I wrote this blog as the Sharks prepared to play their last regular season game at Nassau Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders. Being here is nostalgic for me because when I was younger my favorite team was the Islanders, and yes my high school years were fun as they pumped out 4 Stanley Cups.
So why were the Islanders so good? And at the same time, what makes the current version of the San Francisco Giants so good when it comes to playoff time?
No question you have to have the right ingredients of speed, skill and toughness but lots of teams have that and don’t rise to the occasion when it matters most. The last piece to the Championship puzzle is the mental side of playing the game and this next part is important, the ability to over-achieve as an individual and a team.
The Giants know they just need to make the playoffs and then it’s time for everyone to rise to the occasion. That’s what the great Islanders team did, and that’s what the LA Kings did last year.
Having a great regular season gets you good contracts that set you up for life. Having a great playoff is what your legacy will be remembered for. As I looked at the 4 Stanley Cup banners hanging in the rafters I didn’t think about how the Islanders team did in the regular season, but how they dismantled other teams in the playoffs with their; tenacity, grit, speed, toughness, skill, goaltending and an willing desire to refuse to lose and be mentally stronger than their opponents. Their legacies are cemented in Islander and NHL history!
That’s what this season is about for the San Jose Sharks. Can they, as individuals and a group, over-achieve when it matters most. It’s been a long time since a Sharks team has over-achieved.
The regular season is about getting invited to the party. Like the Islanders, Kings and the San Francisco Giants, it’s then about peaking at the right time and taking your game to a new, and much higher level. That’s the opportunity and challenge that lies ahead for the 2014/15 version of the San Jose Sharks.
It’s hard not to be inspired watching the 2014 NHL playoffs, which many consider to be the best playoffs in years, many years meaning in decades. The passion and parity of this year's playoffs has been off the charts amazing and another reason why hockey is the ultimate team sport.
I decided to look up the meaning of inspiration and here is the definition from the World English Dictionary:
Inspiration -- noun
- stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings, etc, to do special or unusual activity
- the state or quality of being so stimulated or aroused
- someone or something that causes this state
- an idea or action resulting from such a state
So let’s talk about inspiration from a leadership standpoint because great leaders inspire others to be stimulated, aroused and do special things, like go above and beyond when it matters most.
Here are examples from the four teams that played the Conference Finals.
PK Subban is all about inspiration and was the emotional leader for Montreal as they beat the top-seeded Bruins in the 2nd round before falling to the Rangers in the Conference Finals.
How about Toews and Kane from the Blackhawks? They are all about inspiring others. The Blackhawks have won 2 Stanley Cups in the last 4 seasons and a lot of the reason has to do with their inspirational leaders. The way the Hawks battled back from a 3-1 series deficit to the Kings and taking game 7 to overtime was beyond impressive and it started with the inspiration from its leaders.
The LA Kings get inspiration from the likes of Doughty, Williams, Quick, Kopitar and Brown as they have an unrelenting ability to inspire and a ‘refuse to lose’ attitude. The Kings have won three straight game 7’s on the road, for the first time in NHL history, and have done so against great teams; San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago. Their leaders inspire others to be better and it’s why they are in the Stanley Cup Finals.
And last but not least the NY Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist is all about inspiring his teammates to be better, but the circumstances that have followed Dominic Moore and Marty St. Louis are taking inspirational leading to a higher power. Could the Rangers be a team of destiny because of the inspiration from their leaders?
The NHL playoffs are all about passion and inspiration. It’s been great theater so far and the Stanley Cup Finals promises to continue the trend of amazing hockey.
What a treat it is to be a hockey fan right now!
Here’s the reality and truth about NHL players – they bleed for the logo, their teammates and the fans.
As the players head into the playoffs they all know one thing, starting Thursday night the intensity gets ratcheted up another notch and in the next two weeks and beyond pretty much every player is going to be hurt or injured in some capacity and will still lay it on the line during games.
This is what makes the NHL playoffs such an amazing spectacle… Players have received their full salary for the year and now they literally play for passion, pride and a chance to win the greatest trophy in the world, the Stanley Cup.
Knowing you are about to begin a journey where you get injured, and excited to do so, takes a different type of person and athlete. To win the Cup it will take a band of players that are selfless, play for each other, make each other better, are tough, fast and skilled and after all of that they will still need a bit of puck luck.
16 wins, that’s what it takes. The toughest 16 wins of the year, but its worth it because hockey players bleed for the logo, their teammates and their fans.
It’s what makes hockey so special!
Ladies and Gentleman, start your engines, buckle up and let the real season begin.
I am Jamie Baker, ex-San Jose Shark who bled for you and can’t wait to watch this version of the Sharks do the same.
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!