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.