The St. Louis Blues have finally landed at 6:33 a.m. Central Time today, just in time for rush hour traffic, after being stranded all day yesterday at the Vancouver airport due to mechanical difficulties. They will face the San Jose Sharks tonight in the very first meeting between the two clubs since winning the Western Conference Quarterfinal round, four games to one, this past spring.
It is highly ironic that the Sharks are on the other side of this challenge, but the backdrop of the game is not the source of the irony. To find it, you have to go way back to 1991, and the very first season of Sharks history, and when you do, you’ll discover a travel snafu that sounds eerily similar to what The Note is going through right now. Some of the details are clearly different, but the essence of the challenge is similar.
It was October 22, 1991, and the Sharks were a brand-new arrival in the NHL. The Cow Palace was still home, the players lived and practiced on the Peninsula, and all team flights were based at Oakland International Airport. It was there that the Sharks, 1-8-0 in their first season, all gathered to fly across the country to start a seven-game road trip in Hartford against the Whalers.
As fate would have it, the pilot of the charter aircraft charged with the trip was a relative newcomer to the Boeing 737, so before the Sharks were slated to arrive, he was practicing touch-and-go landings with the aircraft. On one such approach, he came in a little hot, struck the runway a little hard, and blew a tire.
It was former NHL right winger Ron Stewart who was credited with saying something like the following: “If you’re in a game and you’re down, 4-1 or greater, and there are five minutes or less remaining in the game, take a penalty. That way, the folks back home will look at the summary in the newspaper the next morning, and they’ll know that you played.” The calls on Douglas Murray and Adam Burish at 19:25 of the third period last night don’t fall into this category, because they were called for coincidental minors with two Blackhawks. But on Tuesday in St. Louis, the Sharks will play for each other, for the logo on the front of their sweaters, and for the city embossed in their team’s name. After all, it’s the first time that they’ve faced the team that sent them to their earliest playoff exit in franchise history. I’m expecting a great game against the Blues.
What’s it like traveling on the road with an NHL team? Well, it is interesting, exciting, unexpected, routine, unexpected, and exhausting, sometimes on the same day and at the same practice. It’s never dull.
After a good season-opening win against the Flames, it was all of the above for the Sharks. There was a trip to the hotel, but not the one in Calgary. No, it was off to the airport, and a trip to Edmonton in a practice where some say that landing instructions need to be radioed for as the plane is taking off. The flight is less than an hour, but it’s all business for the coaching staff, the training staff, and the players themselves.
On our way into town, we pass a cycling store that has a huge mural of Lance Armstrong holding up seven fingers. I wondered what Oprah Winfrey would think if she were driving by, and whether any cyclists would hold up any fingers as they entered and exited the store during regular business hours.
As it turns out, Ms. Winfrey may very well have seen that very mural, only days after her legendary interview with Mr. Armstrong took place. She likely drove right past it on the same roads that we had just traversed, because she is in Edmonton.
The sad news of the death of George Gund III, the original owner of the Sharks, brings forth a flood of incredible memories and a large share of gratitude on a multitude of levels.
Where do we begin? Without George Gund’s love and passion for the game of hockey, we wouldn’t be referring to San Jose as a hockey city, which it most definitely is. His excitement over the entrepreneurial challenge, his willingness to take a risk, and his overriding desire to make people happy were among the reasons why he jumped (with both skates) at the chance to make Sharks Hockey a reality.
When George Gund is involved, there is always a story, and that seems to be the case in every facet of his life, whether it involves Western art, independent film, ranching, philanthropy, or hockey. It is because of these stories that a smile inevitably appears on the faces of those who are speaking of him.
I’ll always remember the night of October 24, 1998, when the Sharks played the Dallas Stars at their old home, Reunion Arena. In the locker room after the game, I stopped to inform coach Darryl Sutter that I would not be on the team plane back to San Jose, due to the fact that I was going to catch a plane to New York the next morning to help my parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
Overhearing the conversation, George immediately came over, his famous eyebrows flashing and his eyes twinkling. “I’m going to New York tonight,” he said. “Do you want to join me?”
Welcome to the 2012-13 NHL season! It’s really great to be talking about the sport of hockey, the NHL, and the pursuit of the Stanley Cup which begins for the Sharks on Sunday, January 20th on the road in Calgary.
At this writing, the Sharks are on the ice for their very first practice with Todd McLellan, Larry Robinson, and Jim Johnson directing traffic. From the start, a high-tempo, intense series of practices are scheduled, with lots of skating, little time for rest and recovery, and a few twisty surprises thrown in.
That’s the way it’s going to be for all 30 NHL clubs, beginning this week and sprinting all the way to June, and when I say “sprinting,” I mean it. The Sharks are going to have to party like it’s 1995, the last time that a 48-game schedule was played. For those who remember it, it proved to be a topsy-turvy year with many curves of differing cambers, straightaways featuring blazing speed, and surprises for which few could possibly prepare.
One thing that is different this time around is that the biggest unknown factor will be the existence of the three-point game and how it will affect the inevitable losses of momentum that occur in any NHL season. Back in ’95, the Sharks started the season 5-1-0, and then held on for dear life to make the playoffs with a 19-25-4 record, and 42 points. With a three-point game, it could make a standings turnaround all the more difficult in a shortened season.
If one were to extrapolate the last 48 games of the most recently played season, the Sharks would have a record of 24-18-6 and 54 points. Something tells me that mailing in that number right now would produce a result that will look pretty good in the standings, but who can really tell?
As training camp began, the Sharks had 28 players in camp, and the thin area appears to be on defense for the moment. With Brent Burns and Jason Demers not taking part in the first practice because of injuries, that left 15 forwards, 11 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders participating.
It’s Christmas time, the advent of the holiday season, and regardless of which traditions you and your family choose to celebrate, it’s a time of joy, wonder, reflection, and continued Thanksgiving.
On December 8th, we began with an opportunity to talk hockey with some enthusiastic fans at Stanley’s Sports Bar, located in Sharks Ice at San Jose, with the first of ten “game watching” events put on by the Sharks. With CSN-California tuned to all of the television sets, Jamie Baker and I had an enjoyable night talking hockey with the fans, posing for photos with the kids, and going back in history to December of 1992, when the Sharks ended a 13-game losing streak with a 57-save performance by Jeff Hackett and a 7-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings.
November 19th is not an auspicious date in San Jose Sharks history, but whether you decide on picking this particular date or if you throw a dartboard at a wall calendar and pick the date that you hit, you usually find something interesting. Let’s take a quick snapshot of November 19th in Sharks history and see what we find:
2011: SHARKS 4 at DALLAS 1 (FINAL)
- The Sharks arrive in “Big D” fresh off an impressive 5-2 home win against Detroit.
- San Jose trail Dallas by one point in the battle for second in the Pacific Division. LA leads the division with just two more points than the Sharks, but Todd McLellan’s team has two games in hand on Dallas and three in hand over the Kings.
- Off the ice, 43-year-old Tom Galiardi is confirmed as the new owner of the Stars. He is introduced in a news conference along with new team president , Jim Lites.
- As the action commences, the Sharks’ strong power play gets them off to a 2-0 lead. Brent Burns scores on the man advantage to give the defenseman his very first goal against the Stars franchise. That leaves only Minnesota, his former team, on the list of clubs that Burns has not scored against – a mark that would end with a goal on February 26th at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
- Logan Couture makes it 2-0 with a power play goal at 1:23 of the second period. Couture already is having an interesting night. He lost his stick during a Douglas Murray penalty in the first period while defending against the Stars’ point men. Making a snap judgment to skate about 10 feet to the bench to get a new stick, he gets back in position just as Dallas sends a shot to the net that is stopped by Antti Niemi, causing a sigh of relief. By the end of the night, he could have had a hat trick: one great opportunity at the 4:00 mark of the second was saved by an outstanding block by defenseman Stephane Robidas, and he was stopped on another sure-looking chance by goaltender Andrew Raycroft.
- No love is ever lost between these two teams, but things got extracurricular at 4:13 of the second period when Jim Vandermeer and Krys Barch dropped the gloves and battled it out. Two seconds later, Eric Nystrom and Jamie McGinn were going toe-to-toe. 37 seconds later, Brad Winchester took a pass from Andrew Desjardins and made it 3-0.
- A total of 100 minutes in penalties were called in this game. Barch should have been called for instigating an altercation with Ryane Clowe at 18:16 of the third, which would have brought suspensions, but officials Chris Lee and Tom Kowal elect to call him for unsportsmanlike conduct instead. The mitigating circumstance was a late third period slash by Clowe on Stephane Robidas that was missed, but was replayed several times on the big screen, much to the displeasure of Stars fans and the referees.
- Mike Ribeiro, who always seems to bring it against the Sharks, ended an 11-game goalless drought in the third period to notch Dallas’ only goal. It ended a 194:11 goalless drought for the Stars.
- Three Stars: 1. Logan Couture; 2. Joe Thornton; 3. Patrick Marleau
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Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make us the happiest, even if we savor those simple things from a seat 3,000 miles away from the action.
In the particular case of hockey, I’m talking about the commencement of training camp for the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. For those of you who are wondering, it is 3,120 miles from HP Pavilion to the DCU Center, which is a 48-hour drive if you can skip all food, sleep, and trips to the rest room. By the way, the drive does require tolls, so perhaps we should add an hour to the trip to allow for time to count change. Start your engines!
While it may seem a world away, head coach Roy Sommer and associate coach David Cunniff have been conducting Worcester’s training camp, and it is there where some of those simple things that make us all happy are going on. I’m talking about the irresistible feeling of drawing cold rink air into one’s lungs, accompanied by the sounds of pucks thwacking into sticks, skates cutting their way through the ice, and punctuated by the wonderful sounds of those skates shaving up ice as players start and stop their way through a practice or, very shortly, an actual game.
Worcester will hit the ice in pre-season action beginning this Thursday, when they take on the Connecticut Whale at the Hart Center, home of Holy Cross college hockey. Then on Friday, it’s a trip to one of the most traditional spots in the AHL, Springfield, for a pre-season game against the Falcons that will be on WTAG Radio for all of us to sample.
There are 35 players in training camp at the moment, and there are a few interesting stories to monitor closely. Here are just a few:
Freddie Hamilton: A draft selection from 2010, Hamilton is projected to be one of the top forward prospects in the Sharks Organization. He scored 35 goals last season for the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, the team that went all the way to the league final round before losing in the J. Ross Robertson Cup series to the London Knights. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Freddie adjusts to professional hockey.
Matt Tennyson: He was born in Minnesota, but Pleasanton is his hometown and the Sharks were his favorite team growing up. Tennyson played defense at Western Michigan University where last year his coach was former St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray. He showed some promise in a limited stint in the AHL last year after the conclusion of his collegiate career, and he’s ready to build on that this fall.
While much of the hockey world is focusing on such topics as Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, Donald Fehr, Steve Fehr, and the CBA, many fans are clamoring for anything else of note that will pique their interest in these summer months. So, while scanning the news, I noted a pleasant story that I thought I’d share with you:
NIITTYMAKI SIGNS DEAL WITH TPS TURKU
Last season, Antero Niittymaki endured a year filled with health problems that led to a condition that many thought spelled the end of his hockey career. Faced with a hip joint replacement after several seasons of labrum tears and other hip problems, the goaltender was in a situation that no other goaltender had overcome.
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Back in the halcyon days of the NHL, which was when I was growing up for all of you who are under the age of 25, the team that was closest to my home was the New York Rangers. I listened to the radio calls of Marv Albert and Sal “Red Light” Messina and heard the names of players like Eddie Giacomin, Rod Gilbert, and Brad Park battling it out with the likes of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Eddie Johnston, among others. It was my introduction to the National Hockey League.
I had some favorite players, and paid attention to their sweater numbers. Jean Ratelle wore #19, Rod Gilbert wore #7, Brad Park wore #2, Bobby Rousseau wore #22, and Pete Stemkowski (yes, that Pete Stemkowski) wore #21. Thus, when it came time for me to actually try to put on the equipment and learn how to play, I thought that I’d choose one of those numbers as my very own.
What I found out was that circumstances often threw a wrench into the works in my grand plans for a proper sweater number, and that was the case in all sports that I tried to play. In soccer, my number was 26 because that was the shirt that fit the best. In my one season playing lacrosse, I was assigned #46, and I learned to love it, because I was barely on the school team and proud just to be in the locker room.Read the rest of this blog entry >>