Red, white, blue and teal – The forgotten game at the Shark Tank
As “Get Ready For This” by 2 Unlimited blared over the speakers and the roar of 17,190 fans filled San Jose Arena, the San Jose Sharks made their entrance through the Shark Head for a game that wasn’t on the official National Hockey League (NHL) schedule. In fact, the Sharks weren’t even playing a fellow NHL team. On this night (Jan. 8, 1994), the Sharks’ opponent for this radio only broadcast was the 1994 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
The Sharks, who came into the game with a 12-21-9 record (four points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference), were the sixth and final NHL squad to play Team USA, who had etched out a 33-14-5 record during their pre-Olympic exhibition schedule.
Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time the Sharks and Team USA had faced off against each other. During the Sharks’ inaugural season (1991-92), the squads played twice with Team USA taking both games, a 5-4 overtime win on Sept. 21, 1991 in Cleveland and a 6-2 win on Nov. 17, 1991 at the Cow Palace.
With the starters lined up on their respective blue lines for the singing of the National Anthem by Dennis Leach, Sharks fans in attendance noticed team teal had a different look. A day prior, Sharks head coach Kevin Constantine decided to rest his veteran players, which included Gaetan Duchense, Todd Elik, Bob Errey, Johan Garpenlov, Rob Gaudreau (late scratch), Arturs Irbe, Mike Lalor, Sergei Makarov and Rob Zettler.
In their place were youngsters Alexander Cherbayev, Wade Flaherty, Vlastimil Kroupa, Andrei Nazarov, Michal Sykora and Dody Wood, all of whom were called up from the Kansas City Blades of the International Hockey League (IHL) specifically for the Team USA game.
It didn’t take long for coach Constantine’s decision to pay off as Cherbayev put the Sharks ahead 1-0 just 67-seconds into the game when he fired a shot from the left faceoff circle past Team USA goaltender Mike Dunham. Sharks forwards Jaroslav Otevrel and Ray Whitney registered the assists.
With play in the Sharks zone minutes after Cherbayev’s goal, Team USA forward Peter Ferraro carried the puck behind the net and sent a behind-the-net pass out in front to defenseman Peter Laviolette, who beat Sharks goaltender Jimmy Waite from point blank range for the tying goal at 5:41 just as the holding the stick minor penalty to Nazarov expired. Team USA forward Todd Marchant picked up the secondary assist.
The Sharks regained the lead 72-seconds later when during 4-on-4 play, Sharks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh got the puck over to Whitney, who from in front of the left faceoff circle faked out Dunham with a deke and slid the puck into the net for his second point of the night.
Sharks forward Dale Craigwell extended the lead to 3-1 at 16:26 when off a Sharks steal at center ice, Craigwell corralled an up ice pass from Cherbayev and beat Dunham on a breakaway. Sharks defenseman Shawn Cronin had the secondary assist.
In the second period, Marchant cut the Sharks lead in half at 4:22 when he beat Waite for his second point of the game. Team USA forward Chris Ferraro, the twin brother of Peter, and defenseman Ian Moran were credited with the assists.
As was the case in the first period when Laviolette scored, the Sharks quickly answered back after Marchant’s goal, this time in 73-seconds, to regain their two goal lead as forward Pat Falloon capitalized on Team USA’s inability to clear the puck away from in front of Dunham. The assists on Falloon’s goal went to Ozolinsh and Nazarov.
Near the midway point of the period (9:44 to be exact), coach Constantine switched goalies as Waite, who made 17 saves on 19 shots, was relieved for Flaherty.
With the Sharks on their first (and only) power play of game late in the period, Ozolinsh stretched the lead to 5-2 when he ripped the puck past Dunham at 17:26 for his third point of the game. Sharks forwards Otevrel and Jeff Odgers picked up the assists.
Just as it appeared the Sharks were going to take a three goal lead into the second intermission, Kroupa was assessed a holding penalty at 18:39, and Team USA forward Mark Beaufait, who tried out for the Olympic team instead of returning to the Blades after being cut in Sharks training camp, tipped linemate David Roberts‘ shot past Flaherty for the power play goal at 19:19. Team USA defenseman Barry Richter had the secondary assist.
After a scoreless first half of the third period, Team USA forward Brain Rolston fired a snap shot past Flaherty at 11:37 to cut the Sharks lead to one goal. Team USA forward Chris Ferraro and defenseman Matt Martin registered the assists.
Despite out-shooting the Sharks 13-4 in the third period and 38-18 for the game, Team USA couldn’t get the tying goal past Flaherty, who finished with 17 saves on 19 shots.
“There were three things that we wanted to do: rest our veterans, play some guys that have been fairly inactive for our team, and look at some of the younger guys,” said Constantine in a post game interview with the media.
“I thought we played a pretty good hockey game,” Team USA head coach Tim Taylor said post game to the media. “I think we limited the quality chances that the Sharks had. They got some nice goals in the first period, but we basically misplayed the initial rush. Other than that, I thought we played pretty well.”
Even though the Sharks’ win didn’t count in the NHL standings, Sharks fans in attendance that night and the Sharks organization became a part of U.S. Hockey history as the ’94 Olympic team was the last squad to feature a group of players with little or no professional experience.
I would like to thank Mark Purdy of the Mercury News for emailing me the paper’s game recap and box score archive; Sharks radio play-by-play broadcaster Dan Rusanowsky for messaging me the game lines; and Sharks Media Relations Coordinator Jason Plank for sending me the pictures seen in this article as well as the official game sheet and archived articles.
Others who deserve a mention are Michael Malone and David Pollak of the Mercury News, Jasmine Grotto of USA Hockey, UC Berkley Assistant Professor Richard Koci Hernandez and Harry Thompson of USA Hockey Magazine.
To the Sharks fans who took the time to help me with this article by proof reading it, thank you. Your suggestions, edits and reactions to the article are what made me keep going every time a possible lead hit a dead end . This article is for all of you.