The world of sports has many ways of attracting individuals to their sport with the intention of making them fans. Many of these marketing strategies can be very basic, for example, a team colour can attract a young fan and as that fan grows up, he/she will remember the colour and can always associate it with that specific team. There can also be methods of attracting adults. An interesting example of this would be that of employment. Suppose an average citizen, although that is indefinable, is looking for work and has education and experience in say finances. This individual can find employment within a professional sporting organization and from there, the learning can begin. Day by day, number by number, the employee will see how things are done in the workplace and once fully established, he/she can begin to look at the sport itself and have a unique perspective. All this to ask one question; who is you favourite professional sports team? This piece will focus on the San Jose Sharks, a professional hockey team that plays in the National Hockey League (NHL) and will touch on their history, their organization’s, memorable moments, players and current developments.
The San Jose Sharks were founded in 1991 and were the first franchise to be located within the San Francisco Bay area since the ever so popular California Golden Seals. The Sharks home arena was then called the “Cow Palace” which is located in Daly City, just outside San Francisco.
Team Naming Process
When word had first broken out that the city of San Jose had officially a hockey team in the NHL, over 5,000 possible names were submitted and released. A very popular one was “Blades” which actually finished first in the “voting process”. Unfortunately, the new owners were concerned with the name as it could possibly refer to a weapon and gang activity and they decided to go with Sharks, which was the second place finish during the vote. Geographically speaking, the State of California and therefore the city of San Jose is situated on the western coast of North America, very close to the Pacific Ocean. It is believed that the name “Sharks” came from the amount of sharks living in the Pacific Ocean, which is said to have had several varieties of sharks living within it. In fact, a colloquial name of a triangle shaped area off of the coast of Northern California which includes Bodega Bay, Farallon Islands and Big Sur, is said to boast the great white shark as it also hosts it’s most favoured meals such as otters and sea lions. This area is referred to as “The Red Triangle”.
At the time the team’s first marketing head, Matt Levine, said of the new name, “Sharks are relentless, determined, swift, agile, bright and fearless. We plan to build an organization that has all those qualities”.
Staff Personnel and Players
Their first ever coach was George Kingston – he coached them for the first two years of existence. Unfortunately, they did not do well in their early years. Under Kingston’s watch, in two years, the team went a bitter 28–129–7. The team suffered and after the 1992-1993 season, coach Kingston was fired. During that 1992-1993 season, they set an NHL record with 71 losses in a season, which included a 17 game losing streak.
Although during their early years the team consisted mainly of NHL journeymen, minor leaguers and rookies, the Sharks made one notable, eye opening move. They acquired a strong, prominent defenseman named Doug Wilson from the Chicago Blackhawks in 1991. Wilson went on to become the team’s first ever captain and first ever All-Star – noise was getting loud in San Jose.
Their first ever draft choice was Pat Falloon who led the team in points during their first inaugural season with 59 in 79 games played. In 1995, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers and just like that, their first ever draft choice was no longer a member of the Sharks.
The first shutout in team history came courtesy of Latvian goalie Artus Irbe, who recorded it on November 17th 1992 against the Los Angeles Kings – a 6-0 win. A few weeks later, on December 3rd 1992, Rob Gaudreau is credited with getting the first ever hat-trick for the Sharks. It came against the Hartford Whaler at home at the Cow Palace. Nine days later, he did it against the Quebec Nordiques which in turn made him get the first and second hat-tricks for the franchise.
Those early years also introduced hockey fans to the Sharks mascot “SJ Sharkie”. He was first seen on January 28th 1992 and officially received his name (once again from submitted votes) on April 15th 1992.
Rebuilding and Early Success Years
For their third season, the Sharks began playing at their current home arena – the SAP Center which was called the San Jose Arena at that time in 1993-1994. A new coach, Kevin Constantine, brought much success to the organization and the franchise made a rather large leap into the success category. They did this by jumping 58 points ahead of their total from the previous year, which still today stands as an NHL record. That same year, the Sharks qualified for the playoffs, the first time in franchise history. Being the eighth seed in the Western Conference, they faced the top team at the time – the Detroit Red Wings. Taking a step back from hockey, think of what sharks are known for. Yes, they have replaceable teeth and are well known predators but most importantly they are at the top of the underwater food chain. Back to their series against the Red Wings, well they showed their dominance by eliminating the top seeded Red Wings and shacking the NHL world. They must have smelt blood and could not contain their excitement and went on a dominating spree. Jamie Baker scored the game winning goal in the third period against well known Red Wing goalie Chris Osgood. The Sharks won the best of seven series 4-3. Although they lost in the Conference finals, the Sharks were starting top be given a second look at.
The following season brought success again for the Sharks as they qualified for the playoffs after a successful regular season. They picked up from where they left off as they reached the second round for the second consecutive post-season. Unforgettable players during their run were Sandis Ozolinsh, Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov and goaltender Artus Irbe. However, the second series brought horror to the Sharks and their fans as Detroit came back for some revenge and swept them, 4-0 series win for the Red Wings.
The success took a blistering halt, as the Sharks did not qualify for the playoffs for a third consecutive year. Instead, they made a great deal of changes. Key players such as the mentioned Ozolinsh and Larionov were traded away, goaltender Artus Irbe was released following their failure to qualify for the post-season and the rebuild began. However, with all these changes occurring, there was light at the end of the tunnel; the Sharks had acquired Owen Nolan from the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, coach Constantine was fired and in came Jim Wiley, on an interim basis.
The 1996-1997 season was no better, as the Sharks finished last once again, under coach Al Sims. Here is where the success begins to reach new heights for the franchise. During the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, the Sharks drafted a franchise player in Patrick Marleau. Patrick Marleau was the second draft pick overall, being behind current teammate and living legend Joe Thornton. Eventually, Marleau was given the captaincy after Nolan’s departure and this began an era of Marleau in San Jose.
After Dean Lombardi was not willing to take a risk on higher priced players, he was subsequently fired and replaced with current general manager Doug Wilson – a former Shark himself. He instantly took charge of this team and was eager to do so. He hired coaches such as Ron Wilson and Todd McLellan to take the reigns for the Sharks, and the success was insurmountable. With a list of key players proving pivotal for the Sharks during his early time there. Players such as Nils Ekman, Alexander Korolyuk, Alyn McCauley, Marco Sturm, Christian Ehrhoff, Tom Preissing and many others proved the Sharks were a force to be reckoned with.
The 2005 season was one of the most memorable ones. The acquisition of superstar Joe Thornton, the dominating goalie duo of Evgeni Nakobov and Vesa Toskala, the emergence of Jonathan Cheechoo and others, and the combination of all Shark players and their instant chemistry match had the Sharks destined for a deep run during the post-season. Unfortunately, like many other seasons, the Sharks experienced another early exit and in came the scrutiny.
After a mutual agreement between the Sharks and coach McLellan for him to leave the team and coach the Oilers, the Sharks in late May named Peter DeBoer as their new head coach. During that off-season, the amicable Antti Niemi was traded to Dallas and in came Martin Jones, a young underrated goalie who backstopped them to the Stanley Cup Finals. A smart Doug Wilson went out and signed young Fin Joonas Donskoi who was instrumental during the season and had a major impact during their post-season run. This also marked the time for a new captain and Joe Pavelski was selected to wear the C after Joe Thornton was no longer the captain after their meltdown against the Kings two seasons ago.
Fast forward, passed all the playoff failures, the Sharks found themselves with a very deep team and it was clear that the 2015-2016 season was theirs for the taking. The Sharks demonstrated that they were not willing to accept failure once again as they eliminated their rivals in the Los Angeles Kings, followed by the Nashville Predators and lastly the St. Louis Blues to advance them to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, they lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the Sharks playing on opening night and with their many off-season key signings, will the Sharks be able to repeat but instead go all the way? Only time will tell. The game of hockey is filled with questions and with “what-if” scenarios. The Sharks will make their case and show why they are bound for greatness.
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