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Pavelski thanks coaches, they thank him

by John McGourty /

San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski has drawn comparisons to former NHL forward Pat Verbeek in size, intensity and hard-working style of play.
Joe Pavelski video highlights
"The Little Ball of Love" just won't cut it as a hockey nickname, so Joe Pavelski and his San Jose Sharks' teammates are going to have to find another way to describe the second-year center with the knack for scoring goals in the "dirty areas."

Pavelski's teammates were asked to described Pavelski's skills and what intangibles he brings to the team. As they did, a listener was reminded of Pat Verbeek, the little spitfire who scored 522 goals from 1982-2002, most of them from within 10 feet of the net. Verbeek played with an edge and earned the nickname, "The Little Ball of Hate."

Verbeek and Pavelski are very similar in size. Pavelski is an inch taller at 5-foot-10, and they're both 190 pounders. Comparisons between honored veterans and raw youngsters are odious, but can help a reader to understand a younger player's mode of play.

"I like Joe's intensity and the way he drives the net," said veteran Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren. "He gets in front of the net. He doesn't score too many goals from the corners or coming down the lane. His goals come from a five-foot radius around the net. He's a battler and he comes from a great family. He's a solid, hard-working blue-collar worker who goes in and gets dirty."

"Joe is a hard worker and he loves playing hockey," veteran forward Mike Grier said. "He comes to the rink early every day and gets right out on the ice for practice. He loves to shoot pucks. He forechecks very hard, doesn't back down from anyone and goes to the front of the net. For a smaller guy, who stands in there and takes a beating and gets his goals from in close."

When they finished, they were told it sounded like they were describing Verbeek.

"Hmmmm. He could be. Maybe a younger one. He could get there," McLaren said. "Give him a few more years to mature a little more and define his exact role, but I see spurts of that kind of ability. He's a good hockey player with a tremendous sense of where to be at all times and he works his butt off all the time."

"Yes, a little bit. They're both good with shots from right around the net," Grier said. "Pavelski doesn't play with the same edge that Pat did. Verbeek could get a little nasty from time to time. Both of them work or worked hard every night and were willing to stick their nose in there and pay the price. Both stick up for their teammates and are very scrappy."

Pavelski has an incredible record for winning at every level. He was the top player among boys his age in youth -hockey around Plover, Wisc. He led Stevens Point High School to the state championship, won it all with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL and stole the pucks that led to both goals in the University of Wisconsin's 2-1 victory against Boston College in the 2006 NCAA Frozen Four.

"Joey stood out all through youth hockey," said former Stevens Point coach Jack Stoskopf. "As a freshman, he was never the most skilled player. I had players who were faster, but I never had a player who saw the rink the way Joe did. He has a unique awareness and he's in the right place all the time because he has a knack for knowing what's developing.

"Joey -- that's how he's always been known here -- always had an extremely accurate shot as a result of shooting at a big piece of 4x8 in his driveway. His dad, Mike, always set up an outdoor rink in the backyard even though it's only two blocks to the outdoor rink in town. Joey spent so much time on those rinks.

"They live near me and they are the most wholesome, down-home family," Stoskopf said. "They were raised with a great amount of discipline. The expectations for the kids to succeed academically and socially were greater than athletically. The level of respect they show adults, teachers and coaches is something you don't often see. Their mom, Sandy, is probably the toughest, but nicest, person you've ever met, unless you cross Mike. They are really good people."

Stoskopf was a highly successful coach, but he quit after Pavelski's freshman season when his son was born. The team slipped the next year and the new coach moved on. Pavelski called Stoskopf and talked him into returning. They won the state championship.

"My teams had lost the state championship three of the four years before I retired the first time," Stoskopf said. "Then, in a year when we didn't have the best players ever, we finally won the state. Joe left for Waterloo as a senior and it was the right move for him."

You don't get these stories from Pavelski. He's too busy handing credit to others. Both Stoskopf and P.K. O'Handley, the coach and general manager at Waterloo, agree that sounds like Pavelski.

Pavelski was told that it's rare for a seventh-round draft pick to basically skip over the minor leagues -- he played only 16 games for AHL Worcester a year ago.

"I think it's because I've always had good coaching," Pavelski said. "I played high school hockey at Stevens Point for Jack Stoskopf for a couple of years and worked hard there. Then I went to the Waterloo Black Hawks and coach P.K. O'Handley in the USHL and his assistant Chris Tok and found a great situation there. I got some confidence pretty early by scoring a few goals right away and I got more ice time. I learned a lot of the parts of a more detailed game. We did a little video there and that helped.

"Then I went to Wisconsin and had a couple more great coaches. We watched a lot of video and my coaches, Mike Eaves and Troy Ward, who previously coached the Pittsburgh Penguins, explained a lot to me. It was great to listen to them and watch video with them and find out what they wanted from me and what it is like at the next level.

"I had a great relationship with P.K. O'Handley and I still talk, at least once a week. I keep in touch with Troy Ward all the time, too. It's fun. I have great relationships with them and we talk about what I need to do to be successful. It always comes down to work hard. Your health is important, but the big thing is to stay on top of things and take care of the details."

"Once a week? How about almost daily," O'Handley said. "He's like my own son. He has great parents and I'm honored to be like a second father to Joe. His brother, Scott, plays here now and lives with us. The families are very close. Joe is a special kid. We didn't have much success here before I got here, but it has had a lot more to do with Joe. He transforms a locker room in the way he approaches the game, the way he is as a human being and teammate. Then he backs it up with his play.

"Joe has the unique ability to find the puck in a scoring situation. He's committed enough to do the things to get the puck and then he's got vision in traffic like no one I have ever seen and I'm old enough to have seen the great ones. He's just got it and it's going to keep him in the league for a long time."

Pavelski had two solid seasons at the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers defeated Boston College after trailing 1-0. Pavelski stole a puck from Brian Boyle that led to Robbie Earl's tying goal and fed Tom Gilbert for the third-period championship goal.

"He's very smart with great hockey sense and you can see that." -- coach Ron Wilson
"He set up the winning goal in Waterloo's championship," O'Handley said. "He pretty much carried Wisconsin to their championship."

"He played for (coach) Mike Eaves at Wisconsin so that was a great place for him to play," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "Mike had a great NHL career and has coached in the NHL as well. He helped Joe appreciate the defensive side of things which most NHL people understand as being very important in your development."

Wilson said the Sharks aren't surprised that he made it to the NHL so quickly and assumed an important role.

"We thought highly of Joe. That's why management was willing to sign him," Wilson said. "If he wasn't ready to play, we would have left in school. You don't want someone to come out and hatch the egg before it's ready. We thought he was ready. He's done a really good job. He's a heady player. He has to use his head because he's not the biggest or fastest guy out there. He's very smart with great hockey sense and you can see that."

"I went to the Wisconsin championship game and I was absolutely thrilled," O'Handley said. "When he wins the Stanley Cup, I hope I'm there because it won't surprise me at all."

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