SAN JOSE, Calif. - A few months ago, the San Jose Sharks knew they would have a problem when they returned to practice after the Olympic break.
With goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Thomas Greiss playing in the Olympics, coach Todd McLellan knew he wouldn't have a goalie at least for the first couple of practices.
The Sharks reached back into their past to find an answer to that problem, bringing back former San Jose goalie Steve Shields as a practice fill-in Wednesday.
"We knew we'd need a goalie for today," McLellan said. "It's a way to bring a former Shark back and just put him on the ice. It's as simple as that. We needed a goalie, and he was prepared to do it."
Shields, who played three seasons for the Sharks, has been out of the NHL since playing five games for Atlanta in the 2005-06 season.
He hadn't played competitive hockey for three years, spending his time recently developing a Web site, www.icoach.com, that allows coaches and pupils to talk to each other in real time while viewing video on their computers, even if they are thousands of miles away.
He had planned to come to the Bay Area to show Sharks assistant general manager Wayne Thomas his new product, and Thomas told him to throw in his hockey bag.
"He called me a couple of weeks ago and said make sure you're in half-decent shape if we need you," Shields said. "Anything I can do to come out to help some of the guys that are here. It still was my favourite place to play."
So Shields put on the pads and faced some shots from the 11 Sharks who were at the practice. Eight players went to the Olympics, a handful were sent back to the minors and defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is sidelined with a lower body injury.
Shields, who still plays pickup games in the summer with some NHL players, said he has been toying with the idea of a comeback but might think differently after his first practice.
"I don't know after today," he said "I forgot how tiring it is to fall down to your knees 50 times and try to get back up. Right now I'm just playing around."
The only Sharks players on the roster from when Shields last played here in 2001 are Olympians Patrick Marleau and Nabokov. But Shields does know a handful of the current players like captain Rob Blake, who also lives in Southern California, forward Scott Nichol, who was a teammate in the minors with Shields, and forward Jed Ortmeyer, who played at Michigan a few years after Shields left for the pros.
"It took him half a practice, and he got back to normal," Blake said. "I've known Shieldsy for a long time. That's good at least we got a quality goaltender. We don't have a lot of numbers so the coaches have to be very creative in what they do."
With only 11 skaters, the focus the next few days is on fundamentals and getting back into shape after 10 days away from the rink. McLellan called this week a "mini training camp."
"There's only so much you can do with 10 players," he said. "The on-ice part of it is important. But the meetings we have prior to it as well as the review of a lot of video stuff is crucial right now for the players that are here."
This week is especially helpful for newly acquired defenceman Niclas Wallin, who played four games with the team after being acquired in a trade from Carolina. Wallin had never even been to the Sharks practice facility before Wednesday as he joined the team during a six-game road trip before the break.
He is taking this time to get acclimated to a new area and a new team.
"They use a different kind of hockey language here," he said. "They use different phrases. That's the biggest adjustment to get used to. I'm so excited to be here. I'm like a kid in a candy store."
The Olympians will slowly trickle in this week. Greiss was due back later Wednesday after Germany was eliminated by Canada. The rest of the players - Marleau, Nabokov, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle, Joe Pavelski and Douglas Murray - will fly back as soon as their teams are knocked out. McLellan would like to give those players a day or two off if possible, but whoever plays in the gold medal game on Sunday will have to jump right in when they get back.
The Sharks return to game action on March 2 at home against New Jersey. The Western Conference leaders have 20 games remaining in the regular season.