A year later they pulled off another shocker when they knocked out Calgary in the first round in a double overtime Game 7 thriller.
Then, on October 26, 1995, the Sharks pulled the trigger on their biggest trade up to that point in the team’s history. That was the day Owen Nolan came to town and it changed the face of the franchise for the next decade.
From the first day he walked into the Sharks dressing room, Owen had a presence about him. He was confident. No. He was cocky. It wasn’t a swagger kind of confidence. It was a direct in your face confidence. Owen was the whole package. He was big, brash, he was skilled, he could skate and he was tough.
Yesterday I asked now Los Angeles Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter, who coached Owen in San Jose and named him captain, to reflect on Owen’s career.
“Owen was an Old Time Warrior,” said Sutter. “He took no prisoners. He did whatever it took to win. He was very sure of himself and very sure of how he wanted his team to play. He was a great captain for us.”
When you watched him on the ice you just thought, he was born to play hockey. But what has always made Owen’s journey so fascinating to me is how that journey began. Owen was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. With that background he was far more likely to become a soccer player than a hockey player. And in fact even after he moved to Canada at a very young age, Owen gravitated to soccer and baseball. It’s astonishing when you think about it that he never started skating until he was 9! I don’t know how that happened in Canada, a country where basically ever child is born with a hockey stick in their hands. Which makes for some very difficult births!
He didn’t skate until he was nine years old, and nine years later he was the number one overall pick in the NHL draft. That’s absolutely amazing!
Talking to Owen’s Sharks teammates over the years the past couple of days really sums up what he meant to the team. I reached goalie Evgeni Nabokov in New York where he played for the NY Islanders this past season. Nabby and Owen were the cornerstones of our franchise in those days. Nabokov said quote, “Owen was a character player who hated to lose. When he was mad, you knew it. It was inspiring to the rest of us in the dressing room. With today’s new generation of players you didn’t see it as much.”
And Nabokov is right. And so was Darryl Sutter. Owen was old school. There was nothing artificial and nothing politically correct about the way he played. He was never afraid to challenge an opponent. And he was always more than willing to accept a challenge from an opponent.
I’ll never forget one night in the old Boston Garden. It was Owen’s first season with the team and it was near the end of that season in March. The Bruins had a hot shot 18 year old rookie defenseman named Kyle McLaren, who ironically would later become a Shark and a teammate of Owens’. McLaren who was 6’4” and 230 decided to drop the gloves with Owen. Bad decision. Owen who was 6’1” and 215, same weight he is right now, destroyed McLaren. He broke the kids nose right in front of the Boston fans. It was brutal, it was punishing and that’s the kind of player Owen could be. And whenever he was on the ice, the players on the other team had to be aware of him.
Owen's former teammate and longtime friend Bryan Marchment who now works for the Sharks in scouting told me, “very few players played the game like Owen. He had high-end talent but also a very mean edge to his game; a player that every team looks for in the draft every year or in a trade. His compete level was over the top not just in hockey but at all sports and games and life.”
Being a broadcaster I enjoy the luxury of not being judged on wins and losses like players and coaches are. I get to hang around a lot longer. I watched Owen’s first game as a Shark in that 1995 season. He led the team in scoring that year by the way. In 1997 I watched him score a hat trick in San Jose Arena at the NHL all star game, the third goal coming on his now famous called shot! I was there in ‘98 when Sutter put the “C” on his sweater, a year later I got to call Owen’s game winning goal against St. Louis, a shot from center ice, in Game 7 of the playoffs. That was the year he scored 44 goals, the most ever by a Shark up to that point. And I’ll never forget the moment Owen showed us his Olympic Gold Medal in 2002. It surely must have been one of his proudest accomplishments in hockey. In 2003, Owen’s career as a Shark ended when he was traded to Toronto. But I later got to call his hat trick against the Sharks when he was with Calgary (and in true Owen Nolan fashion, he won his fight against Mike Grier that night too).
Tonight I’m still observing my friend Owen Nolan. A successful businessman who has made the Bay Area his home. He’s even a successful broadcaster with his outdoor program Sportsman 360 TV. And most importantly he’s a loving husband to Diana and a devoted father to Jordan and Dylan.
I’ll give two of Owen’s longtime friends and teammates the final word. First Marco Sturm who said, “Owen was the best true power forward I ever played with. I will always remember the 1999-2000 season where he absolutely dominated the league, scoring 44 goals, fighting every tough guy and leading us every night as a captain.”
And finally from Owen’s longtime friend and teammate Mike Ricci. “Congratulations on a great honor, Owen. You’ve done a lot of remarkable things for the Sharks and the Bay Area both on and off the ice!”
Ladies and Gentleman, please welcome the first San Jose Shark and first hockey player to be inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, Owen Nolan.
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