Its the dead of summer, the time of year where hockey takes a backseat to pretty much everything else. So instead of looking at the serious issues ahead for the San Jose Sharks, I’ll take a look back at the Sharks players who have been the must fun to watch over the years. Previously, we looked gut-wrenching moments. Today, its all about fun.
The beauty of this sort of list is that everyone gets to define fun in their own way. Making everyone’s list equally valid. So add your own in the comment section.
A lot of very good players were considered, but failed to make my top 5. Joe Thornton is a joy to watch, his brilliant passing among the elite in the game’s history. Didn’t make the cut. Nor did Dan Boyle, the superb puck-moving defenseman. Joe Pavelski, known for big goals and an incredible skill set, is going to make most all-time Shark lists, but not this one.
Patrick Marleau, who holds numerous team records, also not on the list. The closest player from the current Shark roster to making this list is Brent Burns. As Maxwell Smart might say “missed it by that much.”
Another close call from recent times is Ryane Clowe, who offered entertainment in a variety of ways, from offense to physical play to fights and even the occasional defense while still on the bench, much to the dismay of the LA Kings and their game announcers.
All of these aforementioned Sharks would be fine choices for this list. The considered list ran the gamut. There were legends with brief stays like Teemu Selanne and Sergei Makarov. There were 4th line pests, including Scott Nichol. There were other excellent players considered, including Vincent Damphousse, beloved goalie Evgeni Nabakov and the always battling Mike Ricci.
When the ice chips settled, the list included many different skills. Longevity and sustained excellence, for the most part, were not a requirement. But being part of a team that blew away expectations helped a lot. Here is my list:
5. Arturs Irbe
“Like wall.” That is how the Latvian goalie once described himself, and that comment ultimately developed into his nickname: The Wall. Irbe was the first Shark player to establish an identity in Bay Area hockey. He was the first Shark player who had the crowd chanting his name. In the 1993-94 season, the Sharks went from among the worst records in hockey (just 11 wins in 1992-93) to their first playoff appearance. That playoff appearance lasted 14 games and included a Rd. 1 upset of the top-seeded Red Wings. Irbe was not the team’s best player for that memorable season, that was Igor Larionov. Irbe was, however, the player most identified with the Sharks going from a bottom-dwelling expansion team — merely a novelty in Bay Area sports — to a team that was genuinely competitive and entertaining. When asked what fans should do for the Sharks during their playoff appearance, Irbe responded with another short answer “wear teal.” Its comments like that which made him a fan favorite. But it was his play on the ice for an underdog team that made him one of the most fun players to watch in Sharks history.
Among my recollections was a shutout Irbe pitched at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, prior to the Sharks move to San Jose. It was a game where he made several excellent saves. In the heart of the game came a 3-minute thrill ride, with Irbe standing on his head to kill off back-to-back penalties, including an extended 5-on-3. It was no surprise when Irbe became the first Shark player to enter the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame.
Long-time Sharks broadcaster Randy Hahn described the scene inside the Shark Tank when Irbe led the team onto the ice in the first game after the playoff upset of Detroit in 1994, saying it “still ranks, for me, as the most spine-tingling moment in the history of this building.”
4. Douglas Murray
For the big Swede with the perfect moniker, Crankshaft, it came down to one thing. Hitting. And my goodness, he could hit. His hit on Ryan Kesler in the playoffs against Vancouver was a thing of beauty. As others pointed out, he hit Kesler so hard that teammate Devin Setoguchi’s stick went flying. Speaking of Setoguchi, when he returned to the Shark Tank for the first time in another uniform, Murray laid a memorable hit on his former teammate. Just three seconds into the game, Murray dumped Setoguchi to the ice, entertaining fans, players, and broadcasters. The hit in the video below on Kyle Chipcurra was vintage Murray. The crowd reaction explains why he makes the list.
3. Jonathan Cheechoo
Cheechoo was a star that burned brightly, and burned out quickly. He was essentially a one-dimensional player before injuries robbed him of his ability to play at an NHL level. He scored goals. Lots of goals. When the Sharks acquired Joe Thornton, Cheechoo had an elite set-up man. With Thornton, Cheechoo thrived, leading the NHL in goals with 56 in the 2005-06 season. That mark is a team record and Cheechoo remains the only Shark to have scored 50 goals in a season. The highlight of his time in teal came with an amazing between-the-legs goal in the postseason against Colorado. While he was popular in his day, it would be irresponsible to blame the player for the horrid Cheechoo Train song. As a courtesy to the readers, I have not provided a link to that song.
2. Igor Larionov
If the phrase ‘stick-handling in a phone booth’ ever needed a poster-child, one could go straight to Igor Larionov. Nicknamed ‘The Professor’, the slightly built Russian came to San Jose in his mid-30’s for what was a relatively brief stay. Larionov was the first truly great player to don the teal. His play immediately lifted the Sharks to a competitive level, taking them to the franchise’s first ever playoff appearance (fondly called the ‘playovs’, due to the presence of Larionov, Sergei Makarov and Johan Garpenlov). The current NHL player whose skill is most similar to Larionov is probably Pavel Datsyuk, and it might well be Datsyuk that is the lesser skilled player of the two. Larionov’s time in San Jose was not nearly as important to his career as was his time in Russia and his Cup victories in Detroit. But for those couple of seasons in San Jose, he was a joy to watch, as he brought the team from the cellar to respectability.
1. Owen Nolan
The captain, perhaps the most admired player in Sharks history. The rough and tumble leader is 7th in games played in Sharks history, 4th in scoring and 2nd in penalty minutes. Often called Buster, Nolan was the most likely player to get a Gordie Howe ‘hat trick’: a goal, an assist and a fight. Nolan had four in his career. Nolan had the brass, and he had the game to back it up. His signature moment will always be the called shot during the All-Star game in San Jose to complete a hat trick. But to Sharks fans, that was just icing on the cake. His game in, game out combination of leadership, grit and skill was the real treat.
So there is my list. Feel free to add yours in the comment section below.