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Upon retiring in 1990, Fox became L.A.'s director of community relations. His portfolio included youth hockey, suddenly very popular in SoCal. At the first hockey camp they worked, Fox and his wife had to help 70 or 80 youngsters get into their equipment, donated by the Kings. "They didn't know how to put it on," he recalls. "We literally had to dress them."
Similar confusion and excitement would soon take hold in the Bay Area. In their first two seasons, 1991--92 and '92--93, the Sharks were consigned to the ancient and malodorous Cow Palace in Daly City, best known for annually hosting the Grand National Rodeo. Both the venue and its new tenant stunk. In their second campaign San Jose redefined the term sophomore slump, losing 71 of 84 games. Most weren't close. "After taking a 1--0 lead over the Calgary Flames," reads one clipping from that season, "the Sharks lapsed briefly, yielding 13 goals."
And yet, by every measure other than its record, the team was a smashing success. Most Sharks games were sellouts. San Jose sold $150 million of teal-colored merchandise that season, more than any team in the NHL, by far. "With all the corporate support they had coming in," says Ferreira, who served as the team's first G.M., "you knew hockey was going to be a home run in that city."
The team hit its stride in Year 3. Coach George Kingston was replaced by Kevin Constantine, who guided his band of cast-offs and unproven youngsters into the playoffs. It helped immensely that the Sharks had by then moved into their gleaming new quarters, the 17,190-seat San Jose Arena (renamed the HP Pavilion in 2002), a.k.a. the Shark Tank. Somewhat surprisingly, given San Jose's reputation for politeness and high-tech geekery, the Tank turned out to be one of the loudest, most inhospitable pits in the league. To get to the ice from the visitors' dressing room, teams are forced to embark on a virtual pilgrimage. Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman in particular was vexed by the building's labyrinthine passages. Twice during Detroit's first-round playoff loss to the Sharks in 1994 he inadvertently locked himself in subterranean rooms, forcing him to pound on doors and call out for assistance, which explained the appearance of this sign held up by a fan at the Shark Tank:
IT'S SCOTTY BOWMAN!
San Jose's highly capable general manager from 1996--97 to 2002--03 was Dean Lombardi. The Sharks fired him for failing to get the team into the playoffs despite the fact that San Jose had improved its point total in each of the previous seven seasons.
His successor was Doug Wilson, a former Norris Trophy--winning defenseman with the Blackhawks, who brought a reputation for square dealing and a willingness to swing for the fences: In 2005, he sent three young players to the Bruins for center Joe Thornton. True, Thornton and the Sharks flamed out in the Western Conference finals in 2010 and '11. But, hey—at least they made it to the final four. By building a consistent winner, by dealing fairly with players, San Jose is known around the league as a great place to play. "You can't bulls--- a hockey player," says Wilson. "They talk to each other; they know the truth."
Wilson's compulsion to speak the truth cost the Sharks $100,000 over the weekend. After knocking Kings center Jarret Stoll out of L.A.'s 2--0 win in Game 1 with a violent hit, San Jose forward Raffi Torres was suspended for the balance of the series. Wilson argued that the check did not violate the NHL's hit-to-the-head rule and that his player was being punished for past behavior. The NHL's riposte: That'll be a hundred large for the "inappropriate nature of the comments." That bit of bad news was offset by the Sharks' 2--1 OT win in Game 3 last Saturday night.