When we meet for coffee near his Calgary office Scott Sharples is taking a short break from his duties at a commercial real estate firm. His days are pressure-filed because he knows his clients, who require productive office space stay in business, are depending on him. It’s a familiar feeling for the former goalie. Often he is required to find imaginative solutions to problems.
Sharples thrives in the business world, fueled by the competition that only a few fully acknowledge. Even among the handful who are truly competitive Sharples stands out, and he traces that drive directly back to a night 18 years ago, when he went toe to toe with hockey’s elite. How he honed his competitive spark is among the business secrets Sharples will reveal as we sit down at a table just inside the door of an eclectic little cafe called Bumpy’s.
Dressed in a conservative suit with a striped tie that complements his finely checked shirt, Sharples is very much the business executive. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, for several years he still considered himself a hockey player, even though a briefcase had long ago replaced his stick and his skates had become dress shoes. That was during what he calls his “mourning period” -- the time just after hockey. But Sharples no longer mourns. Now he credits hockey for giving him an edge in business.
When my son told me his friend Grayson’s dad played goal for the Calgary Flames I dismissed it as schoolyard story-telling, because I had never heard of Scott Sharples before. But it was no lie. Sharples had the briefest career possible, but he played. CTV Calgary Sports Director Glenn Campbell, who has documented the Flames’ highs and lows since the team entered the NHL, has almost no recollection of Sharples. As he thumbs through old media guides, trying to draw out a memory, Campbell tells me “I remember his name, but that’s about it!” Sharples, who admits his NHL story is “obscure” would not have been surprised.
When Sharples was informed that he was being called up to the NHL he was a member of the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, a Flames’ farm team in the International Hockey League.
He was under no illusions; Sharples knew the Flames weren’t sold on him yet. The team had other reasons. He remembers hockey legend Glenn Hall, his goaltending coach, suggesting – jokingly - he refuse the assignment as a way to stick it to Flames Management for their apparent willingness to gamble with the 24-year-old’s career.
Skating onto NHL ice, with the limited skill set Sharples had at the time, would make his future very uncertain. But Sharples insisted on playing, telling Hall “it might be my only chance.”
Sharples’ big league debut was on the 16th of April, 1992 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. He knew exactly why he was there. It had nothing to do with the Flames or the Canucks, and everything to do with two other NHL teams: the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, which wouldn’t begin play until the following season.
Two months after that game on the west coast the NHL conducted an expansion draft. The Ducks and Panthers needed players and they got them from the other teams in the league. Teams could protect their best players, but they were required to make the rest available, and that included goaltenders. To be eligible for the draft goalies had to play at least one game. And so that was why, on the final game of the season, Sharples was standing on the ice listening to Oh Canada and trying to control his nerves: the Flames wanted to expose him.
Second Period: Visualization
Sharples sips his coffee and takes a trip back in time. He tells me he remembers flying into Vancouver mid afternoon and heading to the team’s hotel for the mandatory pre-game nap. He doesn’t sleep because he is busy visualizing the night ahead. In his mind he is watching images of himself deflecting shots and catching pucks in mid air. He is turning fluidly, crouching and releasing the puck, which slides gently and slowly on the ice, nearly stopping as a defenseman retrieves it and passes it crisply forward.
Visualizing, his second secret, is a trick that he uses to this day: planning, plotting, and practicing in his imagination events that have yet to happen. He tells me his ability to visualize is so acute he often arrives at the office and parks his car with the business day already mapped out in his brain. But today Sharples is looking back. During warm-up he is “extremely nervous” as his new NHL teammates take practice shots. When the puck drops he begins to calm down and focus.
Third Period: Focus
“It was so much faster,” he tells me across the table. “And not just the skating, the transitions were fast. Coming out of the zone the passes were tape to tape.” He recalls going face to face with the Russian Rocket. “I remember Pavel Bure coming in on me really fast and scoring, making me look like a fool.” He also remembers Geoff Courtnall hitting him so hard with his shoulder he wasn’t sure if he would get any feeling back. The play-by-play crew broadcasting the game had trouble deciding whether the unknown Flames net-minder should be called “Scott” or “Warren,” his actual first name. Along with Bure, three other Canucks found the back of Sharples’ net. Theoren Fleury and Joe Nieuwendyk were among the Flames goal scorers. For everyone else the results of the game didn’t really matter because the Flames had already missed the playoffs and the Canucks were already in. But there was a lot on the line for Sharples and he was trying to impress.
During the entire game Sharples focuses intensely. The crowd is just a dull roar in the background. Every sense, every synapse, every breath, every blink has one purpose: to stop the puck from getting behind him. That is the third secret that Sharples’ business colleagues and opponents are unaware of. It’s not just paying attention, it is so very much more. When required the former goalie is able to summon that same singular focus that he had on the ice in Vancouver. At the end of regulation time the score is tied. Sharples had let in four goals, but so had the two Vancouver goalies that shared duty at the other end of the ice.
The game went to overtime. What was supposed to have been a 60 minute assignment became 65 minutes. When I ask if there was a sense of dread in OT -- that he might let in a goal and lose his only game, he produces an answer that becomes the fourth business lesson I take from our chat. “I didn’t look at it that way!” The reply surprises me. A single mistake could end the game, but to Sharples it was an opportunity. “I didn’t think about letting in a goal, I thought about the stops I could make that would save the game.” There is a fine line between fear and accomplishment, and Sharples teaches me perspective makes all the difference. It’s secret number four. Will that boardroom decision cripple the company or lead to greater prosperity? It all depends on your perspective.
No one scored in o-t, and so the game ended in a draw. It was 13 years before the league introduced game-deciding shoot-outs, so when the horn sounded it signaled the end of the game and season. He didn’t win, but he didn’t lose either. On a night when a dream was both realized and snatched away the result seemed fitting. Sharples flew to Calgary with the rest of the Flames, thinking he could have and should have done more to get noticed. Then he was put on another plane, this one back to Utah and the minor leagues. He never played another game in the NHL.
His coffee cup has been empty for several minutes, but just like the game we had been talking about so intensely, our meeting is going into extra time. Sharples wants to make it clear he holds no ill will toward hockey and is grateful for his cameo with the game’s elite. He credits his one game NHL hockey career with giving him unique skills that he has taken to the business world. Hockey also paid for his education: a liberal arts degree at the University of Michigan which he attended on scholarship, and played for the legendary Wolverines. He never got the long NHL career that he had dreamed of but he did get a taste.
“Thousands of people would give their left arm to play one game in the NHL.” He pauses and reflects. “But to get that close...”
Post Game Analysis: Look on the Bright Side
There are no souvenirs from that night in April of ’92. In the excitement and blur of it all Sharples neglected to keep his Flames jersey. A few years later his wife Terese was able to get a copy of the game video from the Flames, something he calls an “amazing gift.” But he couldn’t bring himself to watch it. Then one day he returned home from the office, and Grayson and his sister Katherine were in front of the TV. “Look dad, we’re watching you in the NHL!” So he sat and watched for a while, thinking that the figure on the screen was all herky-jerky, and no where near as fluid as the goalie in the movies in his mind. Grayson has helped his dad embrace hockey again. They play together in the driveway, and Sharples coaches his son’s hockey team. The focus is fun. Sharples doesn’t push too hard because he was able to see how “freakishly good” a player has to be to turn pro.
On the sidewalk outside the coffee shop we’re still talking, and Sharples reveals what might be his most important insight: to look on the bright side of every disappointment. Competitiveness, visualization, focus, and perspective are all great lessons. But to me secret number five - positivity - is the best. “What was really special is that Terese was there with me in Salt Lake when I got the call. That was something.” He enjoyed his trip back in time, but he has to get back to the office and the business world. He leaves with one more nugget that proves to me he has made peace with it all. “You know, I do hold one Flames record,” he says with a wry smile. “I’m their only undefeated goalie!”