Shark merchandise is worn by ghetto kids in Southern California and by adults in rural Alabama. The only thing many owners of Shark hats and jackets have in common is that they've never been to a hockey game. Last July, Advertising Age included the Sharks in its "Marketing 100," an annual compendium of the stars of marketing. If San Jose's hockey people were as good as its marketers, the Sharks might have some teeth.
This season began with a flicker of promise. The Sharks beat the Winnipeg Jets in overtime on opening night—and then dropped nine consecutive games. It didn't help that San Jose had to play seven road games during the skid because of a rodeo at the Cow Palace. Another rodeo will force the Sharks to take a seven-game road trip later this month.
To make matters worse, the team has had little luck. Falloon dislocated his right shoulder against the expansion Ottawa Senators on Jan. 10. He could miss the rest of the season. The only positive note for the Sharks was that they lost that game to the Senators, their primary competition in the so-called Daigle Cup. Alexandre Daigle, a superstar in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is expected to be the first pick in this June's NHL draft.
Injuries, in fact, have haunted the Sharks. They were so banged up before a Jan. 30 game against Calgary that they dressed only 19 players instead of the 20 that teams are allowed to dress. The Sharks, however, had one of their better efforts, losing only 5-4.
Looking for bright spots? Center Kelly Kisio, who for most of his 11 seasons in the league was the quintessential plumber, leads San Jose in scoring. But when asked to recall the Sharks' highlights this season, Kisio thought for about 10 seconds before saying, "Not much in the way of highlights.
Tim Bryant, San Jose's public relations director, has more answers. "Arturs Irbe had the first shutout in franchise history," he says. "And Rob Gaudreau had the first and second hat tricks in franchise history. Of course, we did lose both those games."
Captain Doug Wilson, a 16-year NHL veteran, didn't hesitate when asked for a highlight. "The resiliency the guys showed during our 17-game losing streak," said Wilson. "When things got bad, I've seen guys go into a survival mode, blaming teammates instead of looking in the mirror. It never happened here."
Wilson has also been wowed by the enthusiasm of the fans. Before the Sharks' Feb. 12 game against the Oilers in Edmonton, which came two days after the 13-1 debacle in Calgary, a box containing hundreds of faxes and letters of support arrived in the San Jose dressing room. After every Shark home game—win or lose—as the players trudge into the tunnel, a hundred or so fans line the railing and cheer them. One fan, season-ticket holder Pamela Rankin, exhorts the Sharks with poetry. Posted on the bulletin board outside the San Jose dressing room is a copy of Rankin's "Shark Pride." A sample stanza:
Don't get too upset
When times are tough and you lose,
It's all part of growing
Into that fin of bright teal blue.
Despite that mellifluous advice, goaltender Jeff Hackett did get upset after the Sharks dropped the Feb. 12 game to the Oilers, 6-0, for their record-tying 17th loss in a row. As he left the ice, Hackett mashed his stick against the boards. Kingston, who seldom publicly criticizes his players, described the tantrum as "an unacceptable response" and chewed out Hackett in the dressing room.