Ever since the Stadium Series game was announced between San Jose and Los Angeles - it has never seemed tangible to me. More like a fantasy. Probably because I have (over) visualized in my head what this spectacle of an event would look and feel like, for so long. You probably have too.
Granted, February 21 has been heavily circled on my calendar. I've already seen some of the hard work and preparation in setting up for a hockey contest at Levi's Stadium. But things finally started going from fantasy to real life, when I recently saw the Epix camera crew show up for their permanent coverage right before the All-Star break.
Epix is the network that will produce "Road To The Stadium Series", which debuts tomorrow night at 7pm PST. This is the popular 4-part series which gets all-access with both the Kings and Sharks for the month leading into their showdown in Santa Clara.
During my 6 seasons of covering the Sharks for CSN, I have been granted tremendous access, and seen a lot of things that occur behind-the-curtain. Some stuff I could share, most of it I can't. Now, it's exciting to know that Sharks fans will get to enjoy a taste of that same perspective, for the first time. i guarantee you are going to love it.
For example have you ever seen Todd McLellan coaching his team, between periods? Now you will.
"The camera crew probably has more access right now to the locker room than that coaches do, right now," McLellan told me, half-joking.
The Head Coach elaborated on how the crew operates and integrates with his players: "They are experienced. They know where to be and when to be there. They know when to give the players their space and time. They can read emotions. So far it has been a good marriage."
As for the players, I can tell you that they have been just a little different when the cameras are around, both on and off the ice. Let's be honest, some of them are a lot more comfortable in front of the lens than others.
"There's a couple guys that I think really enjoy it. You can probably guess who they are," Todd said.
While the viewers clearly benefit, it's a tricky situation for the coaching staff. They don't ever want to leak trade secrets, and usually NHL teams are very protective of their inner-workings, from the standpoint of strategy.
"I'd rather just be with the group alone, to tell you the truth," McLellan said. "I feel more comfortable there. And maybe I'm a little more old school where you don't open up the room to people you're not familiar with. And you keep your emotions in check."
No matter what, you're about to see a new side of the Sharks, starting tomorrow night. Enjoy it!
- No one will argue the 2 best teams in the Pacific Division are the LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks; Cup Champs and the Ducks lead the league in points. The Sharks are a combined 6-1-1 against them and 4-4-2 against the other teams in the Pacific. I guess that’s a good thing … right?
- Speaking of the Ducks, they are 11-4-5 against the Pacific Division … all 4-regulation losses are to the Sharks.
- After the Sharks beat the LA Kings on Jan 23, Head Coach Darryl Sutter was quoted “I think they responded to their coach's challenge publically in the first period.” That tells me something I already knew, that McLellan has not lost the room … the players responded and despite their inconsistency this season they clearly still respect and play for their head coach.
- Congrats to Marty Brodeur on an amazing career. He’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer and for good reason. Among his many records, his 125 shutouts is amazing. That’s a good career in wins for many goalies, but to have that many shutouts is simply incredible.
- With key players Justin Braun and Tommy Wingels both injured this is a huge opportunity for some young guys to step up and contribute while getting some good minutes. Let’s see who’s up to the challenge … and opportunity!
- I was a left-handed shooting natural center my entire life. My first game in the NHL I played right wing on a line with two future Hall of Famers, Joe Sakic at center and Michel Goulet on left wing (yes I was the anchor on that line). While I preferred center my first pro head coach, Robbie Ftorek, taught me to play wing which turned out to be a very good thing because it gave me a 1 in 12 chance to make the NHL instead of a 1 in 4 chance if I was just a center.
- I share that story because it’s becoming clear that Tomas Hertl seems more engaged at his natural position of center but has used the wing to adjust to the North American and NHL game. His hockey sense and ability to anticipate are great attributes for a center and while his skating improves over the next few years I think we’ll be seeing him as a centerman, which is his natural position.
- Big week ahead for our beloved Sharkies. Chicago is in town on Saturday and they are always fun to watch … great team and my favorite uniforms in the league. After Saturday the Sharks next 5 games are, in order: Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Carolina and Calgary. The team needs to beat the Edmonton’s and Carolina’s and the other 3 games could really help solidify a top 3 playoff position if they Sharks can get on a roll and win all 3. The time in now, and the Sharks should feel very good about themselves after big home wins against LA and Anaheim.
With the rest of the Sharks season set to resume Thursday there are so many questions that will be answered over the next 10 weeks. Questions like...
Is it a foregone conclusion that Anaheim will win the Pacific Division or can a team like the Sharks still put together a run to try and catch them?
How many more Hall of Famers will Joe Thornton pass on the NHL all-time points and assists lists before the end of the season?
Are the LA Kings about to shake their inconsistent ways and make a run up the standings as they attempt to defend their championship?
Will Patrick Marleau regain the scoring touch that has earned him the reputation of being one of the Sharks most reliable goal scorers over the last decade and a half?
Can the Nashville Predators hold off Chicago and St. Louis for the Central Division title?
Can Joe Pavelski repeat his 41 goal season and possibly take a run at 50?
Will the Sharks-Kings Stadium Series game at Levi's Stadium next month be the "iconic" game in Bay Area hockey history?
Will Brent Burns win the defenseman scoring race?
Will the Sharks final game of the season April 11 against the Kings decide which team makes the post season and which misses?
Lots of questions with all the answers about to be revealed! Enjoy the rest of the hockey season and the push to the playoffs!
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.
That in itself would make the centerman worthy of a focus, here on sjsharks.com.
But instead - I want to elaborate on all of the little things the stat sheet does not tell you about Logan.
Last outing is a perfect example. Early in Saturday night's game against Calgary, Couture took a high stick from Brodie (as in T.J., not me). It cost him parts of three front teeth. Logan went off for repairs but came back in the period.
In the second stanza - after Todd McLellan had surely given his team a stiff talk inside the dressing room - Logan comes out and scores a quick goal less than 20 seconds into play. His team responds by getting two more quick ones, and takes a 3-2 lead.
Then in the 3rd period, Couture pays the ultimate sacrifice on defense, extending his right skate boot to block Mark Giordano's whopper from the point. He later said it got him right where the "shot blocker" did not protect, and before even getting back on his feet, Logan continued defending on the play from his rear end.
San Jose ended up losing that one 4-3 in overtime. And during his postgame interview scrum, Logan went out of his way to tastefully, yet tactfully, yet accurately point out how team defense has been failing lately. The honesty and precision in pointing out what went wrong, in such a short time after the game and all of the emotions, was actually refreshing.
I have watched every single contest that Logan has played in the NHL: 343 in the regular season, plus another 56 in the playoffs. And in those 399 games, I could come up with dozens upon dozens of other examples where Couture showed relentless drive, selfless risk-taking, and an unusual passion to win.
In the bigger picture, things haven't all come easy for Logan. He was an NHL All-Star in 2012... picked last. He was a nominee, likely a finalist to be on Team Canada's 2014 Olympic roster... but ended up getting snubbed. And when San Jose decided on 4 alternate captains this season... Logan was not one of them.
But as you can see, Logan has not let any of this slow or stop him. At 25 years old, Couture should have a lot of hockey left. And hopefully the best rewards are still to come.
- Say what you want about the Toronto Maple Leafs but they play an entertaining brand of hockey. Lots of scoring chances, some good hits and lots of emotion that led to some good ol’ nastiness on the ice. Of course, I’m not cheering for the Leafs so whether they win or lose is irrelevant to me unlike their passionate fan base that are screaming (literally) for a playoff contending team. The Leafs, by the way, have missed the playoffs 8 of the past 9 years.
- If Marleau and Nieto use their speed to crash the net like they did vs the Leafs it is going to open up all kinds of ice for Thornton who will inevitably get the puck to them.
- Tyler Kennedy has looked really good in the two games back since missing 15 games with an upper body injury.
- Justin Braun continues his steady play with tremendous defense and he chipped in with 2 assists vs the Leafs and was named the 1st star of the game.
- What happened to the Pacific Division? Two years ago it was considered the best division in hockey. The Sharks currently sit 2nd in the Pacific with 53 points but that point total would only be good enough for 4th place in the Metropolitan Division and 5th place in the Central and Atlantic. Then again we all know we can’t take stock in the LA Kings regular season point totals – fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on us! Come playoff time the Pacific Division turns into possibly the toughest division to get out of!
- The past week all the Sharks pro and amateur scouts convened in San Jose for some mid-season meetings. I mentioned on a broadcast that they attend 150 to 200 games and an old friend and scout sent me a direct message on Twitter saying “If they are not going to 300 games and spending 200 nights in a hotel they are working part-time.” Love it! Point is, scouts are the backbone to an organization, have a great eye for talent and they are good old school guys in a very tight-knit scouting community. Good people them scouts are … safe travels guys and keep up the awesome work!
Who is the Sharks best defenseman? It seems like a simple enough question but coming up with an answer isn’t that easy.
Part of the answer lies in what defines a good defenseman. Is he solely a player who should be judged on his defensive play or does the offense he provides also factor into the equation?
Some would argue that Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the Sharks best defenseman. Head Coach Todd McLellan typically has Vlasic on the ice against the opponents’ top offensive players. Vlasic leads the team in +- rating at +12 and he has respectable offensive numbers with 6 goals and 14 points including 3 game winning goals. He was also named to Team Canada’s Olympic squad last year in Sochi and came home with a gold medal around his neck.
Others might offer that Brent Burns rules the San Jose blue line. Burns is one of the NHL’s top scoring defensemen with 11 goals and 35 points. His 24 assists are just 1 behind team leader Joe Thornton. Burns has a booming shot. It’s a weapon. He’s also a key to the Sharks power play where he’s scored 4 goals and he has 2 game winners. But at -8 Burns has one of the poorer +- ratings on the team. Depending on how much value you place in that statistic it may diminish his reputation as a top defender.
When the NHL named its 2015 All Star representative from the Sharks it named Brent Burns. Does that mean the league regards Burns as a better defenseman than Vlasic? I’m not sure. Perhaps Burns was being recognized as much for his personality and admirable community work as he was his play this season.
One thing that is certian is that the Sharks have a good problem when it’s unclear who their best defenseman is and they have two very good ones. And when they are paired together on the ice as they have been recently in games, it’s a big problem for the opposition.
We are now 43 games deep into San Jose's campaign. And although he has only played in the most recent 14 contests, I think it's safe to recognize Melker Karlsson as the biggest surprise for the Sharks, this season.
Before we go any further, I say "surprise" with full respect - he was certainly scouted, signed, and promoted for what San Jose's eyes saw in him. But to collect 10 points in your first 14 NHL games... and be promoted to the top line... and get power play time... I'm not sure anyone could have seen that coming.
Currently, Melker is on a 5-game goal streak, which ties him for the rookie franchise record with Jeff Friesen (1994-1995). He scored a beautifully redirected puck recently, but most of his markers on this current stretch have come from crashing the net. He has come across great opportunities on second chances - specifically the rebounds and loose pucks goalies have been leaving on the doorstep. Karlsson has been rewarded by going to what Todd McLellan describes as the "difficult areas" of the ice. McLellan also once beautifully singled Melker out as being a "puck hunter".
I've gone out and proclaimed Karlsson as the "Melkman" on Twitter and social media. And why not? The Melkman keeps getting the cookies! (Get it?)
But some don't like it. That was a nickname already used infamously by Melky Cabrera when he was a member of the San Francisco Giants.
Furthermore - I've never even asked Karlsson if he's cool with being the "Melkman".
So I propose something different.
Do you know what the name Melker means, in his native Sweden?
It translates to: King.
We should help #68 with a nickname along those lines. Because if he continues at this pace, the moniker will be fitting.
On Thursday night in St. Louis, Head Coach Todd McLellan coached his 500th NHL game. He deserves a big congrats on the milestone for many reasons:
• 64th coach in NHL history to coach 500 games
• He is only the 20th to coach his first 500 with the same franchise
• His 293 wins in his first 500 games in 3rd all-time behind Mike Babcock (303) and Joel Quenville (294)
• He is in his 7th season with the Sharks with a very impressive record of 293-145-62 for a Win % of 58.6% and a Points % of 64.8%
• In his 21 years as a coach he has never missed the playoffs and won an AHL Championship as Head Coach of the Houston Aeros and a Stanley Cup as an Assistant Coach for the Detroit Red Wings.
So what makes Todd McLellan such a good coach? I think I can answer that question using 5 key attributes: Passion, Humility, Integrity, Preparation, and Hockey IQ.
It's what drives any successful coach because they eat, sleep, and think hockey most of the time. Todd loves and respects the game of hockey and his passion is what drives him the most.
It comes from his family that raised him in Melville Saskatchewan. Todd was the ultimate team player when he played and he coaches the same way. He surrounds himself with good people, and does not put himself above the team or the logo that he works for.
Todd is honest and garners respect from his players who continue to play for him and respect him. Todd realizes that hockey, and life itself, is about relationships and how you treat people and uses that model everyday. When we travel from city to city it's remarkable how much respect Todd gets around the league.
I am not saying Todd is the hardest working coach because I know there are other coaches that put in long hours - but I don't think anyone works harder. Whether it's early meetings to go over video, practice plans, meeting with players, or studying game film into the wee hours of the night Todd leads my example with his work ethic and preparation.
Todd has a plan, stays focused on the plan and has an extremely high hockey IQ. I know that other coaches study and use some of the systems that Todd and his staff have used over the years. He processes extremely fast which is mandatory to be a good bench coach at the NHL level and he has an eye for both technical and tactical aspects of the game. You learn something new every time you have a hockey conversation with Todd McLellan.
There are other attributes but those 5 sum up the type of person and coach Todd McLellan is.
Congrats coach on your 500th game - you are in an elite group that have reached that milestone in the top hockey league in the world, the NHL!
Joe Thornton had played in 319 consecutive games for the Sharks when he was injured in Anaheim on New Years Eve, so it was going to be interesting to see how the team responded without him. The initial good news was that they beat Anaheim that night. Three days later the Sharks struggled against St. Louis in a humbling 7-2 loss. They came out flat, put on a brief push late in the first period, and then collapsed the rest of the way surrendering six unanswered goals. They also went 0 for 6 on the power play. Life without Jumbo didn’t look very promising.
But two nights later in Winnipeg, the Sharks other leaders took it upon themselves to respond. Just like they have on other occasions this year when they’ve had less than acceptable outings (Buffalo and Vancouver at home), the team rallied. Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Antti Niemi led the way. And then Marc-Eduard Vlasic stuck a dagger in the Jet’s with a game-winning goal in the dying seconds.
The next night in Minnesota the Sharks had to rally from a 2-0 deficit. Pavelski came through again. So did Tommy Wingels who broke a scoring slump. Rookie Melker Karlsson, who doesn’t look like a typical rookie, scored for a third straight game. Alex Stalock settled down after a shaky first period and the Sharks found a way to get the game to overtime. Then Mr. GWG, Vlasic, scored in the extra frame and the Sharks had another road victory.
It’s not a huge body of work but it’s hugely uplifting to see the Sharks players playing for one another and playing for the coaches. That’s what it feels like. We’ll see how they respond against the Blues on Thursday. And everyone in the dressing room looks forward to the return of Joe Thornton!