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How the Land of the Rising Sun became Sharks Territory for a 1998 weekend

RicciJapan

“It’s fucking ridiculous,” said then San Jose Sharks center Bernie Nicholls in an Oct. 1998 interview with Tony Cooper of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Two NHL teams playing in Japan, why are we going over there? It’s not fair to the organizations. My question is why?”

CREATION OF NHL GAME ONE

At a press conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, on March 26, 1997, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the Vancouver Canucks and the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim would open the 1997-98 NHL regular season with a two game set at Yoyogi Arena in Tokyo, Japan.

The games, which were the first regular season games to be played outside of North America, were part of the league’s Game ONe enterprise to increase exposure of the NHL brand and give the Japanese fans a preview of what they could expect at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, which would feature participation from active NHL players for the first time ever.

After the tremendous success of Game ONe ’97, Bettman announced at the tail end of the Nagano Winter Olympics that the NHL would return to Japan to open the 1998-99 regular season. The two teams selected to particiapte in the two-game set were the Sharks and the Calgary Flames.

REACTION IN SAN JOSE

The league’s selection of the Sharks and Flames for Game ONe ’98 caught many in the hockey realm by surprise. The Mighty Ducks and Canucks were logical choices for Game ONe ’97 with then Anaheim superstar Paul Kariya being of Japanese decent and Vancouver being a legitimate Pacific Rim city.

But the Sharks and Flames? The only history these two teams had with each other at the time was their epic seven game series in the first round of the 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which saw the eighth seeded Sharks eliminate the top seeded Flames in double overtime of game seven in Calgary.

Calgary Flames forward Andrew Cassels (L, #21) and

Perhaps the league was interested in a brother versus brother showdown as Darryl Sutter was the head coach of the Sharks at the time and Brian Sutter was the coach of the Flames? Whatever the league’s reasons were, it was a decision that some within the Sharks organization, specifically Darryl and Nicholls, weren’t happy about and both made their feelings well known as opening day approached.

Darryl, who played the 1978-79 season with Iwakura Tomakomi of the Japan league and led the league in scoring with 41 points (28-13-41), was told by then Sharks owner George Gund III to scale back his public comments regarding his displeasure of going overseas for the two games after Gund received a phone call from someone high up on the NHL’s executive chain ordering him to do so.

“We logged the second-most miles in the league last season (1997-98), said a pedestrian Darryl to Cooper. “So, I suppose, what’s another 5,000 miles?”

While Darryl toned down his public comments, Nicholls turned up the volume in voicing his frustration with the league sending the Sharks and Flames overseas.

“I’m all for promoting the game by going to cities in the Untied States or Canada that are going to have a team,” said Nicholls to Cooper. “Is (commissioner Gary) Bettman going to Japan? I don’t think so.

“I can’t wait until New York or New Jersey has to go. To me, it’s another stupid thing Bettman has come up with. I wish someone would tell me why we’re doing this. We travel more than any team in the league and we’re traveling some more. If it was a four or five hour trip, I’d have no problem. I have no problem with the country or anything. We’re not going over there sightseeing — we’re going to work. I just don’t understand why we’re doing this.”

THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN

AP9810070285After participating in a cultural sensitivity class, the Sharks left for Tokyo on Oct. 6, 1998. Once there, the Sharks began their ambassadorial duties, which they took very seriously in the wake of Team USA hockey members thrashing their rooms at the Olympic Village after being eliminated at the Nagano Olympics eight months prior.

Some of those duties saw Sharks forwards Patrick Marleau and Joe Murphy conduct a hockey clinic for Japanese kids; goaltender Mike Vernon donned a Japanese robe and helped break open a ceremonial barrel of sake at a reception inside a hotel banquet room; forward Mike Ricci and defenseman Bryan Marchment were also asked to wear robes at the same reception as well as bang on Taiko drums.

In addition to their goodwill gestures, some of the Sharks players got a chance to experience the local culture. In the Roppongi district, forward Marco Sturm and defensemen Scott Hannan and Andy Sutton each received a massage that consisted of the masseuse walking on their backs and legs for an hour.

At the conclusion of their Thursday afternoon practice, Nicholls, Murphy and fellow forward Shawn Burr took a taxi to a sushi parlor where each ordered the house special. While the food was good, the bill wasn’t as it came out to 66,000 yen, which translated into near five hundred dollars at the time.

FINAL PREPERATIONS

Once their acts of diplomacy and sightseeing adventures were done, the Sharks were ready for the first game of their two game set against the Flames at Yoyogi Arena. However, the Sharks squad that was prepared to take the ice wasn’t the team many fans (home and abroad) had expected to see.

While then Sharks General Manager Dean Lombardi was able to sign two of the Sharks’ restricted free agents in Ricci and defenseman Mike Rathje before the team headed overseas, Lombardi was unable to sign the Sharks’ biggest offensive weapons in restricted free agent forwards Owen Nolan and Jeff Friesen.

San Jose Sharks forward Mike Ricci (R #18) is tripIn addition, the Sharks were without defensemen Marcus Ragnarsson, who suffered a broken left thumb via a slash in the final preseason game, and Gary Suter, who was recovering from triceps surgery. To top it all off, visa issues kept defenseman Andre Zyuzin from joining the team until late Friday afternoon Japan time, half a day before the opening game.

Going into the two game set with a makeshift squad seemed appropriate for the Sharks as Yoyogi Arena, which hosted Game ONe ’97 and the swimming competitions at the 1964 Olympics, had a makeshift rink with horrible ice conditions. In fact, one end of the rink had a diving board hanging over it as a swimming pool was underneath the rink.

It was on that rink during Game ONe ’97 that Canucks forward Mark Messier suffered a groin injury that hampered him all of the 1997-98 season. In response, the NHL flew in a temporary refrigeration system for the Game ONe ’98 series but a combination of outside warm air, the humid atmosphere of the arena itself and thick air inside made the ice surface sloppy and dangerous to play on.

“Godawful ice” is how coach Darryl Sutter described the rink and playing conditions to Mark Purdy of the Mercury News after the first game of the set. “But when it’s like that, you’ve just got be simple and stupid.”

HOCKEY AFTERNOONS IN TOKYO

On a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon (Oct. 9, 1998), which was Friday night back in San Jose, the Sharks and Flames took the ice for the first game of their two game set. Though it wasn’t a sellout crowd (Yoyogi Arena holds 10,000 people), the Sharks and Flames put on an exciting game in front of the announced 8,400 fans in attendance, which included near 500 Sharks fans who made the trip from Northern California and made Yoyogi Arena feel like the Shark Tank with traditional Sharks cheers, chants and chomps.

Murphy put the Sharks ahead 1-0 when he buried home the rebound of Sturm’s shot from the right circle for a late first period power play goal. However, the Sharks’ lead only lasted 26-seconds as the Flames answered right back when forward Jason Wiemer finished off a two-on-two rush with linemate Dave Roche.

The Flames went ahead 2-1 at 7:03 of the second period when forward Valeri Bure swiped the puck from Marchment, who was positioned near the front of his own net, and beat Vernon over the shoulder with a quick snap shot.

In the third period, the Sharks tied the game at 6:14 when they got a goal from an unlikely candidate in Rathje, who had just three goals in 81 games the season prior. With the puck on top of the left circle, Rathje fired a shot that hit one of the Flames players in front, then bounced off the skate of another Flames player before beating Flames goaltender Ken Wregget.

FleuryMarleauJapanAs was the case when the Sharks scored in the first period, the Flames answered right back, this time two-and-a-half minutes later, when forward Andrew Cassels curled around from behind the net and beat Vernon for the go-ahead goal at 9:44, one second after the penalty to Sharks defenseman Bill Houlder expired.

Just as it appeared the Sharks were going to open the season with a loss, Ricci corralled a pass out of the corner from linemate Stéphane Matteau and beat Wregget with a shot from the faceoff circle at 17:42 for the tying goal that forced overtime.

In the extra session, Flames forward Theo Fleury had the Flames’ best chance to win the game on a point blank chance with 30-seconds left but was stopped by Vernon, who finished with 27 saves, 16 of which came in the third period and overtime, and had to endure several pileups in front of his goal crease.

“Have you been in the subway system here?” asked Vernon post game to Purdy. “That’s the way it was in there, with people running all over you.”

Despite bad ice and a makeshift lineup, the Sharks were able to grab one point as the result of strong play from Vernon, Murphy, Ricci, who had a goal and an assist, and Hannan, who dished out two assists in his first career NHL game.

The next day (Oct. 10, 1998), Hockey Night in Canada joined the second game in progress, which saw Fleury register a five point game with a hat trick in a 5-3 Flames win. In addition, the game marked the last NHL game in the career of current Sharks television color commentator Jamie Baker, who registered an assist for the Sharks in the loss.

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“I don’t think we played well enough to win this game,” said Ricci post game to Purdy. “No offense to anyone, but obviously this trip wasn’t the best situation and it’s definitely been a disappointment.”

“It was a pain in the ass, a waste of time,” said Sharks head coach Darryl Sutter of the Tokyo trip to Purdy after the game two loss. “Even the league has addressed that. First they said they would be coming here every year for the next 20 years. Now they say it will be maybe every other year. So basically what they’re saying is, forget about it.”

PHOTO CREDIT
APimages
Calgary Flames Hockey Club
GettyImages
Oocities

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San Jose Sharks children’s picture book makes the perfect holiday gift

While standing in line inside the Sharks Store at SAP Center last night, something on the checkout counter shelf caught my attention. As I walked up to the cashier, I noticed the item in question was a San Jose Sharks children’s picture book called “The Home Team” written by Holly Preston and illustrated by James Hearne.

As I browsed through the book, I was blown away by the attention to detail in the illustration work by Mr. Hearne. In addition, the story written by Ms. Preston is one that people of all ages can relate to and enjoy.

Being a big kid at heart (and a huge Sharks fan), I put the book on the counter and said, “I’ll get this too.” The cashier lady said smilingly, “Awesome. It’s a cool book and good read for everyone.”

The book sells for $20 at the Sharks Store or you can call the store at (408) 999-6810 to order the book and have it sent to you.

As a holiday bonus, here is the book in scan form

Coverpg1pg2pg3pg4pg5pg6pg7pg8pg9pg10pg11pg12pg13pg14pg15pg16pg17pg18pg19pg20pg21pg22pg23pg24pg25pg26pg27pg28pg29pg30Backcover

In remembrance of San Jose Sharks prospect Daniil Sobchenko

SobchenkoprofileAs I awoke on the morning of Sept. 7, 2011, I reached for my phone to see what was new on my Twitter timeline. At the top of my timeline were tweets about a plane crash involving an entire hockey team. Immediately, I grabbed the remote and turned the television on to ESPN, whom had images of a plane crash with a “Breaking News” graphic.

Within seconds of having the television on ESPN, I heard the SportsCenter anchor say, “In case you’re just joining us, a Russian jet carrying the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey team of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) has crashed, killing 43 on board.” After hearing and seeing what had happened, I said out loud, “Yaroslavl Lokomotiv?… Isn’t that the team San Jose Sharks draftee Daniil Sobchenko plays for?”

GROWING UP

Born in Kyiv on April 13, 1991, Sobchenko began playing hockey by accident when at age six, his father (and first coach) Yevgeny Sobchenko asked him if he wanted to come along as he was going to play hockey with friends, to which Daniil replied, “of course, let’s go!”

Under the guidance of his father, Daniil was enrolled at the Sokil Kyiv‘s hockey school and competed against older children while playing for the local youth teams “Icicle”, “Falcon” and “Orbit”. At age 10, Daniil, who modeled his game after his hockey hero Sergei Fedorov, finished as the leading scorer in a youth tournament and his hockey talents were noticed by Yaroslavl.

SobchenkoSJS
“Immediately, they called me at home and invited me to play in Yaroslavl,” said Daniil in a 2010 interview with Alessandro Seren Rosso for sports-planet.ru. “But my parents told me I had to stay home for another year.”

A year later, Daniil was asked by Spartak-90 to attend their July training camp in Moscow. A few days later, Daniil received a call from Yaroslavl and was asked to tryout for their 91-team. Having to make a tough choice, Daniil said goodbye to his childhood and hello to adulthood as he decided to go play for Lokomotiv due to a couple of coaches being there from Kyiv and not having many options for hockey in his hometown.

“At first, it was a bit hard, but then I got use to everything and everything was alright,” said Daniil.

Joining Lokomotiv-1991 in 2002 as a fifth grader, Daniil helped the team win multiple silver and bronze medals in various tournaments throughout Russia over the next five years. Not only was Daniil excelling on the ice, he was also excelling academically by showing the same commitment to his grades as he did his hockey game, evident by him sitting in the front of row of classes and rigorously studying, even when having break time.

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“From the outset, Daniil set a goal – to achieve great results,” said Yaroslavl school number 9 sports class headmistress Elvira Ozimova in a Sept. 2011 interview with Michael Kontuev and Elena Zaitseva for the Yaroslavl Komsomolskaya Pravda website.

Though Daniil did get into a fight at school that went on the record, it was that moment that caused Daniil to realize he had to behave more reasonable in difficult situations. “Daniil could fight but he wasn’t a bully,” said Ozimova. “He, as a man, knew how to stand up for himself and for loved ones.”

Not afraid to take a leadership role on the team and speak up when something needed to be said, Daniil showed the same leadership inside the classroom by making a simple comment to quiet classmates if they were distracting the class by talking or acting up.

Confident knowing he was following his life goal, Daniil was ready to embark on the next chapter of his hockey career.

KHL BOUND

SobprofileIn his first season (2007-08) with Lokomotiv’s junior farm team, Lokomotiv-2, 16-year old Daniil registered 13 points on six goals and seven assists in 22 games. Furthermore, Daniil skated for Russia at the 2007 U17 World Hockey Challenge, where he registered four points on three goals and one assist in four games.

The following season, 2008-09, Daniil torched the third tier league for 87 points on 44 goals and 43 assists to go along with 53 penalty minutes in 66 games.

Expected to become a star of the Russian Minor Hockey League (MHL), the relatively unknown playmaking center sent shock-waves throughout the Russian hockey realm when he earned a spot on Lokomotiv’s KHL team for the 2009-10 season after a solid preseason effort.

“I think there is nothing unexpected,” said Daniil. “Yes, it is quite possible that I could play in the MHL and show good results there, but you need to grow, progress and strive to play at the highest level. However, I am glad to play for our youth team and am ready to help them.”

In 35 games with Lokomotiv’s KHL team, Daniil registered six points on five goals and one assist, and had four assists in six games for Lokomotiv’s MHL team, Loko Yaroslavl.

The 2010-11 season saw Daniil split time between Lokomotiv’s KHL team, where he registered two points on one goal and one assist in 16 games, and Loko Yaroslavl, where he registered 20 points on 10 goals and 10 assists in 14 games. Daniil rejoined Lokomotiv for their KHL playoff run and had one assist and 16 penalty minutes in 11 games.

GoldmedalIn addition to playing for both Lokomotiv teams during the 2010-11 season, Daniil was the captain of the Russian Selects squad that achieved their first series win over the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) All-Stars at the 2010 Subway Super Series, and helped Russia win the Gold medal at the 2011 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.

Having never made the Russian national junior team in past years due to conflicts with former head coach Vladimir Plyuschev, Daniil showcased his talents by registering seven points on four goals and three assists in seven games as he centered the top line alongside Maxim Kitsyn and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Though his skills wowed fans watching the World Junior Championships, the one moment Daniil was best remembered for was when he shouted, “MOM, I DID IT!” into the camera lens after the team’s victory over Canada in the gold medal game. In fact, Daniil didn’t take his medal or jersey off for several days following the win, to which some teammates joked Daniil was getting “star fever”. However, Daniil didn’t care. He felt on top of the world and was ready to conquer new challenges.

SUMMER 2011

As a result of being a key component to Russia’s gold medal team at the World Junior Championships, Daniil vaulted himself from unknown name to possible National Hockey League (NHL) draftee.

Liking his playmaking abilities, strong hockey IQ, work ethic, passing and skating game (both with and without the puck), the Sharks selected Daniil with the 166th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. A couple of weeks later, Daniil, who was the Sharks’ first draft pick from a Russian team since defenseman Andrei Zyuzin in 1996, was in San Jose for the Sharks’ rookie development camp.

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“I had a whole schedule there,” Daniil said in Russian for a Sept. 2011 interview with Rosso for Hockeysfuture.com. “I had to get up at 6 AM as at 6:45 we had to go to the practices. There, we had both breakfast and lunch. And I would get back to the hotel only at 6 PM. We had two ice sessions a day, some gym, and two or three summits every day.

“The practices were varied, there was always something new. I learned many new things. And I also want to add that the organization here, it’s truly superior (to the KHL).”

While his hockey skills spoke volumes at Sharks development camp that week, Daniil told Rosso the English language was a hurdle he had to overcome. “It’s when you don’t understand everything they say, but it was a little bit better day after day. But I always managed to do all the drills, I also could look at what other players were doing. Summits were hard, I had to sit there and just listen for two to three hours per day.”

After Sharks development camp ended, Daniil returned home to Yaroslavl and began preparing for Lokomotiv’s 2011-12 KHL season opener against Dinamo Minsk.

THE CRASH

On Sept. 7, 2011, the Lokomotiv hockey team, coaching staff and several prospect players boarded a Soviet-era Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger aircraft from Yak-Service to travel to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for their season opening game.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck as the plane ran off the near 3,000-meter runway, struck a tower mast about 500 meters from the end of the runway when trying to gain altitude from on the grass field and crashed into the banks of the Volga River about 1.2 miles from Tunoshna Airport.

crash
Of the 45 people on the flight, 43 died at the scene. Lokomotiv forward Alexander Galimov was put into a medically induced coma after suffering burns on 80 percent of his body and died five days later. Only the flight mechanic, Alexander Sizov, who was also put into a medically induced coma, survived.

Among those who perished in the crash were Daniil, former NHL players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek, Jan Marek, Alexander Vasyunov, Karlis Skrastins, Stefan Liv, and coaches Brad McCrimmon, Alexander Karpovtsev, and Igor Korolev.

There were a handful of factors that contributed to the crash, all of which were chronicled in the investigation report that was released two months after the crash, and highlighted in a Jan. 2013 Mayday, aka Air Crash Investigation, documentary on the National Geographic channel.

While First Office Igor Zhevelov, who was the Senior Vice President of Flight Operations for Yak-Service, and Captain Andrei Solomentsev, who was a close friend of Zhevelov, had thousands of hours of flight experience, the duo weren’t properly trained to fly the Yak-42 aircraft as Zhevelov had not completed his Yak-42 training program and Solomentsev was using falsified documents.

Records showed Zhevelov logged 12,879 hours flying Yak-40’s compared to 613 hours flying Yak-42’s, and Solomentsev logged 4,692 hours flying Yak-40’s compared to 1,525 hours flying Yak-42’s. In addition, Zhivelov pulled rank so he could fly with his “hockey heroes.”

Handout file photo shows Lokomotive Yaroslavl ice-hockey team of the KHL posing for a team photo
The plane had more than enough speed to ascend properly at the 1200-meters mark on the runway but it was discovered Zhevelov kept his foot on the brake without realizing it (the Yak-40 airplanes brake design cupped the entire foot whereas the Yak-42 airplanes brake design allowed the heel to rest on the floor). Zhevelov’s medical records revealed he had secretly been treated for a nerve condition called Polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder that affects the body’s extremities and causes weakness along with loss of sensation.

When the plane ran off the runway at 220 kph (136.7 mph), captain Solomentsev moved the controls to abort the takeoff. Upon seeing this action, flight engineer Vladimir Matyushin, who was the third man in the cockpit, decreased engine power by putting the engines in neutral. However, Zhevelov disagreed and Solomentsev reversed his decision, ordering Matyushin to put the engines up to full power for a takeoff attempt.

“Had they rejected takeoff three-to-five seconds after attempting to rotate, they would’ve still stopped on the clearway and everybody would’ve just walked away,” said JAKA-42 pilot Wiktor Jermolajew in the documentary.

In the wake of the crash, Yak-Service had their license revoked by Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, aka Rosaviatsia, and went out of business shortly thereafter. Furthermore, the airlines former vice president, Vadim Timofeev, was charged in connection with the crash one-year later for allowing the unqualified crew to illegally fly the Yak-42 instead of having the crew attend their scheduled re-education sessions to gain the proper permits to fly a Yak-42.

REACTIONS

GoalWith tears trickling down their cheeks, hockey fans and players around the world took to social media to send their thoughts, prayers and condolences to those who had just lost a loved one.

Members of the Sharks organization recalled Daniil’s time in San Jose as he left a lasting impression with those he had came in contact with.

“Daniil attended our development camp this past July and everyone on our staff agreed that he had a bright future with our organization,” said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson in a statement on the Sharks website in the hours after the plane crash. “He was an amazing person with a fun-loving personality and his attitude and energy during his time in San Jose was infectious.”

“For him, it took a lot of courage to come here as a young player and basically speak no English,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan of Daniil to the Mercury News’ David Pollak the day of the crash. “But he fit in really well. He had an energy about him. We really liked him as a player. We had actually hoped he would commit to playing in Worcester this year.”

Sharks forward Tommy Wingels, who was Daniil’s roommate during development camp, revealed to Pollak that the Sharks’ scouting staff and Daniil’s girlfriend, whom Daniil spoke to via Skype, were pushing Daniil to learn English.

“At times, it was tough for him to understand some of the coaching points, but talent-wise, he was one of the best,” said Wingels to Pollak. “He skated well, he could shoot the puck.”

Over in Minsk, the game’s organizers arranged a requiem mass at Minsk-Arena the following night (Sept. 8, 2011) in one of the most respectful and classiest tributes in sports history.

Though tickets had been sold long in advance of the game, not one ticket holder asked for a refund as the ceremony was held inside a packed Minsk-Arena full of mourning fans, each of whom had brought flowers. Also in attendance was the entire Belarusian leadership, including President Alexander Lukashenko.

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With the orchestra’s voice filling the arena, the Dinamo Minsk players skated onto the ice, individually took a knee behind one of the 37 large portraits of the deceased Lokomotiv players and staff, and proceeded to guide the puck at each portrait into their own net to symbolize a defeat to Lokomotiv.  At the other end of the ice, members of the Belarusian national hockey team laid flowers inside the goal crease in Lokomotiv’s memory.

As family, friends and significant others did their best to cope with the loss of their loved ones, Daniil’s younger brother Ilya dealt with the tragedy in his own way that was highlighted on a translated tumblr posting by user “aether-wings“:

“The younger brother of Daniil Sobchenko, 6-year old Ilya, took the incident in his own way, much as a child. He knows that his beloved Daniil was killed, as I know my brother is still out there. A few days ago, he promised his mother and father that when he gets older, he will be a champion, like his Dan. To hold off injury to the psyche of the small boy, the parents told him that Daniil is now among the stars in the sky, to watch over them all.

Yesterday, Ilya went to the balcony and asked me to show that star, who is now Daniil, – My mother Irina said ‘in a shaking voice’ – that the sky was dark and the stars could not be seen. Ilya leaned over to me to say ‘Mom, I want him to hug me again.’ because Dan was always very fond of him. He never came without gifts for the boy. He would never take him on the railway, only in a car. Only the best for his brother. Ilya once told me: ‘There is no Santa Claus, It’s all my brother!’

Now, Ilya’s favorite toy is an airplane, in which the child wrote ‘Yak-42’, and when he plays with it, he tries hard always to hold it tight, not to let it drop, not to let if fall.”

DaniilIlya
PHOTO CREDITS
bnp.by, fanzone.khl.rulokomotiv.info, ria.ru, sports.yahoo.com, sports.ruyar.kp.ru, vk.com, yarreg.ru, yarsport.ru.

Red, white, blue and teal – The forgotten game at the Shark Tank

usa-sharks-picture-2As “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.

usa-sharks-picture-7Interestingly, 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 KroupaAndrei 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.

usa-sharks-picture-4The 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.

usa-sharks-picture-5With 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.

usa-sharks-picture-12“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.

usa-sharks-official-score-sheet

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
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.