Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks have shared many firsts.
In 1991, Wilson was a member of the first Sharks team. He was there when the Sharks played their first game against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 4, 1991, and there the next night when the Sharks played their first game on home ice against those same Canucks.
Scoresheet from Sharks' first-ever franchise win vs.
Flames on Oct. 8, 1991 (Click to enlarge) Photo: NHL
He was there Oct. 8 when the Sharks won their first game against the Calgary Flames, 4-3, at Cow Palace in Daly City, Calif., where they played their home games their first two seasons; Wilson assisted on the first goal of the game. Wilson was the Sharks' first captain and their first representative in an NHL All-Star Game.
So it's only fitting that 22 years after he retired from his playing career, Wilson is Sharks general manager when they host their first outdoor game, the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21 (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2).
"It's truly a celebration of not just California hockey, but in particular, Northern California hockey," Wilson told NHL.com. "To think that we're going to have a game here in February with 70,000 people is incredible.
"The excitement around the game, the support this franchise has always had from our community and our fans. It's truly a celebration for all those people who supported this team, all the people, some that aren't with the franchise anymore, but really worked hard at it to get us to this point."
Since Wilson took over as GM on May 13, 2003, the Sharks have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs every season.
"We have high expectations, and we don't apologize for that," Wilson said.
In Wilson's 10-plus seasons as GM, the Sharks are 487-249-97 with 12 ties. Like most new franchises, though, that success took a while to come by. In Wilson's two seasons as a player, the Sharks were 28-129-7. Where the Sharks have arrived is the culmination of years of hard work and patience, which has helped mold them into what they are today.
"I was able to choose the team I came to, and what they offered to me was something really unique," said Wilson, who was traded to San Jose from the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the Sharks' inaugural season. "To be in the ground floor and almost be like a bunch of pioneers to come out and help create this organization."
Hockey in Northern California, and more so professional hockey, was a brand-new concept. The 1991-92 Sharks faced challenges that included reaching a new fan base and forging an off-ice relationship.
"The thing I remember is just how excited people were for hockey there," said Brian Lawton, who played for the Sharks during their first two seasons. "I had played [in Northern California] with the Minnesota North Stars for an exhibition, but it didn't have nearly the same flavor."
What the Sharks attempted to do, according to Wilson, was become a part of the community, especially before they moved to San Jose and what is now called SAP Center in 1993. Cow Palace sold out all 82 games played there despite being located more than 40 miles away from where the Sharks currently call home.
"They just did a lot of things right in the early going there, and it has paid off," said Lawton, who was GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008 to 2010 and recalled his first trip to SAP Center in his post-playing career. "It's full circle, I'm there for the first game, I'm retired, and I'm the GM for another club.
"I walked over [to the arena] with a few guys from our staff and I was just blown away by what the Sharks had grown into. I felt like every restaurant, bar, hotel, you name it, every place was buzzing about the San Jose Sharks.
"This game is a nice culmination of that."
The Sharks are a perennial contender. No one has perhaps been more linked to that journey than Wilson, who endured the bad to help orchestrate the good.
"The understanding and the commitment that so many people put in, and knowing the history and the journey of the franchise has probably helped," said Wilson of his time as GM. "One of the reasons that we were so sensitive to bringing back the people that were so important in the history of this franchise, like the Evgeni Nabokovs, and Owen Nolans, and Mike Riccis and the Arturs Irbes. I understand the history. I know the work that went into it.
"I've got to admit, we all had a lot of visions, a lot of plans, and a lot of hopes, but to see this come together … it's an event that will be remembered by all those that are there and get to watch on TV. It's an exciting time for us."