It’s finally here. Tonight the Sharks face the Los Angeles Kings. Is it rivalry night on the west coast? You bet it is. Debate all you want but the Sharks top rival is LA and the Kings top rival is San Jose.
A dozen games into the season the Sharks sit atop the Pacific Division with 21 points. The Kings are 5 points back in fourth place. It’s too early to try and figure out what the landscape will look like in April but the early returns for both teams are good.
They might have looked a little flat last night in a 3-1 loss in Phoenix but the Kings have a good team again. They’re only 16 months removed from winning the Stanley Cup and last season got to the Western Conference Final for a second straight season. And oh yes, the Kings are the team that knocked the Sharks out of the playoffs last spring.
If you think that fact is lost on the Sharks players who skated off the ice at Staples Center following a 2-1 loss on May 28th you would be incorrect. Who knows if both the Sharks and Kings will make the playoffs this season? Who knows if they’ll meet again if they do both qualify? But if you are a Sharks player, coach or member of management you went into the past off-season thinking about what it would take to get past the Kings, didn’t you? How do you beat LA in a 7 game series? How do you win on LA ice, something the Sharks failed to do in last seasons second round series.
Those questions can’t be answered until a future playoff meeting, but the message sending starts tonight. The Sharks want to show that their early season improvement is for real. The Kings want to maintain the upper hand on their northern rivals.
It’s the biggest game of the season, so far. The Sharks want to beat LA.
The Sharks are back on the road for their first extended trip and their first visit to the Eastern Conference. Here’s how I rank the cities for their hockey buzz and more.
Detroit - October 21
Detroit’s been in the headlines lately for a lot of the wrong reasons. But what it may lack in some areas it more than makes up for as an Original Six hockey city. After all, it is aptly nicknamed Hockey Town. No visit to Joe Louis Arena would be complete without a photo op in front of the Gordie Howe statue. And while the “old barn” is overdue for a remake or replacement there’s something about those Stanley Cup banners in the rafters dating back to 1936 that makes a trip to Detroit special. For food and drink check out Cheli’s Chili bar next to Comerica Park where you might run into owner and newly elected Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios.
Randy’s Roadie Rank : #11 - On an off day sign up for an assembly line tour at the Ford factory in Dearborn and don’t miss fascinating Greenfield Village.
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 will play 41 road games in 29 different North American cities this season. First up will be trips to Vancouver, St. Louis and Dallas. Here’s how I rank the towns for the hockey buzz and more.
At Vancouver - October 10
On a clear day there is no city more beautiful in the entire NHL than Vancouver, British Columbia. Considering that it’s a mere 2 ½ hour flight from the Bay Area, this should be a must stop for any Sharks fan considering a roadie. (You can also drive it in a 16 hour marathon day). Think of San Francisco with snow capped mountains and even more cultural diversity. And think hockey. If you’re wondering just how important the Canucks are to the average Vancouverite, imagine what the Green Bay Packers mean to the average citizen of Wisconsin. And then multiply that by 2. I’m a runner so I always schedule a jog around the world famous Stanley Park Seawall. It’s a 10-kilometer loop around Canada’s version of Central Park in Manhattan. Even if you’re not a runner its an amazing walk or bike ride.
Randy’s Roadie Rank : #2 - Amazing beauty, the best fresh salmon anywhere and very passionate hockey fans.
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
There’s so much to look forward to this NHL season. For starters it’ll be a full 82 game season. There will be a Winter Classic outdoor, in fact there will be six outdoor games around the league. And it will be an Olympic season with the hockey’s best players gathering in Sochi, Russia in February for a couple of weeks while the NHL takes a break.
For Sharks fans there’s plenty to be excited about too. Will the team pick up where it left off in last years playoffs with a high tempo, north-south game? Will Logan Couture continue his ascension to hockey stardom? Can Antti Niemi follow up his best statistical regular season ever with an ever better one? How will Tomas Hertl hold up through a full game season and playoffs?
But let’s not forget what ought to be one of the true joys for all Sharks fans for the next 7+ months: Watching Joe Thornton play hockey night in and night out.
Let’s face it. From time to time we take Joe Thornton for granted. Ever since he came to San Jose in 2005 in the biggest trade in franchise history, “Jumbo” Joe has rarely disappointed. He is the captain of the team, he is arguably the best player the team has ever had and he is certainly going to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
With over 1100 career points, Joe will most likely crack the top 50 of all-time in that category this season. With a healthy year he could catch and pass Bobby Hull in 48th. His 787 career assists put him 33rd. Soon he will pass the likes of Peter Stastny, Guy Lafleur, Jari Kurri and Mike Modano. He’s realistically got a good shot at catching the immortal Alex Delvecchio (25th all-time) by the end of this year.
For my money he is the best passer in the NHL. At 34 years of age Joe still skates extremely well. He works his but off virtually every shift. He dominates play 5 on 5 and on the power play. His first period in Game 3 last spring against LA in the playoffs was the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play.
Enjoy watching the future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton this season. Here’s hoping he’s around here well beyond this year. But one thing is certain he won’t be around forever.
10 things you might not know about Sharks forward Tommy Wingels:
- He’s a member of the Advisory Board of the You Can Play Project, an organization created in the memory of Brendan Burke who was the student-manager on Wingels’ Miami University of Ohio team. Burke, who announced to the team he was gay, was killed in an auto accident in February of 2010. You can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation
- Burke would regularly hang out on football Sunday’s with Tommy and his college roommate Justin Vaive, son of former NHL All-Star winger Rick Vaive.
- Wingels was part of a very interesting 2008 NHL Entry Draft for the Sharks. He was selected in the 6th round (177th overall) hardly a shoo-in spot to crack an NHL lineup. Sharks defenseman Jason Demers and goaltending prospect Harri Sateri were also picked in 2008.
10 things you might not know about Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi:
- This past season he lead the NHL in minutes played (2581), tied for the league lead in wins (24) and starts (43) and was third with 1127 saves.
- His new goalie helmet/mask honors Finnish war heroes who fought the invading Soviet Russian army in the Finnish Winter War of 1939-40. The man pictured on his helmet is Chief Commander Gustaf Mannerheim who later became the president of Finland.
- As a member of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 he became the first goaltender from Finland ever to win a Stanley Cup.
- While playing junior hockey for Kiekko-Vantaa in Finland he would earn extra money driving the Zamboni at the local rink.
On Sunday in New Jersey the San Jose Sharks hockey department, headed up by General Manager Doug Wilson and Director of Scouting Tim Burke, will go about the task of trying to identify an 18 year old player who they hope can make a huge difference on the ice in the NHL some day. It’s a daunting task.
Back in June of 2007 the San Jose Sharks made a trade with the St. Louis Blues and moved up to the 9th position in the first round of the draft where they selected 18-year-old Logan Couture from the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League. That season Couture had managed 78 points in just 54 games and finished second on his team in scoring behind eventual Sharks teammate Jamie McGinn. Logan added eight more points in five playoff games.
Although he had very good offensive numbers, it wasn’t numbers alone that convinced the Sharks to use their valuable pick on Couture. Near the end of that 2006-2007 season Couture was banged up with a variety of injuries. But he didn’t throw in the towel. He didn’t quit. He could have shut down for the year and preserved his draft status. But he didn’t worry about that. He kept on going. He played hurt and showed a tremendous amount of dedication and heart to the bitter end. It was when the Sharks scouting staff saw those attributes in a skilled teenage hockey player they were convinced they were making the right choice. What a choice it’s turned out to be.
It’s the day after the worst day of the season.
The worst day of the season is the day after your team is eliminated from the playoffs. It happens to 29 teams, every year. For some teams that day comes in March or April when they are mathematically eliminated from post-season contention. For one team the worst day of the season happens the day after the Stanley Cup is handed out. Maybe it’s just my imagination but “that day” seems even worse after a game 7 elimination like the Sharks endured Tuesday in Los Angeles. Playoff beards disappear, “Sharks Playoff Territory” signs are put away and rally towels get stuffed in a drawer. It’s over. The season is done.
But on this day after the worst day of the season it’s time to turn the page. The Sharks players and coaches meet for one last time to say goodbye until the fall. Team management begins intense preparation for the upcoming amateur draft and free agency. For the fans there’s a leftover sense of what could have been, but soon summertime activities help fill the void left by the absence of Sharks hockey.
To be honest there have been several years when I’ve been genuinely disappointed and even angry about how the team finished the season. This year it’s different. This Sharks team had tons of heart and showed it in 11 terrific playoff games. Yes they came up short. But these weren’t “the same old Sharks”. This was a team that came together during a most unusual season and then accomplished a number of important individual and team goals along with giving us all many thrilling moments.
This time the day after the worst day of the season is filled with hope and optimism. There’s so much to look forward to in October when we’ll all pack HP Pavilion again to watch a team that appears to be transforming in so many positive ways.
Thanks for being such faithful fans and thank you for all the kind words that are sent our way about the radio and television broadcasts. It’s an honor to know that what we do on the air is so appreciated.
One day there will be a parade in downtown San Jose in June instead of a “day after the worst day of the season” in May!