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!
Obviously the Sharks are going to have to beat Los Angeles in a 7th game on Tuesday night if they’re to advance to the NHL’s Conference Final round. But in order to get to game 7 they first have to win game 6 on Sunday. And therein lies the dilemma. How can you possibly put that out of your mind if you’re a player heading into game 6? How do you place all of your focus on the task at hand?
For the Sharks, in my view, it all comes down to learning from past experiences in this post season and in this series. In the first round against Vancouver the Sharks never seemed to get ahead of themselves. Even heading into what turned out to be the deciding Game 4 they were focused shift-to-shift, period-to-period. In Game 2 of this series against the Kings the Sharks lost their focus late in the third period and suffered a gut wrenching loss. In game 4 they played one of their best playoff periods ever in the first but then had to hang on for dear life at the end of the game. And in game 5 they weren’t focused enough on the power play opportunities that they earned and in the end it cost them dearly.
The game 6 lead up for the Sharks is cliché filled. “It’s do or die”. “Their backs are against the wall”. “There’s no tomorrow.”
The bottom line is focus and learning from past mistakes. If the Sharks can replicate their first period in Game 4 and carry it through three periods, they’ll be fine. If they can stay within the moment, within the shift and focus on the good things they’ve done to get them this far, they’ll prevail and there will be a game 7.
But make no mistake. Los Angeles played their best game of the series in Game 5. They seized the opportunity to put the Sharks on the brink of elimination. The Kings are the defending champions. They are not to be taken lightly. Championship teams don’t usually let a challenger up off the mat. Game 6 will be the Sharks biggest challenge of this amazing roller coaster of a season.
Back in December of 2007, Joe Thornton made a “no look” backhand pass through a maze of defenders to Patrick Marleau for an amazing goal. On that night my broadcast partner Drew Remenda immediately dubbed it “The Pass”. Tuesday night in a series tying 2-1 win over Los Angeles, Joe Thornton had “The Period”.
In his 95 playoff games in a teal sweater, the Sharks captain has never had a 20 minute stretch like he did in the first period of game 4. It was like he was literally launched out onto the ice, shot out of a cannon. He was a beast. Thornton was skating circles around his opponents. His legs seemed as fresh as they’ve ever been. He controlled the puck, put it where he wanted to put it, took it away from whoever had it on the other team. His pass on Brent Burns goal was brilliant. He owned the faceoff circle. He was tenacious. Unstoppable! The Kings’ Mike Richards and his linemates had no answer for Joe Thornton. He played that first period like he was 23 instead of 33.
“He’s a hell of a leader”, said Logan Couture when asked about Thornton’s night. “I love playing with him”.
So far in the playoffs Joe Thornton has 9 points in 8 games and amazingly has been on the ice for 17 goals scored and only 1 against.
Of course the Sharks are only 6 victories into a grueling journey that requires 16 and they’re going to have to be even better than they’ve been so far if they’re to knock off the defending champions. But no matter where this goes from here, in my view, we’ve been witnessing the best playoff hockey that future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton has ever produced.
I’m Randy Hahn
Up until Thursday, the Sharks hadn’t faced much in the way of adversity in this Stanley Cup Playoff year, but they’ve got a whole lot of it now.
First came the news that Raffi Torres has been suspended for the remainder of the second round as a result of his “illegal” hit on Kings center Jarret Stoll in game 1. Then came the gut wrenching final minutes of a 4-3 loss to LA in game 2. After an awe inspiring four game sweep of the Vancouver Canucks, the Sharks are in an 0-2 hole. Adversity has found them.
Now we get to find out how the Sharks will handle it. They should be well prepared . It wasn’t that long ago that the team went through a terrible stretch where they won only 5 of 21 games over all of February and half of March. They weren’t looking much like a playoff bound team at all. But as we know they pulled themselves out of it, made a terrific run through the last third of the regular season, and ended up as a 6 seed. They’ve been through some very tough times together already this year and now things just got tough again.
Yes, the Game 2 loss felt like a kick in the stomach. But I really like what I’ve seen from the Sharks in these playoffs and in this series. They’ve got heart. They play hard. They battle. They don’t quit. In all honesty we haven’t always been able to say all of those things about some past Sharks playoff teams. But I believe this team is different.
There were no excuses offered by any Sharks players nor coach Todd McLellan after game 2. None from Marc Eduard Vlasic who’s untimely delay of game penalty helped fuel the Kings stunning comeback and none from captain Joe Thornton.
“They did their job. They got two at home. Now we have to go home and do our job," said Thornton.
The job at hand is to face that adversity head on. And these Sharks appear to have the heart to get the job done.
It’s official. The Sharks will open the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Tuesday night at 7 (PDT) in Los Angeles on NBC Sportsnet and the Sharks Radio Network. On a “pick your poison” night Sunday, when the outcome of game 7 between Detroit and Anaheim determined if it would be Chicago or the Kings, the Sharks got the defending Cup champions. And I love the matchup. What’s not to love?
If the Red Wings are the Sharks top rival thanks to all of their playoff series over the years, the Kings are rival #2. This series could change that. It’s Thornton vs Doughty, Couture vs Kopitar, Marleau vs Carter, Pavelski vs Richards, Niemi vs Quick and Torres vs ummm (any volunteers?)
And the storylines don’t end there. Kings GM Dean Lombardi and Head Coach Darryl Sutter spent many years with the Sharks. Now they go head to head with their old club in the playoffs.
The Sharks are actually the last team to beat LA in a playoff series. But don’t mistake this version of the Kings with the one that lost in 6 games two years. The personnel are much better, there’s a different coach, and oh ya, they won the Cup last June!
But then again these aren’t “those” Sharks either. So far “these” Sharks have shown to be an excellent defensive team with top-notch goaltending, solid special teams and scoring depth throughout the lineup. They also possess the kind of hunger to win a championship that the Kings enjoyed last spring.
It’s a series that has a chance to be a classic and to vault the Kings-Sharks rivalry to a whole new level. Tuesday night at 7 can’t come soon enough. Enjoy!
I’m Randy Hahn
It’s good to be a Sharks fan today.
Where to start after such an amazing game Tuesday and a dominant performance by the Sharks in their first round series against the Canucks? Yes, two of the games went to overtime but there’s no question that the best team won. Four straight , no matter how you get there, is a statement. And the 2013 San Jose Sharks made a statement that they are a force to be reckoned with in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I must admit when Alex Burrows and Alex Edler scored twice in under 2 minutes in the third period to make the score 3-2 Vancouver, it looked like we might be heading back to British Columbia for game 5. In fact, during the next commercial break after that I asked Drew Remenda if he was packed, just in case we had to take another flight to Vancouver. My eloquent broadcast partner scoffed at the suggestion. He wasn’t prepared to consider that possibility. And he was right! Tommy Wingels absorbed an ill advised cross check from “Canadian” defenseman Kevin Bieksa to put the Sharks on the power play. And when Joe Pavelski tied the game on the power play it set the stage for Patrick Marleau’s series winner in overtime.
What a game and what a series. Game one featured the beginning of Logan Couture’s stunning run as he scored the first of what would be a series high tying 8 points. Raffi Torres had only one point in the 4 games but it was the OT winning goal in Game 2. “The Big” Pavelski, Couture and the power play fueled Game Three and Game Four was a combination of everything and everyone.
The ongoing backdrop all series long was the stellar play of team MVP Antti Niemi in goal, the penalty killing (90%), the domination in the faceoff circle, and the team’s solid overall defensive play.
What a great start! And now the Sharks get the benefit of rest as the rest of the West playoff teams keep on grinding. But it’s just a start. No matter who the Sharks play next it will be harder to win. But at least for a day or two they can enjoy this accomplishment and the rest of us hope they can do it again in round two.
I’m Randy Hahn.