PENTICTON, British Columbia -- Retiring after 16-plus seasons in the NHL, Mike Ricci still had ice in his veins.
So when San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson contacted and offered him a role with the organization he'd spent seven memorable seasons with, the decision was an easy one.
"You don't really know how much you're going to miss the game until you leave it altogether," Ricci said. "I loved hockey and knew I wanted to stay involved in some capacity. Retirement wasn't easy, but Doug and the Sharks were gracious enough to offer me an opportunity to remain a Shark for a little while longer.
"I couldn't say no."
Ricci is the team's development coach, which means he's playing a pivotal role at the Young Stars Classic. Working closely alongside Sharks coach Todd McLellan and the scouting staff, Ricci is on the ice instructing players and providing them with instant feedback on how to improve.
With his long, flowing hair and unmistakable grin at the head of the whiteboard, the longtime fan-favorite is in his element.
"It's been going good and the guys are having a blast," Ricci said. "We would have liked to have had a little more success on the scoreboard (3-2 and 5-3 losses to Vancouver and Winnipeg, respectively), but the guys are working hard and they're doing everything they can to win. They're certainly not playing for show. Once they put on that sweater, it's a war and they're battling their hearts out.
"We're all proud of the effort and with that in our back pocket, execution will come -- either now in our final game against the Flames or as we head into main camp."
Despite playing in 59 career postseason games with the Sharks, Ricci never did win the Stanley Cup in San Jose. It's his one regret.
"I want to do whatever I can to help the team get to where it wants to go, and that's to win it all," he said. "I couldn't do it as a player, but hopefully I can help out and make that dream come true in this capacity. That's why we and the other teams put so much emphasis on this tournament. You might have the greatest NHL team in the world, but these are the players that will be guiding the ship down the road.
"We're limited in the amount of practice time we have, but we're doing everything we can to balance what we have with skill development and system work. The one thing we can control is what kind of message the players are getting from us. We don't want to overwhelm them with too much information. We don't want them to think too much; we want to give them the best opportunity to shine."
Ricci lives in San Jose, but visits the Sharks' American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester, Mass., about once a month. Many of the players under his watch at the Young Stars Classic will end up playing there this coming season.
While a total of 24 Sharks prospects are participating here in Penticton, all eyes are on Mirco Mueller, a Swiss-born defenseman chosen with the 18th pick at the 2013 NHL Draft.
"He's a great kid," Ricci said. "He's a great skater and is one of the most intelligent young defensemen I've ever seen. But more importantly, he wants to learn and as a coach, those are the qualities you love to see in young players. It's been a short week with a lot of information passed back and forth, but fans should be excited about this young prospect. I think he has a bright future in this game and he definitely wants to be a big part of what we're building here."
Mueller spent the 2012-13 season with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, finishing second among rookie defensemen after scoring six goals and 31 points in 63 regular-season games.
He was injured in the first game of the five-team tournament and did not dress Sunday against the Calgary Flames, but should be good to go when main training camp kicks off later this week in San Jose.
"He got banged up a little bit, but he skated [Sunday] for the first time since and that's definitely a good sign," Ricci said. "It was an unfortunate play (a cross-check by Vancouver Canucks prospect Hunter Shinkaruk), but it happens. We're glad it's not a long-term thing and we can move forward with a healthy group.
"I'm looking forward to watching him compete. There's a reason our scouts brought him into our organization. He plays a simple game, does it effectively and makes those around him better. He has an excellent combination of size (6-foot-3 and 184 pounds), skill, skating ability and intelligence. I have no doubt he'll continue to develop and become a very strong prospect for this organization.
"But, honestly, after seeing all the talent on display here this week, that can be said for a number of young players in our system. It's an exciting time."
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