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Joined by general manager Dean Lombardi and chief scout Ray Payne, Tim Burke shook the hand of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, strode decisively to the podium, and confidently announced, "San Jose is proud to select ... from the Seattle Thunderbirds ... Patrick Marleau."
A roar went up in Pittsburgh's old Igloo, which hosted the 1997 NHL Entry Draft on a warm early summer day. Down below, a few rows from the arena floor, the 17-year-old Marleau hugged his mother and shook his father's hand as the commentator told a national viewing audience, "Patrick Marleau will know the way to San Jose as he's taken second overall by the Sharks."
In spite of all the hype and expectations typically heaped upon that high a draft pick, no one — and I mean no one — could have anticipated the things Marleau would accomplish over two decades in San Jose.
The question was often asked, particularly early in his career, who really is Patrick Marleau? Fans and the media saw him as a quiet individual searching for consistency on the ice, and one who would typically deflect attention — a common trait among hockey players.
To at least start to understand Marleau, it's best to trace his roots. Marleau grew up with two older siblings — a sister, Denise, and a brother, Richard — on a 1,600-acre wheat, grain, and cattle farm in Aneroid, Saskatchewan. Three hours from the nearest airport in Regina, and more than 40 miles away from the closest recognizable city of Swift Current, Aneroid is described as a special service area in the rural municipality of Auvergne No. 76 in the southwestern portion of the province.
Population has hovered right around 50 people for the last several decades, down significantly since Aneroid's heyday when it boasted 450 residents during the 1940s and '50s. How did the town get its name, the one a commentator completely butchered before putting the mic in front of the shy Marleau during a televised predraft interview? One version suggests the first survey party lost its aneroid barometer on the present town site, and voila!
Marleau was born miles away in Swift Current and attended school and played midget hockey there, but he will always tell you he is from Aneroid.
Not long after Marleau was chosen by the Sharks, a large and distinctive sign was erected at the town's entrance that said "Home of Patrick Marleau." It replaced a similar sign that celebrated the village's 75 birthday, which had been more than a decade earlier.
On the family farm itself, not far from the modest home and two adjacent barns, is the old fence that took the brunt of Marleau's daily barrage of practice slap shots. A goal stands nearby, but the tattered net was left hanging from the crossbar, in no shape to hold any more of Marleau's rockets.
Work all day on the farm, carve out time for hockey. That was the life Marleau knew. And loved.
Is it really any surprise then that he'd arrive at his first pro training camp months after getting drafted and barely utter a peep? Even his dad had doubts. "Physically maybe he's ready to be up there, but mentally it would be quite a change," Denis told a reporter at the time. "But I've been watching him all these years thinking he was taking things a little too fast, and he's always made me eat my words."
Marleau's arrival coincided with new head coach Darryl Sutter's hiring. The Sharks were coming off consecutive last-place finishes, and Lombardi's first coaching hire, Al Sims, was a disaster the year before. Lombardi was given a second chance to right his wrong and was able to lure the demanding Sutter off his family farm in Viking, Alberta, to Silicon Valley.
Sutter had a large task at hand. He and management wanted to win, and they wanted to win now. But it wouldn't be easy. Lombardi paid established veterans well in the era before salary caps in an effort to change the culture and mentor a group of young talent that he hoped would form a successful core.
Grizzled vets such as Tony Granato, Bernie Nicholls, Todd Gill, Kelly Hrudey, Stephane Matteau, Bill Houlder, Johnny MacLean, Murray Craven, Marty McSorley, and Joe Murphy were trusted with the responsibility to nurture a young group while getting one more opportunity.
Sutter didn't have a lot of patience for rookie mistakes. It wasn't going to be an easy road for Marleau, who after making the Opening Night roster represented the youngest player in the league at only 18 years and 16 days old.
Marleau's first career goal came late in the Sharks' eighth game of the season. Trailing 5–2, San Jose defenseman Bill Houlder jumped on a turnover along the left boards, tossed a puck to the slot where Marleau beat a Coyotes defender and wristed a bullet over Phoenix goalie Nikolai Khabibulin with 25.9 seconds remaining.
Linemates Viktor Kozlov and Owen Nolan were first on the scene with the post-goal hockey hug as a smattering of boos and applause came from the fans at old America West Arena. It was the first of 13 goals scored during Marleau's 74-game rookie season, the fewest he'd earn in a season — lockout shortened or otherwise — before finishing with 508 during his two decades with the Sharks.
Patty may have been quiet, but he sure liked scoring goals. And while he certainly didn't overstep his bounds as a rookie, Marleau liked to be around the guys, enjoyed the locker room banter, showed his fun side from time to time, and displayed an eagerness for fitness. If you were to compare the future captain to military leaders, Marleau wasn't the George S. Patton type. He was more like Omar Bradley.
And when it came to getting attention? Well, that was another thing, especially early on.
I recall the time when a buddy of former Shark Igor Larionov wanted to start a fan club for Marleau in much the same manner he did for Pavel Bure with the Canucks. Nick Shevchenko was trusted because he was a friend of Igor's, and any friend of Igor's must be legit. He was a big hockey fan working along with his brother, Walter, for Air Canada. We'd see them all the time at the airport, in fact. Shevchenko called Patty's parents to get an okay, even though Marleau was still a little reluctant. But Patty warmed up to the idea and eventually made a number of appearances to sign autographs and mingle with those in his fan club.
Still, you could see this wasn't Patty's thing, and he probably wasn't going to change. Blame Aneroid? How about, "Applaud Aneroid."
The early part of Marleau's outstanding career was marked by slow yet steady ascent into NHL stardom. Twenty-one goals in Year 2, 17 the next, 25 more after that, and 21 in 2001–02 to give Marleau 97 lamplighters in his first 396 games. And let us not forget a perfect 5-for-5 in playoff appearances at the start of his career.
Missing the postseason in 2002–03 created a lot of change. Sutter was fired two months into his disappointing sixth campaign. A housecleaning that included the ousting of Lombardi in favor of longtime NHL All-Star defenseman-turned-hockey-executive Doug Wilson shed a different light on Marleau, especially after captain Owen Nolan was dealt before the 2003–04 campaign.
The Sharks employed a rotating captaincy to start the year under new head man Ron Wilson. But the buck stopped at Marleau after passing through three older vets, who all agreed it was the highly skilled 24-year-old's time.
Marleau matched a career-high 28 goals set the year before in leading San Jose all the way to the conference final against Calgary that first season in which he displayed the C before the Sharks fell short of a first Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Then, after the entire 2004–05 NHL season was lost to labor strife, a funny thing happened a couple months into the 2005–06 campaign. The Sharks were off to a sputtering start, and headed for a 10straight loss, and GM Doug Wilson shook up the hockey world by trading for Joe Thornton. Yes, the very same Jumbo Joe who was the only player selected ahead of Marleau in 1997.
It was a reunion for the ages.
Think about it. Marleau had been following Thornton around for almost his entire career, whether it was during their youth hockey days in Canada, junior international or all-star play, the draft, and even the early part of their NHL careers since they were forever linked as the back-to-back picks at the top of a draft. Now Marleau and former Boston Bruin defenseman Kyle McLaren were on their way to the Buffalo airport on December 1, 2005, to pick up their newest teammate.
Jumbo Joe would pass many a puck to a Sharks teammate who would find the back of the net. But he never found a better one to pass to, or enjoyed assisting more, than Patrick Denis Marleau.
At the time of the trade Marleau was starting to come out of his shell. While his team worked to right the ship, Marleau was sailing to his first of seven 30-plus goal seasons. And now Thornton shows up in his backyard, but instead of shrinking back into a supportive role, Marleau stepped up to give the team a dynamic one-two punch at center ice for many seasons to come before he eventually moved to a wing.
Off the ice, Marleau evolved from that shy teenager into a responsible family man, who reminded people who know the family of his father, Denis. Patty married a local girl, Christina, and the couple had four boys during the second half of his career in San Jose.
The paternal influence was evident at one charity endeavor that in typical Marleau fashion flies under the radar. He chose to have an asphalt parking lot at a San Jose–area school paved for use as a street hockey venue. The school wasn't in the best of neighborhoods, and Patty knew the recreational addition could benefit a number of children.
Marleau enjoyed visiting the site for pictures and autographs. He didn't just show up through. He interacted with each child and showed a genuine interest in each one, crouching down to have private conversations. The kids really looked up to him and almost melted in front of him as he got them to drop their guard. Patty was at complete ease with this kind of celebrity.
There was no escaping the celebrity he earned toward the end of his longstanding tenure in San Jose. In the lead-up to Marleau's last season with the Sharks, they made it to the Stanley Cup Final (only to lose in six games to Pittsburgh). During what would prove to be his 19 and final Sharks season, he reached the magical 500-goal plateau while extending a consecutive-games-played streak to 624 by the end of the 2016–17 campaign.
I'll never forget the night the Sharks eliminated the St. Louis Blues to win the West in 2016. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton were brought to the post-game interview room, and the look on their faces, beaming with pride, was a sight to behold.
The following and final season in San Jose wasn't easy for Patty. He was asked to change lines, centering a third unit and taking on a more defensive role, before the team had scoring needs and he was moved back to a top-six role on the wing. It's a hard thing for a veteran to do sometimes — accepting a role for the betterment of the team. Instead of resisting, he wrapped his arms around it.
Marleau still managed to score 27 goals in the regular season and led the team in goal scoring during a first-round playoff loss to Edmonton. Patty was one of the best, if not the best Shark in that series, never mind that he was 37 years old.
Was I surprised Marleau would depart via free agency? A bit. Was I disappointed? Somewhat, but I was also happy because he could go where he wanted to go, to Toronto. Like many, I wanted to see Marleau finish his illustrious career as a Shark and remember him like they do Stan Mikita in Chicago or Steve Yzerman in Detroit — NHL stars who spent their entire career with one team.
Getting a chance to play in his native Canada with Toronto reminds me of a story one-time broadcast partner Jamie Baker shared. After stops in three other NHL cities, Baker landed in Toronto by the time he was 30. Jamie talks about the first time he put on the Maple Leaf sweater. He left his locker room stall and slipped into the bathroom to see in the mirror how he looked. That's what playing in Canada, especially for the Maple Leafs, means.
And I get a kick out of this: Marleau wears his usual No. 12 in Toronto. Who wore No. 12 when the Leafs won the Cup in 1967? None other than my good friend Pete Stemkowski, the Sharks' radio and television color guy in two stints between 1992 and 2004.
I truly believe Patty Marleau will reach the Hall of Fame. Five hundred goals, 1,000 points, and a game-winning goal against all 29 opponents — before getting a crack against San Jose and expansion Vegas — along with the amazing durability to rarely miss a hockey game is enough for me.
A bull in a china shop. That's how Dean Lombardi described Owen Nolan on October 27, 2005, after the Sharks general manager shipped young defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for the 23-year-old, former No. 1 draft pick. Having shown flashes of what was to come, Nolan was still evolving into the rough and tumble power forward that defied expectations others had of him throughout his early development.
He was a player the Sharks didn't have, yet a player they had to have.
Like so many NHLers, Owen had a fascinating background. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for starters. Only five other players in league history were born in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Fellow Belfast native Jim McFadden was a center and appeared in 412 NHL games for Detroit and Chicago from 1947–54. The other four — Sid Finney, Bobby Kirk, Sammy McManus, and Jack Riley — combined for 228 games in the NHL. Nolan would finish his career with 1,200 on the nose.
Nolan was seven months old when his family relocated to the St. Catharines, Ontario, suburb of Thorold, located not far from Niagara Falls and the US border. Nolan grew up playing baseball and soccer, and did not start skating until the advanced age of 9. But once he got involved in ice hockey, Nolan made big strides.
Nolan played minor hockey for hometown Thorold in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, and after a stint of A hockey for the Thorold Bantam A's he was chosen in the second round in 1988 to play for Cornwall in the Ontario Hockey League. Nolan's skills were on full display with the Royals as he scored 34 goals and piled up 213 minutes at age 16 before producing an eye-popping 51 goals, 111 points, and 240 PIM in just 58 games a year later with Cornwall.
That was enough to convince the Quebec Nordiques to make Nolan the No. 1 overall pick in a 1990 draft that included Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau, Mike Ricci, Jaromir Jagr, and Derian Hatcher in the top 10 of the first round alone.
Bothered by injury, and able to produce only three goals and 13 points in 59 games of his rookie year, Nolan blossomed in his second season, 1991–92. Just 19, Nolan led the Nordiques with 42 goals. We're talking about a Quebec roster that included Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin. Nolan's 73 points were third-most on the team, and he compiled a runner-up-leading 183 penalty minutes in 75 games.
By 1995, and after the franchise relocated to Denver, the newly named Avalanche were on the precipice of a breakthrough. They were loaded with talent, especially up front. What they needed — a scoring threat from the blue line — is exactly what the Sharks had in Sandis Ozolinsh. And the Avs had a dynamic identity-establishing skater San Jose needed.
I'm sure it wasn't easy for Nolan to watch his original franchise march straight to the Stanley Cup Final and hoist the coveted chalice by year's end. It was a harsh education in the business of hockey, and a true-life lesson in the saying you have to give to get.
The Sharks were in transition when Nolan arrived. Actually, it looked more to him like a total reconstruction project as opposed to a rebuild. What Dean was trying to do — as he always tries to do — was build a team you hate to play against. He was just starting to put the pieces together after management had philosophical differences about how to build the franchise.
Owen epitomized the identity Lombardi was trying to establish.
The Sharks were seven games into a season-opening 11-game winless streak when Nolan debuted against Dallas on October 28. The other names on that night's lineup sheet included vets Jamie Baker, Dave Brown, Ulf Dahlen, Craig Janney, Jim Kyte, Kevin Miller, Jeff Odgers, Ray Sheppard, and Jayson More along with a number of San Jose's recent draftees: Jeff Friesen, Ray Whitney, Vlastimil Kroupa, Andrei Nazarov, Shean Donovan, Marcus Ragnarsson, Mike Rathje, and Michal Sykora. Arturs Irbe and Wade Flaherty were the goalies.
In that first home game Nolan played, there was a puck dumped into the right wing corner, and Owen absolutely throttled somebody. And the crowd went crazy. The team needed that. It didn't have that element at all before.
That's why Sandis was traded for him. And Ozie was that one guy the team drafted who turned into the No. 1 defenseman everyone wants. But Ozolinsh had his pluses and minuses. And he definitely helped a very talented Colorado team that was much further along in its development win that Stanley Cup.
Owen had what the Sharks really needed. He had that mean and grumpy disposition on the ice. To use a Brian Burke phrase, Owen had the truculence that you need on a championship team.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "If These Walls Could Talk: San Jose Sharks"
Copyright © 2018 Dan Rusanowsky and Ross McKeon.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Joe Pavelski,
1. The Players,
2. Long Road Trips,
3. Dean and Doug,
4. Coach's Chalkboard,
5. The Parade,
6. Jumbo Trade,
7. The Characters,
8. The Owners,
9. The Playoffs,
10. The Tough Guys,
11. The Bruce Black Story,