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 >>
May 6, 1994: The Explosion
We’ve all chronicled the Sharks’ victory over Detroit in the 1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals many times, and we’ll never forget Game Six of the next round against Toronto, when a post denied Johan Garpenlov’s chance to score a series winner in overtime. But in that Toronto series, Game Three provided an opportunity for a fan explosion that ranks among the greatest, and least discussed, moments in Sharks’ playoff history.
San Jose had defeated Detroit, but they won Game Seven on the road. Then, they split the first two games of their series against the Maple Leafs. When the Men in Teal hit the ice in San Jose on May 6, 1994, it was the first time that Sharks fans could gather at the building now known as HP Pavilion to celebrate together, and to show their appreciation for what their team had accomplished.
One day after getting the attention of the hockey world when they brought Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson into the fold as an associate coach, the San Jose Sharks made another exciting addition to their coaching staff on Tuesday.
Jim Johnson has joined the organization, and his addition brings another experienced hand into the coach’s office. You’ll likely see that he’s 49 years old, a 14-year NHL veteran, another former defenseman, and a man who has coached internationally for USA Hockey, for Lugano in Switzerland and with several NHL teams, including the Washington Capitals where he assisted Dale Hunter last season.
But I want to focus on the apropos age, 49. That intersects with my first thought upon hearing the name, Jim Johnson. Now that Jim is here, I’ll have to have him solve a little question that I have concerning him.
It was during one of the Cow Palace seasons. The Sharks were an exciting, new expansion team with more enthusiasm than wins and everyone was coming to Daly City to check out the Bay Area’s new sports arrival.
Forty years ago, a team of legends from the USSR and another from Canada caused the hockey world to stop, stare, and shake its collective head in awe. There was nothing routine about it, from the fact that it was an eight-game series instead of a best-of-seven, to that it was played in September instead of May and June, and that it marked the first time that the Soviet and Canadian hockey cultures had ever collided at the very top level.
On Wednesday evening, some of the Russian legends came to Sharks Ice at San Jose to begin a commemorative tour of California with their former teammates, holding a clinic with some lucky young hockey players, and playing in an exhibition against a few former Sharks and Jr. Sharks coaches in a fundraiser for the Jr. Sharks Scholarship Fund.
The appearance of the Russians brought back all of the memories of that 1972 Summit Series, which was ironically called the “Friendship Series,” a name that was soon forgotten alongside the détente that inspired it. It was a series for the ages, and one that changed professional hockey forever.
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So, the Stanley Cup Champion has been decided, the Awards Show has just ended in Las Vegas, the draft and free agency are coming up, and baseball, soccer, and motor racing seasons are in full swing. What’s a hockey fan to do when he has a few minutes of free time from armchair GM’ing?
As they say in Quebec, “Mesdames et Messieurs, le calendrier est arrivé.”
It’s an annual rite of passage that has traditionally occurred in July. But on the second day of summer, the 2012-13 National Hockey League schedule has arrived, and all across the continent, fans, executives, players, coaches, and broadcasters are all in full analysis mode.
First things first: the season is scheduled to start on October 12th, which is nearly a week later than this past campaign. It begins with a quick foray into Southern California, but into Orange County and Duck Hockey. There are only eight games in October, which is a lower number than usual, but that includes a marquee Opening Night against the New York Rangers on October 15th at HP Pavilion. That’s very exciting.
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