertl, that’s who! At full speed he cut in front of the Ranger net, put his stick between his legs and roofed a shot off the crossbar and behind helpless New York goaltender Martin Biron. Henrick Lundqvist, the Rangers Vezina Trophy winning starter could only watch from the bench after leaving the game when Hertl made it 4-1 with his first goal of the night.
And then there was Hertl’s mother and girlfriend visiting him from his native Prague in the Czech republic. The tears they shed when he scored his third goal and the joy they witnessed all around them when he stunned the sold out arena with a “one for the ages” fourth goal.
Lost somewhat were so many other outstanding performances like Joe Pavelski and Jason Demers three assist nights, the 14 different Sharks players who had points in the game, and 20-year-old Matt Nieto, the first ever California born player drafted by the Sharks who scored his first NHL goal and also finished with a three point night.
It’s one of those games we will all never forget. Not the skill, not the brilliance, not the tears of joy.
Like I’ve said countless times over the years, the best thing about being a broadcaster in the NHL is that every time I go to work I don’t know what I’m going to see. What we saw Tuesday night was a game, and a performance for the ages.
I’m Randy Hahn
A Breakdown of Tomas Hertl's First Career Goal
Tomas Hertl’s first two NHL goals were expressive displays of talent, energy and élan that have everyone excited about his rookie season, and his future. After two games, he has two goals and one assist, and his seemingly endless smiles of joy are spreading through the locker room and the city.
Of course, there are many mountains for Hertl to climb, and there will be many challenges along the way, as there were for Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, and Joe Thornton before him. However, how he spent his first weekend was an excellent, and unique start to what is hopefully a long and prosperous NHL career.
Let’s not forget the fact that Hertl was 19 years and 327 days old when he put together his first two-goal game. He did it against Mike Smith, one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL, and his two goals showcased different talents. On his first one, after a rough Phoenix line change, he got the puck from Marc-Edouard Vlasic and split the defense, including Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Derek Morris, who was just coming on the ice to replace Zbynek Michalek. He went to the backhand, deked, and slipped the puck right through Smith.
On his second goal, Hertl was on the ice with the Sharks second power play unit. He used strength, savvy, and stick position to get in front, and neatly tipped a Matt Irwin shot past Smith, showing that he can perform offensively in tight quarters against some pretty solid players.
Moreover, Tomas, who pronounces his first name “TOE-mash,” with that slightly lilting, subtle “sh” at the end, backchecked hard and kept to his responsibilities in both ends of the ice. It’s been a good start, and it is going to be fun to watch him deal with the challenges that are sure to come.
For those who are wondering, there are several other teenagers who have recorded 2-goal games in Sharks history, as noted by our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau via Uncle Darin Stephens:
Patrick Marleau, as many remember, was just 18 when he played in his first NHL regular season season. He had a two-goal night on November 18, 1997 against Anaheim, with Guy Hebert in goal. He was 18 years and 64 days old.
Marleau had two other multi-goal games as a teenager. On January 21,1999, he picked up a pair against goaltender Bob Essensa of Edmonton in a game that was long enough ago to have a 3-3 final result. In an interesting twist, Pat Falloon, Mike Grier and Bill Guerin, either ex- or soon-to-be Sharks, played in the game for the Edmontonians.
Marleau’s other teenaged two-goaler took place on March 17, 1999 against Florida, who had current Phoenix goalie coach Sean Burke in net. Ray Whitney, Alex Hicks, and Bill Lindsay, who all wore the Sharks uniform, were playing for F-L-A, as was Bret Hedican, now covering Sharks hockey for the CSN-California TV team.
It was Falloon who was the first teenager in Sharks history to score 2 goals in a game, and he did it on the road in Edmonton, on November 29, 1991 at the age of 19 years, 68 days. In another tie game, 4-4, Falloon scored his pair against Bill Ranford, who had won the Stanley Cup the year before with the Oilers. Future Sharks Vincent Damphousse and Joe Murphy played for the Oilers in that game.
But the current teenaged king of the multi-goal games for Sharks hockey is Jeff Friesen, who edged Marleau’s 3 gems by turning the trick 4 times, twice at the age of 18 and twice at 19. Included in that is the only hat trick scored by a Sharks teenager to date, on March 20, 1996, on the road in Winnipeg. In a 7-1 Sharks win, Friesen had Nikolai Khabibulin (6 GA) and Dominic Roussel (1 GA) tending net for the Jets. Rookie Shane Doan, now the Coyotes captain, was playing for Winnipeg in that game, as was a man who had worn Sharks teal, Craig Janney.
I’m sure that Tomas Hertl’s recent accomplishment has stirred a few memories, but the most exciting thing to note is that even better things lie ahead.
There’s hockey in the air. The days are getting shorter, trees are changing and the sound of skates and ice have come to an arena near you. Each new season brings a fresh canvas. Veterans look to add a new, better chapter to their career. Young players work hard to make their team, and they work harder to stick. Those with new contracts look to earn their money, those in the final year of their deals are playing for a new one.
Coaches have their systems in place. They’ve used training camp to separate the prospects from the pretenders. Teaching never takes a break.
The Sharks arena has a new name…the SAP Center at San Jose. The popcorn is popped, the concourse is bright and shiny. The ice is in, the JumboTron is warmed up.
The fans have their ticket in hand. A new pair of Sharks jerseys are being broken in. The team store stocked and ready. Street banners with Sharks player faces welcome the new season.
The equipment and medical staff are ready to go. Sticks, gloves and pads ready to do their duty. The television cameras and crew are looking forward to a great season. Dan Rusanowsky, Randy Hahn, Drew Remenda, Jamie Baker, Brodie Brazil and Bret Hedican have done their homework. The Club and concession stands are ready to open. Parking attendants and blue coat ushers have had their meetings and greet fans with a smile.
Kids wearing jerseys press their nose to the glass during player warm ups. Fans have their signs. The coaches have made their speeches…the players are geared toward victory. The Referee drops the puck to begin a new 82-game season. Every team believes they can win the Cup.
Enjoy the season!