Lets start with the small beans, the shit that actually does make my heart flutter a little bit. Or a lot bit.
Joe Loprieno. Those Merrimack girls are gonna miss you buddy...meanwhile I will be waiting with bated breath for you to hit the ice in Worcester. Something tells me this is going to be a dud of a roman candle for San Jose this year, which means they will be grasping at all of my precious Worcester straws...lets stock the shelves in preparation shall we? Besides this...please, PLEASE, if you take Staubitz away from me, at least leave me a Nick Petrecki, Dan DaSilva and Joe Loprieno in return? K thanks.
Love you long time Nick...and those are epically acceptable eyebrows.
Second order of mediocre and/or exciting business...being back home. Taking yet another bite of the Big Apple (and of course, in saying this I falsely confirm everyone's deluded idea that I live in NYC and not the "correct version": an outer lying suburb on Long Island)
While being back is great (I'm allowed to openly be an asshole and people don't commit suicide over it) it's going to be an adjustment from my regular routine...that routine being: get up, go to work, go to HP Pavilion, have the most amazing night of my life/throw a tantrum (depending...) 41 times over.
But the exciting part lies here...going to see the Isles play. I know, 98% of people think I'm crazy but...you know, I love the AHL...HENCE, lots of Isles love. And holy hell, if Marty Biron doesn't get my ass to the party, nobody will...I cannot fully or even minutely begin to describe how flippin excited I am to see him in that net in Nassau Coliseum. Watching him on one end of the ice, and (maybe?) Brian Boucher on the other...thems be the makings of an old fashioned JoJo head explosion...and then DP...oh God...
Its also going to be kind of weird/interesting/tripping me the puck out...living back East for hockey season now. I am now so close to so many teams I hate, I can barely stand it!! Oh the anticipation builds...
But quite honestly, the best part of this coming season is going to be the 2010 AHL ASG...I mean, last season's saw JoJo falling in love with the pure GENIUS of it all. And the greatest part about it is...the drunken debauchery. Hands down. Everyone unites on a common ground of liquor filled amazingness...coaches, players, fans, journalists, VIP's, and people who claim to be all the above such as myself. But see, host city Portland got it right this time 'round...they're OFFICIALLY hosting a pub crawl to conclude the weekend. So really, come on now...that is shameless promotion of drunken hockey debauchery if I've ever seen it. Whoever ISN'T looking forward to that weekend clearly needs a good spearing. Wait...that came out wrong.
Ok...Dany Heatley...the last item I should be excited about but can't seem to help but laugh at. I truly and honestly hope with all my soul that this is all just a rumor and it will blow over and Doug Wilson will come out and be like, "You guys are on Candid Camera! Oh, wow, that was good Greg...we really got em good...they actually believed we were going to completely run the Sharks off into OFFICIAL laughing stock land now...sorry everyone, false alarm."
Ok wait, let me explain...I'm not an idiot, I know the guy puts up big numbers when he wants to, and just may very well be the catalyst Big Joe needs to get his ass in gear (yeah btw, can someone tell him he's got a manual transmission? Apparently he's been thinking he was an automatic this entire time) and vice versa...what I AM saying is, yes... some of us believe we are better off staying the way we are than having to deal with that man. The San Jose Sharks don't roll like that. (Believe me, if Devin Setoguchi could, he would.) Besides, the state of California doesn't have enough Midol to keep Mr. Heatley happy.
Alas, I digress...in Wilson we trust, and if Dougie says there shall be Heat, then dammit, Heat there shall be.
Late night ramblings done. The End.
For the Kings organization, there is particularly a lot to look forward to. For the parent club, Los Angeles is looking to make big waves defensively in the Pacific Division this season with the addition of Rob Scuderi, Rob Scuderi’s Championship Ring, and the re-signing of Jack “MF” Johnson and Teddy Purcell among other things, but let’s not forget about the huge, ridiculous things happening for the King’s AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs.
With last season seeing the transformation of Jonathan Quick from AHL goalie to NHL superhero, one can only assume even bigger things are in the cards for the Monarchs this year…especially given the hand they are playing…
Well while every offseason, fans grasp onto some kind of ridiculous expectation for their respective teams going into the new season, waiting with bated breath for it to be realized…the Kings organization is in PRIME position to deliver on those expectations this year. They have a secret weapon…which has turned out to be not so secret after all...
Of course I speak about Thomas Hickey. Moan and groan all you want, but to any Kings fan…and ESPECIALLY to any Monarchs fan, just the though of him melts our frozen puck-like hearts and we become giddy and squeal like little school girls…why, you ask? To which I answer…Do you really HAVE to ask?? Anyone who watched even one game of the 2009 World Junior Championships would know the answer to that. At 5’11, and 190 lbs, Hickey may be small for a defenseman, but in watching the guy skate, you’d swear he didn’t know it.
As Captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds (where he began playing in 2005), Hickey’s 45 point performance (11 G, 34 A) in 07-08 earned him a spot on the Team Canada roster for the 2009 WJC (his second consecutive year on the roster)…and not only would he be representing his home country, but he would do it in style, with a “C” on his chest. Playing alongside 2009 first round pick and 1st overall, Jonathan Tavares, Team Canada was unstoppable. Winning the gold medal for the fifth year in a row, Team Canada proved that they are literally the best team in the world, and Thomas Hickey proved why he belongs wearing the “C”.
…and if that gold medal was only a sign of things to come, we have some amazing things to look forward to. In returning from the WJC, Hickey helped his team into a playoff spot in the WHL playoffs and the Quest for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, and after getting called up to Manchester on April 1st, to begin his professional career, Hickey posted an impressive 7 points in 7 games and 2 assists alone in his professional debut. It’s evident that Hickey finished off his 2008-2009 season as a two way defenseman really hitting his stride and after ending last season on such a high note, one can only expect huge things from the 20 year old defenseman this coming season.
But where Thomas Hickey really earns brownie points is in leadership. He is more mature than his 20 young years would lead one to believe and at the risk of building him up as a squeaky clean Sidney Crosby type (who needs that hanging over their head?)he may very well be on his way as establishing himself as the Monarchs go-to guy and fan favorite.
Every jaded hockey fan and every hockey team knows, there’s no point in building expectations…but then again, those teams didn’t have Thomas Hickey.
As we slowly sneak past Development Camps, and into Training Camps…the anticipation only builds for what will hopefully be a season to remember. Opening night will kick things off, and we hockey fans will come out of hibernation and start banging glass and flipping off refs like normal…then before you know it, the All Star Game will be here and we will be into the dog days of the hockey season. So I remind you: get excited, take the time to get to know your team, enjoy it while it lasts…and never, never stop cheering.
Free parking! That’s what we were so excited about. Heck, that’s a $20 value!
Well, that and being able to spend an evening at HP Pavilion…with the management staff, head coach and key players of the San Jose Sharks…hopefully getting some much needed answers.
It was unusually warm inside the tank, the JumboTron was lowered to about 30 feet above the floor, the glass and boards were absent, and the stage was set up where the ice used to be. It’s a strange feeling to experience…eerie even. Maybe not for Islander fans or Coyotes fans or Senators fans…but for Sharks fans, it’s downright depressing. Driving to HP Pavilion for a 7pm event should have been for Game 7 against the Wings…but instead we were gathering for a eulogy it seemed.
Now, in my mind, as fans, we have every right to be angry. In fact, we have more of a right to be angry than anyone…but we’ve all been there, done that, read it over and over, heard it numerous times…now let’s start getting over it…but I didn’t expect anyone else to really feel the way I did…so many fans were hurt. A lot people find it hard to let go. After all, weren’t we here to get answers? To gain closure? To mourn the untimely death of what was supposed to be a GREAT season?
Yeah, I thought, IF anyone shows up tonight, they’re gonna be ANGRY. This is going to get interesting…it’s a good thing I have my camera.
Then we all filtered in…took our seats…and the videos started. Videos of season highlights, clips of goals, hits, Nabby’s saves…and maybe it was the low lighting, maybe it was the music, but you could sure as hell feel it, we started falling in love all over again. We remembered those goals. We were there. We remembered those monster hits, we were there. We remembered those saves, we were THERE…but all in all, we remembered WHY we were there…we loved these guys. They brought us back game after game. We wanted to let them amaze us over and over again, every chance they got…and they succeeded. But when something ends as bitterly as this did, the anger kicks in…and it feels like WE got dumped…
Now the Shark Tank was transformed into an intimate press conference like setting…and the official “State of the Sharks” was about to commence. Making their opening remarks, Greg Jamison and Doug Wilson spoke of their disappointment…which was only to be expected…but when the Todd McLellan had the floor, the first thing he addressed had nothing to do with the team. He instead wanted to pay homage to everyone in attendance…to the dedication of the fans…and how he could not believe how many people turned out for the evening. He was blown away by the love we have for our team, despite failure and incited quite a rouse from everyone when he said that he comes from the supposed “hockeytown”, and can guarantee this kind of turn out would not be seen there. He expressed how humbled he was by the community support of this team, and amazed by the unwavering devotion of the fans. This was the first chance Sharks fans had to really get to know our new head coach…and I think I speak for everyone in attendance when I say, we were blown away. We’ve all seen his successes, we’ve all witnessed his undeniable professionalism, we all KNEW he made a positive impact…but this evening showed the fans just how devoted Coach McLellan really is…both to the team, and to the fans.
While Todd McLellan received quite the ovation from the crowd, four players were about to make an appearance and face the firing squad as well. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski we about to take their seats on the panel…and as they walked around the curtain and up to the stage, the crowd just erupted…and within seconds, before the boys could even reach the stage, the audience was on their feet, and the feeling in the building instantly changed…listening to Todd McLellan began to put us at ease, began to remind us why we love this organization so much, but when the boys came out, it was like all the anger melted away. We were just so proud.
Now, I won’t go through every single question asked, but the long and short of it was the fans were in great spirits. Everyone was able to check their disappointment at the door…and replace it with a smile. Even the players seemed a bit apprehensive when they first came out…but they were quickly put at ease when they realized that the people before them were their fans…and are dedicated through triumphs and failures.
The mood off the night was lighthearted as both the fans and players were able to let their senses of humor take over and have a blast with each other. While questions were answered and jokes were made (like poking fun at Big Joe for not shooting when he has the chance), the underlying theme of the night was support and pride.
The players were visibly upset and sorry for letting themselves and their community down, but everyone was done. It was all about moving forward. We all know the Sharks will come back and be outstanding again next season…and we all wait for training camp with bated breath…
But one fan said it best when he addressed Doug Wilson and told him that no matter how crazy this offseason may get, no matter how much we may not like the moves that he makes, these fans have the utmost trust in him…
A round of applause ensued and I found myself in agreement…I couldn’t have said it better myself.
How do you do it? How do you sum up the most incredible 8 months known to any Sharks fan? Its an impossible task…but here I am, attempting to take a swing at it.
Incredible. That’s what it was…that’s the best word to describe a season that began…well, incredibly, and only got better…Both for the team and for myself. It was an unforgettable year…a year that in retrospect, blows me away, and it was a year that made me far richer (in all ways but monetary) than any other hockey fan.
First…a walk down memory lane…and a look back at the various accomplishments that made us proud to be called Sharks fans.
Finishing off as the best team in the league, earning the Pacific Division title, the Western Conference title, and then the President’s Trophy…wow. Talk about pride. The Sharks were finally getting it. They were finally paying the fans back…all the loyalty, all the devotion, and the Sharks were giving back.
The 08-09 season began with a buzz that this was going to be a magical year. From training camp, to the preseason glimpses of new talent and young prospects, to the Opening Night street rally against the Ducks…everyone knew it, everyone felt it…this was going to be a big year. BIG.
From the initial puck drop, the energy just never ended. With new additions to the team like Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich, the “new” Sharks were on a tear! At the beginning it seemed as though they almost forgot how to lose…and the energy was infectious. The fans loved the new boys in teal and the boys knew it. Dan Boyle let it be known that he belonged here, and that San Jose was indeed his new home. A few games into the new season and it felt like he’d been here forever. Dan Boyle HAS made himself at home, and the score sheet proves it…but it can be witnessed when you watch him play and when you hear him speak about his team. He is the epitome of a defenseman, and the true embodiment of what it means to be a hockey player. The energy he has brought to the blue line AND to the team is undeniable, and the difference was evident from the get go.
With two great games at the start of the season against the Flyers, the “playoff feel” started early for San Jose. Now here were two teams that were amazing together in the same arena…and they didn’t disappoint when it came to matters of good hockey. This back to back, home and home series against Philly kicked off our season with a little pep in our steps…and anyone who was there (on either the San Jose or Philadelphia side) would attest to it, the matchup was pure energy.
The beginning of the new season also saw a streak continuing. The Sharks left the 07-08 season undefeated at home (in regulation) since Valentines day of 2008 and kept it up into the new season. I think most of us actually even lost count when it got into the twenties…but we finally wound up losing our first regulation game at home to Calgary on January 15th. Just one month shy of making it one complete year being undefeated in regulation at home. We knew it meant nothing. We knew it was a silly stat…but it kept our hearts pounding. It kept our hopes building and it kept our faith strong. Maybe, just maybe this was the year.
As if we didn’t have enough to be proud of, Sharks fans were introduced to a few more guys who would soon make an impact. Guys like Jamie McGinn, Brad Staubitz, Derek Joslin, Tom Cavanaugh and Lukas Kaspar made their respective debuts on NHL ice as they were called up from the Sharks AHL Affiliate in Worcester, MA. We got to know a little bit about these guys and the fans adopted them right away. With moments like Jamie McGinn scoring his first NHL goal against the Detroit Red Wings and Brad Staubitz’s unforgettable annihilation of Jordin Tootoo, these guys didn’t just fill roster spots, they made the league stand up and take notice, the Sharks depth was a force.
Two of the most highly touted games of the season bookended the All Star Week. First, the January 17th game against Detroit at the Shark Tank. It was a game that saw the two best teams in the Western Conference duking it out. The Sharks played 60 minutes of their very best that night and wound up with the win…the Tank was absolutely cranking that night, and the atmosphere was that of a playoff game…but by far the most highly anticipated game of the Sharks regular season came on February 10th against the number one team in the East, the Boston Bruins. It truly was a battle of East vs West and in the end the West prevailed after an outrageous third period effort from the Sharks…and wow, wasn’t it a great feeling to shut Boston fans up for once?
Going into the All Star Weekend at the end of January, the Sharks had four guys in Montreal for the festivities: Thornton, Marleau and Boyle in the All Star Game and Setoguchi in the Young Guns competition. Not to mention the Worcester Sharks hosted the AHL All Star Game during the same weekend and had both Captain Ryan Vesce and defenseman Derek Joslin representing the Sharks there as well.
It felt good sitting on top of the world…scratch that…It felt amazing.
We had a championship caliber team in San Jose…and everyone knew it. The fans had big plans for their Sharks. Apparently bigger plans than they had for themselves.
If there was ever any question of the dedication Sharks’ fans have for their team, this season dispelled that doubt. The Sharks’ fans have continued to amaze me and blow my mind…simply for the fact that regular season games -games against teams like the Blues or the Coyotes - are sold out time and time again…(not to mention playoff games…Game 5 tickets sold out in 3 minutes) The folks who show up at the door of HP Pavilion are fans of the highest caliber…fans who are first and foremost a Sharks fan, and everything else comes after. Their devotion to this team is real…and it was tested this year.
We knew playing the 8th seeded Ducks wouldn’t be easy…but if anyone could take the challenge, it was the Sharks. Heck, even Don Cherry thought so.
A few minor hiccups at the beginning of the series and slowly those megawatt smiles that Shark fans are so famous form began to fade a bit…and faith started to waiver. Who was this team? What are they doing? Where is the team we have been watching for the past 7 months? Then, at the Game 4 mark, hearts were beginning to break…simply because we knew this team was capable of so much better – they were capable of being The Best, if only there was a way to TELL them so…
There was. Game 5. HP Pavilion…Any disillusionment we felt was checked at the door. What kind of fan just forgets the joy that this team brought us through the past 7 months? What kind of real fans lose sight of their teams’ accomplishments? And in looking back, those were some amazing accomplishments! What kind of real fan allows themselves or others to kick their team when they’re down? The rejuvenated spirit in the Shark Tank on April 25th was incredible. It was electric. The love that poured forth from the stands, onto the ice was almost visible. We weren’t going to let this team go down without a fight. The fans, the seventh man, made up for the never-say-die attitude that was lacking on the ice…and the Sharks kept themselves alive for one more day…and the Shark Tank was transformed into the center of the universe for one night. Its moments like that, that keep us believing.
Unfortunately for everyone…this just wasn’t the year.
And that was it, the Sharks amazingly incredible year came to an abrupt and brutal end…much too soon for anyone’s liking…but almost like when anything beloved comes to an end, you immediately start looking back, and recollecting about the “good ol’ times”.
Despite not reaching the Cup, this past season definitely WAS a “good ol’ time”…and to me, couldn’t be anything further from a failure. Last season was the season that I got to know hockey…this season I got to know the Sharks…and getting to know this team inevitably means becoming a fan. The Teal and White Game kicking off the preseason, being lucky enough to attend numerous practices, having the opportunity to root for them at my very first away game (at the Bell Centre mind you), getting to know the Worcester Sharks and having the time of my life at the 2009 AHL All Star Game in Worcester…these were just some of the things that have made this a year to remember…but the best part of the season really has nothing to do with the team.
Whoever said Hockey “is just a sport”, or “it’s just a game” truly has never been a fan. Hockey is a sport…but it’s more than just that. Hockey is a lifestyle. It’s its own little world…and it has a funny way of uniting those who fall in love with it. This past season I have made and fostered friendships that go far beyond “game buddies”. I have the best support system I’ve ever had in my life and coincidentally enough, 98% of that system was a direct result of our common love of “the game”. Maybe its because we’re all the same shade of crazy, maybe it’s because no one else will listen to us complain, but I know its more than that. Hockey fans AREN’T like other fans. Hockey fans possess the very things any great hockey team does…passion, character, spirit, intensity and heart…and it spills over into everything they do, and everyone they touch…and truly this has been the greatest joy of my season.
Writing a season closer is probably the toughest thing any fan has to do. Its like writing a eulogy for your closest friend. How do you do them justice? I guess you can only write what you feel. I know that this Sharks team is as much defined by their fans as we are defined by loving them. That’s what keeps our community so tight. That’s what brings us back next season…bright eyed, bushy tailed and optimistic.
So really, I owe a thank you. I do. I owe a huge thank you to Evgeni Nabokov, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Milan Michalek, Torrey Mitchell, Dan Boyle and the entire Sharks organization. Why am I thanking them, right? They should be thanking me!
No…I’m thanking them for doing what I knew they would…amazing me this year. They have both individually and collectively blown my mind in ways I didn’t think it could be. They have brought me joy during times when I thought no joy existed…and they have proven to me that yes, hockey is MUCH more than a game. For that, yeah…I thank them. There is no pride like that of a hockey fan…I might not have known what that meant two years ago…but I do now.
July 1st will come faster than we expect…part of the roster that I have grown to love will most likely be gone…but the memories won’t be…and new ones will be created…and we can only look forward from here. The great thing about sports is that you’re allowed to start over. You’re allowed to wipe the slate clean and start anew…and while many tears trickled down the cheeks of Sharks fans everywhere last night, that new beginning is waiting for us.
So I’ll take some time, reflect on what a miraculous year it was…but I won’t pack all my teal stuff away… I plan on wearing it with pride as often as possible…and when someone stops me to ask “Dude what happened to the Sharks, man?” I’ll resist the urge to dropkick them…and instead, I will sickeningly brag about how great they are until they walk away.
Ahh, a day in the life of a Sharks fan.
Taking a long vacation back home to the East Coast enabled me to spend lots of time exploring different facets of the "hockey world"...Montreal – Sharks game at the Bell Centre (I don’t care what they say, the Shark Tank is still louder) NYC's NHL store, a Isles - Flyers game at Nassau Coliseum, and many weekends spent in Worcester, MA acclimating myself with the AHL scene and fine tuning my new found Worcester Shark fanhood (fandom, tomatoe/tomato)...but it also meant a two month hiatus from the greatest joy I have ever known...San Jose Sharks hockey. Live San Jose Sharks hockey.
Up until I left for NY, I had only missed about 2 home games this season and it broke my heart to know I would miss more. Needless to say, now that I'm back in sunny California, I absolutely couldn't wait to haul my teal cloaked butt to HP Pavilion for Game 5. (no I didn't really wear a cloak...I think Calgary has the only fans that do that)
A meal at Teske's Germania, and I was ready to skip right through the doors of the Shark Tank, collect my (awesome) rally towel, and head down to the glass for warm ups...how I missed these boys...
I was ready to deal with whatever emotional grief the Sharks would dole out to us. I could handle it...no biggie...I'll be ok. I might cry a little, but really, it's just a game JoJo...just a game.
Yeah....try telling that to 17,495 people and getting them to agree with you...this is HOCKEY...it's not “just a game”.
With my heart already primed for a good breaking, I went down to the glass just to catch a final glimpse of the guys who have collectively succeeded in making me fall in love with hockey…and as they skated out on to the ice, I was completely amazed. I didn’t think it was possible to love these guys any more than I already did, but butter my butt and call me a biscuit, was I wrong! As they emerged from the hallway to the locker room they brought with them a piece of my heart. A piece I didn’t even know that they still had…and all at once my outlook changed.
As they lined up along the glass where I stood - Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe, Torrey Mitchell, Joe Thornton – the looks on their faces let us all know that they were glad to be home…and as I glanced around the glass, at the signs and banners that fellow fans made, it was so evident how much faith everyone still had in this team…and the buzz was one of determination. They gave us these towels to wave, right? Not to throw in.
As I walked the concourse, the optimism was absolutely infectious…and no matter how negative my mind tried to be, the never-say-die spirit of the Shark Tank and my fellow Shark fans kept any negativity at bay and instead replaced it with ridiculously silly grins plastered on just about anyone you saw…(with the exception of the few mangy Duck fans roaming around aimlessly who were undoubtedly scared for their lives)
When the fans took their seats and the pre-game video opener began, the electricity kicked on. The Tank was rocking…and when the Sharks came down the hallway in customary fashion, well, I guess that’s when you really could see the heartbeat of the fans. Rally towels in hand, the crowd was unified as one living and breathing thing. The seventh man…and to look out onto the crowd, you could see it. You could see the heartbeat pulsating. This was playoff hockey.
When it came to the game, there’s not much I can tell you that you haven’t read anywhere else. Everyone knows who played well, who didn’t. The Sharks first 20 minutes was what every fan wanted to see. It was the second 20 and third 20 that slowly wore on our nerves…they couldn’t make it an easy win. They couldn’t put any of us at ease for a solid 10 minutes…no, that’s not how the Sharks do it. The Sharks seem to respond when their backs are against the wall. I’d say that a game 5 when you’re down in the series would qualify for that…but to let it go into over time? I swear if I were ever going to hit the bottle, that would have been the time.
Patrick Marleau seems to enjoy the eleventh hour. That’s when he does his best work…or at least he did this game. The countless games that called upon Captain Pat to bail the team out were merely preparation for what he would be called to do in the playoffs…and he earned the right to be called “our hero”.
When the red lights lit up…the crowd literally exploded…in what seemed like slow motion. The roar was absolutely deafening. The Bell Centre’s volume would pale in comparison. Not only had most Shark fans gladly lost their voices that night but I think we also lost part of our hearing.
The celebration carried over into the concourse as everyone (uncharacteristically) took their time exiting for the sake of continuing chants, high fiving each other, screaming, dancing and generally experiencing a little known thing called “joy”. Sharkie even jumped up onto a concession stand and started beating his drum. Everyone gathered around and egged him on…and the one thing that you saw no matter where you looked was that smile…that million dollar megawatt smile. It was on every single fan’s face. From the youngest little ones to the ones with the silver hair and numerous pins (yeah I don’t really get that)…we were all united in that win. We all celebrated our heroes…and we all were grateful that we got to live another day…reminded that there is a reason that this team finished as number one…reminded that there is a reason we love this team so much.
Now…on to Game Six…where’s that flask?
Game 5. HP Pavilion.
Now don't get me wrong, I can't begin to describe how excited I am to be going back to the Shark Tank for the first time in over 2 months...I've missed my boys immensely...I just wish the circumstances were a little....err...friendlier.
After Thursday night's atrocity also know as Game 4, the second stage of grieving kicked in for me...anger. All at once I became a complete and total baby...a sore loser...and I know I wasn't the only one.
The sounds of feet stomping, cabinets slamming, remote controls being thrown and walls being punched and/or kicked were reportedly being heard all over the Bay Area Thursday night.
Alas, the more I thought about it the guiltier I felt. How can I just up and ditch MY team like this? Who am I to bash them? This is the team I am supposedly in love with....and if I can't support them in their time of desperation what KIND OF FAN AM I???
But...then I thought some more...and in my mind I laid all of the proverbial "cards" on the table and looked at them one by one. (with flask in hand)
Here's the San Jose Sharks...with the brand new coach, the brand new defense (aka the DREAM TEAM), the rejuvenated captain, quite possibly the best top line in the league, one of the greatest arenas in the league, the best FANS in the league, the best record in the league, the best record in franchise history, the Pacific Division Champions, the Western Conference Champions, and 2009 President's Trophy Winners.
(I think I'm pretty accurate in touching the valuable points here.)
So...to go down this list, to review these very things and reflect back on the season, any Sharks fan would be pumped...look at what our boys have accomplished! This is the reason every game is sold out at HP Pavilion...this is the REASON they say the Sharks have the best fans in the league.
(And....cue the anger)
So...am I missing something? Umm...are we on Candid Camera?
All the crap about the Sharks being a Second Round upset year after year...we fans shut all those naysayers up this season didn't we! We told them where to go...we got the PRESIDENT'S TROPHY TO PROVE IT!!! (Smarmy hosers...)
...only to be down 3-1 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Against an 8th seeded team.
So, is this how the Sharks do "fan appreciation"? Is this the big thank you to the only ones who disregard all that negative post season trash talk? I guess I'm having trouble grasping the logic here...I guess I'm having trouble with the fact that the number one team in the entire league...doesn't want to bring the Cup home to its fans. I mean, call me crazy but...at least a SECOND round exit would have been "in character"...
Everyone says "Oh, this is going to go to seven games...the Sharks are too good a team to let it all go now..."
I wish I could believe that. To watch them play is to be totally dumbfounded...and quite frankly, to many who do watch them play, its apparent that they have no interest in any Cup whatsoever. (Besides maybe a cup of coffee while en route to the golf course)
Tomorrow will be a strange day. I wish I could say I was optimistic about it, I wish I could even say I wasn't. But I'm neither...I guess I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing all season...root for my boys. I guess that's all I can do...and just hope that they wake up and see the 17,496 crazies who love them enough to pay completely outrageous prices to see them just one more time...
Sooooo...who wants to buy me the beers???
Last Wednesday, Worcester clinched a playoff spot making both their fans and their organization proud and went into the coming weekend with a little spring in their step and a weight lifted off their shoulders…and with the last two games of the regular season left in hand, the Sharks were in good spirits heading into their Fan Appreciation weekend.
Aired on NHL Network, Friday’s game was a matchup against Manchester, who had failed to clinch a playoff spot but were no less spunky than a team who had. Both teams were facing off with newly restocked rosters as the Sharks got back McGinn, Staubitz, Cavanaugh and Vesce, and had Logan Couture called up from the OHL.
Manchester was showing off their new talent in D-man Thomas Hickey who was brought up from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Hickey saw lots of ice time for the Monarchs and he made sure they didn’t show the Sharks an easy time by any means.
With the Monarchs on the attack, they gave Thomas Greiss quite a workout in net. Greiss made some SPECTACULAR saves and put on quite a show for the home crowd (and NHL Network) but with 8 minutes left in the first period, Scott Parse took advantage of the rebound Greiss left him and sent it home, giving the Monarchs a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
Lukas Kaspar came to the rescue for the Sharks 8 minutes into the second period when he tied the game up on a tip in goal fed by Riley Armstrong, but Manchester answered back less than 2 minutes later and put themselves in the lead once again but this time it was a short handed goal…scored by Trevor Lewis on a pass from Matt Moulson…and Manchester once again had the lead going into the third period.
The third period brought a different Sharks team out of the locker room…a little bit of desperation and a lack of energy resulted in taking 2 penalties when they should have been drawing them. At the point in the game where they should have inserted a physical presence, they instead took meaningless penalties for hooking and depleted any chances of reinvigorating themselves. With Brad Staubitz finishing the second half of a four game suspension (resulting from a game against Springfield on February 28th) the element of physical intimidation was missing from the Sharks…and they soon found themselves down 3-1 as Matt Moulson tallied the last one for Manchester at 14:11 in the third.
The win for Manchester was a futile effort as they remained in 5th place in the Atlantic division…with 3 points separating them from playoff contention…and with the following night bringing a loss and a devastating end to their season in front of their home crowd, all the Monarchs can do now is look forward to a new season and with great new talent like Thomas Hickey aboard, it should be an interesting upcoming season.
The Sharks could do nothing more than put Friday’s loss behind them and look forward to an explosive performance on Saturday night as they concluded their regular season with Fan Appreciation night against their biggest rival and potential playoff match up, the Providence Bruins.
Saturday night’s festivities began with a party in the DCU Center lobby. Music, games, and an always delightful appearance by the biggest hockey fan around, Bugs Bunny, got everyone pumped for a great night of hockey and what would hopefully be a happy ending to the Sharks regular season.
The game began with a ceremony honoring the local champions of youth hockey organizations. The “March of Champions” included about 200 kids of all ages and they were accompanied by both the Sharks and the Bruins on the ice.
The DCU Center filled out and was soon packed out to the tune of 7,406 fans…a record crowd for the Worcester Sharks and the largest crowd ever in regular season franchise history. Needless to say, the house was rockin.
When they Sharks came out onto the bench it was evident that they had brought a different energy into this game. Playing their biggest division rival, the intensity was flowing, and within mere minutes of the puck drop, the chirping started and the game was on. Less than 9 minutes into the first period, Riley Armstrong tangled with Brad Marchand and they both received roughing minors.
Both teams would wind up fruitless going into the first intermission but things would soon change. With Riley Armstrong, Frazer McLaren and Mike Moore doing their best to create some drama get under the Bruins’ skin, it was only a matter of time until chances were created….and sure enough, with 6 minutes left in the period, Frazer McLaren put the first goal up on the board.
It was then that the Bruins started to falter. The Bruins taking a late penalty in the second allowed Derek Joslin to reach the back of the net with only 3 seconds left in the period. The Sharks headed to the dressing room up by 2 and so far Thomas Greiss was on his way to a coveted (shh…don’t jinx it…) shut out.
The Bruins started the third period off on a bad foot when less than 3 minutes in, the agitation had gotten to Jonathan Tremblay and he got called for roughing…but it was then that the Sharks let the emotional rivalry get the best of them. Andrew Desjardins got 2 minutes for tripping and before his time was served, Mike Moore was sent to box for hooking…putting the Bruins on a dangerous 5 on 3. However the Sharks penalty kill was more powerful than the Bruins would have liked it to have been and they came up empty handed.
With the chippy game getting even more intense, and two minutes after an uneventful power play, the Bad News Bears’ luck would change again when they got yet another chance to come back. Steve Zalewski took an unfortunate hooking penalty (which prompted many fans in attendance at the DCU Center to razz the Refs about wearing Bruins jerseys) but the Sharks penalty kill was once again unstoppable and the score remained 2-0…or had it?
Providence center Dan Ryder was called for hooking and the Sharks took advantage…Derek Joslin was once again magic on the power play and with 1 second left in the penalty, Joslin put one past Courchaine. 3-0.
The Sharks kept the Tank buzzing and emotions continued to run high and the Sharks found themselves in hot water yet again. Coach Roy Sommer lost it with the officials let the Bruins slide on a should-have-been penalty. He kept chirping the refs…everyone knew what would happen, and the Tank went wild as the drama unfolded on the ice. Sure enough the Sharks were called for a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct in addition to a 10 minute Game Misconduct for the abuse of officials. Thanks to Sommer’s antics and the Sharks were to kill off yet another power play.
The Sharks ran into even more bad luck when they added yet another penalty to their third period collection less than a minute later putting the Bruins on another 2 man advantage.
With the Sharks coming this far keeping the Bruins off the scoreboard, they weren’t about to let it all go. Killing off the Bruins final power play of the night, they drew a roughing penalty out of the frustrated Providence team and warded them off for the rest of the game. The Sharks made the most of the Tank full of fans and not only set a franchise attendance record but Thomas Greiss also made his own history and got his very first career shut out in 140 starts.
…and that’s it. The Sharks’ regular season officially went out with a bang.
Before the chairs were set up for the team autograph session, before the organization would find out that the Hartford Wolfpack were their first round opponents, before the real madness of the coming weeks will have began, the team had one last duty to perform…
The Sharks skated back out onto the ice, they united in the center…tapped the ice and raised their sticks…saluting the fans. It’s hard to believe how such a small gesture can evoke such a reaction from the crowd…and how such a small gesture can say it all and mean so much…but somehow, at that moment, there’s a mutual understanding between team and fan. A mutual “thank you”.
At that moment it didn’t faze me that San Jose had just won the Presidents Trophy. It didn’t faze me that I wasn’t worrying about the playoffs. It didn’t faze me that I had missed the San Jose Sharks’ own fan appreciation night…at that moment there was nowhere else I would rather have been. No other team I would rather have applauded, and no other team I would have rather thanked for making me a fan.
If there’s anything Sharks fans have to brag about at the moment, it’s having already captured the Pacific Division title…and maybe having the number 1 slot in the conference …oh and don’t forget they also have the best view of the entire league, the view from the top is just about the best view you can get. Alright so Sharks fans have a LOT to brag about…(in their minds they always have) but if you ask any true fan, they will surely tell you, it’s the talented team that fuels the dedication. Now what makes the Sharks team different than other teams in the league, you might ask? Simple…
Many (in fact MOST) teams have their superstars, their “Jumbo Joe” equivalents and they become the team’s “sun”…everything and everyone revolves around them…sure they have a few surrounding planets but no one shines as bright as their superstar. That story is undeniably different in the regard to the Sharks. Not only do they have the actual Joe Thornton, but with teammates like Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, Evgeni Nabokov, Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Jeremy Roenick or Joe Pavelski how can one player make any bigger an impact than another? They don’t. In fact, to the 17,496 people that pack out the Tank every game night, this entire roster is their “sun” and no one shines brighter than the others…they simply take turns. Recently I attended an Islanders game at Nassau Coliseum and struck up conversation with one of the many incredible fans in attendance that night. When asked who my favorite Shark was, I was actually rendered speechless…and honestly…I was stumped. When I didn’t answer because I didn’t know how to answer, he just smiled and said, “Wow…you really are a true fan…you love the whole team.” I turned to him and I just said, “Yeah…I guess you’re right…”
As of late, Sharks fans have had even more reason to be proud…and expand their bragging rights. With injury plaguing much of the team at a very inopportune time, the Sharks organization had no choice but to call upon their affiliate, the Worcester Sharks, for help. Recently there have been four roster spots filled by Worcester players (Tom Cavanaugh, Jamie McGinn, Brad Staubitz and Ryan Vesce)
The Worcester Sharks have become so accustomed to life in San Jose, their presence at HP Pavilion is just as natural as seeing S.J. Sharkie with some little kid’s head in his mouth. For these guys, playing for the number one team in the league and playing alongside the same guys they grew up idolizing and watching on TV, is completely unreal. In total, nine Worcester players have been called up throughout the season…and these players are no bench warmers. Tom Cavanaugh scored his first NHL goal against Phoenix on March 28, Jamie McGinn scored goals in back to back games on March 22 & 25th, Ryan Vesce at the time of his recall had a team leading 68 points in Worcester and was fourth on the list of scorers in the AHL…and the player who has pummeled his way into the hearts of all “Fin-atics”, the guy who through playing 34 games with the big club this season is as much a San Jose Shark as he is a Worcester Shark, Brad Staubitz.
Staubitz, who having played 34 games in SJ, has gotten more NHL time than any of his fellow Worcester teammates…and while he may not have the goals to show for it, there is a reason why he has stayed in San Jose so long. When I spoke to Brad after a game in Lowell, MA in January, he summed up his experience skating on San Jose ice in one word, a “treat”. The smile that spread across his face while he talked about playing in the NHL was one of pure joy. This is a hockey player who knows how lucky he is to be taking part in such an incredible team…but after 34 games, the true treat has not just been for Brad, but rather for the thousands of fans who have embraced him. Brad has become known for his physical style of play and Sharks fans aren’t complaining…he clearly possesses the same characteristics that they too possess in regard to the team…loyalty, devotion and passion...and he isn’t afraid to prove it. There may not have ever been a bigger celebration during and after a fight as the one on March 19th at HP Pavilion when Brad took it to Jordin Tootoo. He received a standing ovation…and if you’ve ever been to the Shark Tank, you know how incredible that is. Being named the third star of that game, he explained in his post game interview how sometimes it’s just about the energy you can bring to the team…and if that’s what he can contribute then he’s done his job.
With 76 penalty minutes throughout his combined stints in San Jose this season and 130 in Worcester, it’s clear he has no problem doing what he does best, creating energy for his teammates and breathing life into the game. When all is said and done, Brad’s got a lot to brag about after having a season like he has…he’s done his family and friends proud, that’s for sure…but what he may not even be aware of is that he’s given Shark fans both in San Jose and in Worcester a heck of a lot more to brag about. In 34 games, he’s definitely left his mark on San Jose and has become just as much a part of the team as Jonathan Cheechoo, Jody Shelley or Milan Michalek…and it’s apparent that he’s enjoying his time with the big club.
Well Brad, you’ve earned it.
When one becomes a fan of a good team, a team which can provide the entertainment that said fan paid decent money to see, that team’s job is done…when one becomes a fan of a great team, there’s a little more involved…there are expectations to be met. Expectations which come with both great reward and celebration as well as bitter disappointment. Truth be told, when you become a fan of one of these elite teams, the dedication runs deep…so deep that it’s almost impossible to ever imagine yourself cheering for anyone else, let alone the bottom team in the league…a team who has just about half the total points of the Sharks or Red Wings, a team that has dug themselves a hole so deep they’re almost to China...a team called the New York Islanders.
Some call it crazy, some call it a bad case of underdog syndrome…honestly, it’s neither. The sad truth is, many people have written the Isles off a long time ago…made them nothing but a butt of a joke. It has filtered down to even the season ticket holders and diehard fans who have, plain and simple, just stopped coming. Their arena is in dire straits, and with this past trade deadline seeing major changes for the Islanders (Comrie, Campoli to Senators, Guerin to Penguins), their fan base is floundering.
Yes, maybe I see it all through rose colored glasses…maybe I haven’t followed the organization through the darkest shadows and dingiest alleys through which it has been led by its coaching and management staff...but I do know that when I turn on MSG at game time, I’m provided with what I came to find…good hockey.
March has been a dynamic month for this hockey club, month full of dramatic ups and downs. Knowing they are completely out of playoff contention, and after the dust of the trade deadline settled, leaving them with no captain and no “superstar”, they could have easily cut their losses and cashed in their chips for the rest of the season.
With rookies like Josh Bailey and Jack Hillen stepping in, the Isles depth is off the charts, and their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport is implementing the same system that Scott Gordon and the Islanders are, so there is a constant shuffle of players between the two clubs and the Bridgeport team is being primed for NHL time…but it’s the hard working, "never say die" attitude that the Islanders organization has become known for these past couple of months…and much of that is thanks to the workhorse mentality that the Islanders’ young players possess working for a roster spot.
It’s that workhorse mentality that has made the “ups” of March quite possibly some of the best hockey games (never) seen this season…but arguably the best showing the Isles had this season was on March 7th against the Devils…and the unstoppable Martin Brodeur who had just come off IR which he was on for the entire season. Not only did the Islanders succeed in getting Brodeur pulled and replaced with Kevin Weekes, but the game ended with the Islanders producing seven goals that night, six of those were on Brodeur. The seventh came with one second left in the game when Sean Bergenheim completed his first career NHL hat trick…and at that moment, you would never have known this team was out of playoff contention, you would never have known this team was at the very bottom of the standings…because that night, the Isles put a dagger through the heart of Marty Brodeur and Brent Sutter and everyone in the hockey world who was aboard the “How Long Can Marty Brodeur Extend His Winning Streak Right Off IR” choo-choo train.
But it isn’t just the young skaters that are turning heads, the Islanders’ goal tending has proven to be deep and down right impressive over the past couple of months.
With Rick DiPietro riding out his 15-yr contract on IR, Yann Danis has become the back up for Joey MacDonald who has taken over for DiPietro in his absence. Danis has also had to step in further due to MacDonald out with injury. Danis has been impressive with a 2.65 GAA and 92% save percentage…proving that the Islanders do indeed have a triple threat in net…but no one has shown a more impressive performance than Joey MacDonald on March 27th against Detroit at Joe Louis Arena.
Joey MacDonald single-handedly (with some help from Josh Bailey and Frans Neilsen) led the Islanders to a 2-0 shut out of the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Making 42 saves against Detroit, most of which were mind bending and three were posts, Joey MacDonald was the hero for his team. There is still much to be said about the Islanders’ defensive play as they robbed the Red Wings – who is the leading team in power plays – on every man-advantage they had.
As the “elite” teams are winding down as they’ve already secured playoff spots, the “good” teams are making every last effort in their respective playoff pushes, and the bottom feeders are doing what they do best and floundering, the Islanders don’t fit into any of these categories. They have no playoff spot within reach, they have no playoff spot even within vision, they have nothing to push for…and to most people, there is no reason for them to be fighting for anything…but when you look carefully, its easy to see…they’re fighting for their fans. Every team needs fans and the Islanders are determined to get theirs back…and to watch them play is to watch what every hockey fan wants to see…great hockey.
Going into next season it will be exciting to see how this team changes. Coach Scott Gordon said it best when he said "We're not an easy two points anymore."