They’ve high-sticked my heart…

Ugh, some days I wish I followed a sport other than hockey. Take today, for instance.

Patrick Marleau was just dispatched to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. Marleau’s return to the San Jose Sharks was one of the few comforts fans could take in a bafflingly torturous season, so this development seems especially cruel. (Yes, of course I’m sorry to see Barclay Goodrow go, too. Nevertheless, I think even Goodrow would understand that it’s not quite the same.)

Bear in mind, I’d already spent most of the day trying to comprehend this news item. All I will say is: Miracle on Ice guys, what the hell?

Perhaps I will feel more eloquent regarding these subjects at another time (probably not). Hope your day is better…

In Praise of Jonathan Cheechoo

I’m generally a patient person, slow to rile and evenhanded in my opinions. (Stop snickering, Mom.) Nevertheless, a few topics always set me off. I was infuriated that, following Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch’s death in 2012, not a single evening news program mentioned his musical innovation or humanitarian efforts, but EVERY STINKING ONE showed a clip of him spitting beer in the “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” video from 1986. (I cheered myself up by imagining MCA’s friend the Dalai Lama setting them straight.) What else will get an earful from me? Sports articles calling Jonathan Cheechoo’s 56-goal 2005-06 season a strange, wonderful blip on a supposedly lackluster NHL career.

Nearly nine years after Cheechoo’s final game with the San Jose Sharks, he remains one of the team’s top ten scorers, top five in power-play goals and game-winning goals. His record-setting nine hat tricks for the Sharks (five in one season) remain an unassailable fact:

People conveniently forget the shudder-inducing injuries that cut his NHL days short. He suffered a brutal knee-to-knee hit in Game One of the 2007 playoff series against the Nashville Predators. Cheechoo was still the leading goal scorer for the Sharks that year, one season after winning the Rocket Richard trophy as the league’s leading scorer. There was also the double sports hernia so grisly that Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson expressed amazement that Cheechoo could walk, let alone play hockey. But play hockey he did. His post-Sharks career included a trade to the Ottawa Senators, stints with four AHL teams, and four years overseas in the KHL.

Yesterday, Jonathan Cheechoo announced his retirement from hockey after sixteen seasons. Today one article (not linking to it, sorry) opined that he’s likely to become a footnote in NHL lore. Let me see. Cheechoo is a former NHL All-Star, and a legendary figure in Sharks franchise history. The second Indigenous player to win the Richard, he remains strongly involved with the Little Native Hockey Tournament, and is considered a role model for youth players to this day. Hailing from tiny, remote Moose Factory, Ontario, he fulfilled his dream while strengthening ties to his community. Joe Thornton still proclaims Cheechoo the best hockey player with whom he’s played.

Don’t know about you, but that all sounds pretty significant to me. Congratulations, Cheech!

2017 San Jose Sharks Holiday Video

The San Jose Sharks’ annual video has become a holiday tradition, and this year’s model is entirely animated. (It took me a while to recognize defenseman Brenden Dillon, but I admire the accurate rendering of Joe Pavelski’s slightly red beard.) The tone is gently amusing rather than hilarious. Nevertheless, highlights include a sly nod to Herb Brooks, a cameo by Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s rescue dogs, and Tomas Hertl’s sweetly believable turn as an enthusiastic cartoon sidekick:

Brent Burns wins the Norris Trophy!

On Wednesday night, Brent Burns became the first San Jose Sharks player to win the NHL’s James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the league’s top defenseman. (“What about former Sharks player and current Sharks general manager Doug Wilson?” you ask. He won the award in 1982, with the Blackhawks.) While I personally thought Burns should have won the award last year as well (then, he was a first-time nominee who lost to LA’s Drew Doughty), his 2016-17 statistics were incredibly impressive. He scored 29 goals and 47 assists in 82 regular-season games, leading the league’s defensemen in goals and points. He also had his best defensive showing ever, with a plus-minus rating of plus-19.

It’s been a stressful couple of months for San Jose Sharks fans, with the team’s unusually horrific injuries leading to a first-round playoff exit. With the NHL draft in full swing and the free agency period looming, the offseason promises to be intense. Nevertheless, there are a lot of things to look forward to next season, and a brand new reason to celebrate. Congratulations, Brent Burns!

Team USA wins the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship!

The victory was even more hard-won off the ice. The US women had confronted USA Hockey about its unequal treatment of the men’s and women’s teams, threatening to boycott the event unless the contracts were renegotiated. The men’s team had been receiving better pay and benefits, even though many members already get much bigger salaries from their NHL teams. Also, the women’s team had received much less publicity and media support. (I’m a diehard hockey viewer who tries to follow several leagues. Even I didn’t know that the US women’s team had won four IIHF gold medals over the past five years, and reached the medal podium in all five Olympic appearances. I’d imagine that casual sports fans might not know the US women’s hockey team exists.) The team successfully negotiated a new four-year contract, then had to jump into the tournament with little to no practice. A 5-3 win over Finland and an 11-0 win over Germany led to the championship game Friday night against Team Canada. The game featured what may be the most intense overtime period I’ve seen in hockey, boasting terrifyingly fast end-to-end rushes and brilliant saves from Canada’s Shannon Szabados and the US’s Nicole Hensley. Then came the Americans’ Hilary Knight…

“That is real hockey,” my mother said after the game. I can’t put it any better than that. Fierce stick taps to the Canadians for being more-than-worthy opponents, and heartfelt congratulations to the very cool Team USA women!

1,000 career assists for Joe Thornton!

Patrick Marleau’s career milestones have been a frequent topic on this blog. His equally accomplished San Jose Sharks teammate Joe Thornton was not to be outdone last night. In a 3-2 Sharks victory over the Winnipeg Jets, Thornton assisted on Joe Pavelski’s game-winning empty-net goal. Thus, he became only the 13th player (over 100 years of NHL history) to notch 1,000 assists in his career. (Yet, somehow, the NHL didn’t see fit to place Thornton or Marleau on the list of 100 all-time NHL greats announced earlier this year. Don’t get me started…)

An Ageless Wonder Has A Night For The Ages

Conventional wisdom says that the NHL is a league suited for rookies, and that a nineteen-year veteran’s best days on the ice are likely behind him. (Obviously, these naysayers never heard of Gordie Howe, but that’s another post entirely.) It’s true that 37-year-old Patrick Marleau has racked up many career milestones, including two Olympic gold medals for Team Canada. Nevertheless, in the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche last night, Marleau had the best offensive performance of his career thus far. He became the oldest NHL player to score four goals in a single period, and only the 12th to do so in NHL history. Consider that he scored on each shot he took in the third, and the achievement is even more impressive:

After scoring a natural hat trick (plus one) the night before, Marleau managed to net the game-winning goal against the Winnipeg Jets tonight. With two more tallies, he’ll reach 500 goals in his career. Of course, Patty took it all in stride:

[Update on 2/2/17: Patrick Marleau scored his 500th goal tonight in Vancouver!]

San Jose Sharks 2016 Holiday Video

On Friday the San Jose Sharks debuted a Secret Santa-themed homage to The Office, the latest in their long-running series of annual holiday videos. While I was fairly surprised that avowed Office buffs Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau don’t appear in this one, the concept works pretty well. (Appropriately, the chosen Sharks play the material much straighter than in previous years. Forward Chris Tierney and goalie Martin Jones are particularly deadpan.) Just when you think “Hmm, this is starting to drag,” Tomas Hertl and Tommy Wingels bring it home with…well, just watch. Happy holidays, everybody!


College Club Ice Hockey, Part One: Stanford vs. UC Berkeley in The Big Freeze

Most people know that the Bay Area is home to the current Western Conference Champion NHL team, the San Jose Sharks. Some can tell you about the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, and various youth hockey teams playing everywhere from Santa Rosa to Santa Clara. I’d be willing to bet, however, that many fans don’t know that they can watch live college hockey here. While local universities aren’t in the NCAA varsity system, many schools embrace the DIY spirit with club ice hockey teams (mainly funded by the players themselves, community donations, and merchandise sales). If you attended college here, it’s likely that your alma mater is fielding a team right now. This post will be the first in a series about the local college club ice hockey teams. Since the Big Game takes place next Saturday, I’ll begin with Stanford, Cal, and their other major match of the week.

My first hockey game happened to be a Stanford-Berkeley tilt during my sophomore year. Since Stanford doesn’t have an ice rink on campus (for reasons that escape me), Josh, Ginny, and I had to head to Redwood City Ice Oasis to watch. We got lost, and missed the first two periods. Eventually, I got to watch my dormmate Sami Jo Small backstop the Cardinal to victory. (The campus had no women’s hockey team, and at the time Small attracted a lot of press for being a female goalie on a men’s team. Her stellar play netted her the MVP Award for the Pac-8 Conference that year. Small went on to become a three-time Olympian with Team Canada, an IIHF gold medalist, and a 2014 Clarkson Cup champion.) I was so enthusiastic about the live hockey experience that I called home when I arrived back at the dorm late that night, waking my parents up in the process.

Stanford and Cal have continued their club ice hockey rivalry, which culminates in the annual Big Freeze. During Big Game Week, Cardinal and Golden Bear fans can distract themselves from pursuit of the Axe by following the puck instead. This year’s edition starts at 9 p.m. this Thursday, November 17, at Sharks Ice on 519 18th Street, Oakland. Admission is free, and Cal fans can participate in the raffle for two team jerseys. (Stanford’s hockey website hasn’t been updated in a while, but I’m sure there’s something planned for devotees of the Cardinal.) Visit this page for more information about the game.