Last night wrapped up the 20th regular season for the San Jose Sharks. They won the Pacific Division for the fourth straight year with 48 wins and 105 points.
The San Jose Sharks are easily my favorite sports franchise. Yeah... I a huge fan of the Packers, Seahawks, Padres, A's, and Lakers... but none of them are from my hometown: San Jose, California.
I've been a fan of the Sharks before I even became a hockey fan. I remember the first season, I didn't even understand the rules of the sport. I only knew that the goal was to shoot the puck into the net.
Here's a ticket stub from one of my first Sharks' games:
This was during The Cow Palace Era... since construction on the San Jose Arena was completed until 1993. Over the years... the San Jose Arena has been referred to by a couple of names: Compaq Center & HP Pavilion... but Sharks fans know it as The Shark Tank.
In their 20 years of existence, the Sharks have made the playoffs 15 times. In 2003-04, they finally reached the Conference Finals, but lost to the Flames over 6 games. Last year, they were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions... the Chicago Blackhawks. It pains me to even write about it.
But this year is different... it's special.
This season has proven to be the ultimate challenge for the Sharks. If you go back to January 13th, the Sharks had dropped their 6th game in a row and were 21-19-5. The loss to the last place Edmonton Oilers was quoted by Coach Todd McLellan as possibly "the worse (loss) one yet".
That night Coach McLellan also stated the following:
"I’m the leader of this team. I’m the coach, and it’s my responsibility to make sure that they’re prepared to play,” McLellan. “After that, it becomes an individual’s responsibility. And, right now, I’m not doing a very good job. So, they need to step up a little bit. I need to a better job and find better buttons to push."
And that's when things started to turn around for the San Jose Sharks. They went on to win 9 of their next 10 games... and 17 of 20.
Since January 13th, the Sharks' record is 27-6-4.
Another thing that makes this season special is the competition. If the Dallas Stars can beat the Minnesota Wild tonight... then Dallas will secure the 8th seed in the playoffs. What's so great about that? Well... it would mean that all five Pacific Division teams will make the playoffs.
I'm not sure how many times all five teams from one division have made the playoffs in the same season... but it sure would be sweet. It also shows you how competitive the Pacific division is. The Sharks had to play each of their division rivals 6 times each.
But if you're a fellow Sharks's fan, then you know that the regular season doesn't matter. The Sharks have routinely made the playoff in eleven out of the the past twelve seasons... each time being knocked out before reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.
This is the first year, I'm not going to let their late season success make me feel optimistic... because it only leads to more heartache. Nope... instead I'm going to appreciate the fact that this season the Sharks have provided an amazing season for their fans.
Several key Sharks players reached key milestones...
January 17th - Patrick Marleau plays in his 1,000th NHL game.
February 19th - Devin Setoguchi scores his first NHL hat trick against the Avalanche.
March 24th - Joe Pavelski scores his 100th career NHL goal against the Kings.
April 8th - Joe Thornton scores his 1000th NHL point against the Coyotes.
The San Jose Sharks organization did a great job celebrating their 20th season. They honored former players by plastering their names around the Shark Tank and playing highlight videos for their fans.
They produced 20th Anniversary bobble heads of some of their fan favorites. Here's a picture of the Jeff Friesen bobble head my ex-girlfriend bought for me:
I also picked up their 20th Anniversary yearbook, which features some of the Sharks legends on their cover:
As usual... the yearbook had player profiles. But in honor of their 20th Anniversary, the paired former players with present players. And as luck would have it... they paired two of my favorite players of all-time together: Jeff Friesen & Devin Setoguchi
So tonight... the NHL will release their playoff schedule and the regular season will be nothing but a thing of the past. I'm not going to get my hopes up... but how awesome would it be for the San Jose Sharks to finally get over the hump and celebrate as Stanley Cup Champions in their 20th Anniversary season.
Win or lose... I'll still be a fan. But I'm not going to lie... when the Packers won the Super Bowl, I was stoked for weeks. If the Sharks win... I might be celebrating for months.
And rightfully so... because it would cap off the perfect season. Because... if they win... that means they'll most likely have to go through a division rival (hopefully the Ducks... I hate them!)... the Detroit (arguably their biggest playoff rival over the years)... and if destiny takes it's course... the best team in the league: the Vancouver Canucks, who are the only team to have 50 wins this season (actually 54 wins) and they had an insane goal differential of "+77". The Canucks scored the most goals this season in the league and allowed the least. They definitely have to be considered the favorites... which is fine with me. Remember what I said earlier... less expectations... less heartache.
So today's your chance to carve your prediction in stone:
Who do you think will bring home the Stanley Cup Trophy this year?
How far do you think the Sharks will go?
And in celebration of their 20th Anniversary:
Who is your all-time favorite San Jose Shark?
Well... you know who I'm pulling for... but I'm a realist. If I were a betting man... I'd have to say the Canucks are going to beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
I do think the Sharks will make it back to the Western Conference Finals and push the Canucks to the limit (maybe even surprise them).
As for my favorite Shark of all-time... I'm going to cheat and pick 2: Jeff Friesen (past) & Devin Setoguchi (present).
Jeff Friesen is one of the nicest players I've ever had the opportunity to meet. He was always willing to sign autographs and would even stand around and chat it up. Owen Nolan was actually my favorite for years, but a bad autograph signing experience changed that and Jeff easily replaced him.
As for Devin... I like him because he's part Japanese... and I collect Japanese players.
Well... sorry for the crazy long post. Hopefully I didn't bore anyone and waste a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Sayonara!