Work in Sports
PACIFIC DIVISION |
3 San Jose Sharks
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 11
By Kostya Kennedy
Despite failing to muster a winning season in their nine-year existence, the Sharks fill the San Jose Arena to some 99% of capacity year after mediocre year -- and it's not just because Silicon Valley mints millionaires @ broadband speed. The Sharks have hooked hordes of teal-clad faithful with a few sensational playoff upsets, including last spring's first-round thriller in which they upended the No. 1-seeded Blues. San Jose has also portrayed itself as a fresh team with a bright future. That future may be at hand.
"You can feel the confidence in the room," says left wing Scott Thornton, who signed as a free agent after going to the finals with the Stars last season. "I think everyone in hockey knows this team has a very strong nucleus."
Thornton is a 6'3", 216-pound bruiser, and he can help empower that nucleus by relieving the physical pressure on rugged right wing Owen Nolan, one of the game's most impassioned leaders. Nolan followed an inspiring 44-goal, 110-penalty-minute season with eight goals in 10 postseason games while playing with a torn stomach muscle. The 28-year-old Nolan, who at week's end was not with the team because of a contract impasse, is revered as a mighty elder by the 25-and-under forwards at the core of this team.
Superbly conditioned left wing Jeff Friesen, 24, sweet-skating center Patrick Marleau, 21, and tenacious two-way forwards Marco Sturm, 22, and Niklas Sundstrom, 25, are all former first-round draft picks who appear on the verge of raising their play to new heights. "In the past when we've talked about this team really putting it together, this is the year we've had in our minds," says Steve Shields, who for the first time starts the season as the Sharks' first-string goaltender. Management felt so confident that Shields was ready to be the No. 1 guy that it traded veteran netminder Mike Vernon last December. Shields (27-30-8 with a 2.56 goals-against average) played unevenly down the stretch but was outstanding against the Blues, particularly in winning Games 3 and 4 at home.
The Shark Tank was rollicking for those games, and some fans in the stands even toted faux Stanley Cups. The Sharks -- still vulnerable on defense -- aren't ready to win the real thing, but they should, at long last, give fin fans a winning team.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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