The San Jose Sharks opened their 2006-07 season on Friday as players officially reported to training camp. Members of the media along with several loyal Sharks fans converged on Logitech Ice at San Jose in anticipation of day one.
Coming as a surprise to some, the Sharks opened training camp with both Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala reporting for duty. Trade rumors this past offseason had some believing that one of the two goaltenders was going to be moved by Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson.
Neither Nabokov nor Toskala got caught up in the speculation and both were excited to be back at camp.
“There’s always competition,” Nabokov said. “If there’s no competition, you’re in trouble. I’ve had competition every year I’ve been here. If it’s not one guy, it’s another guy. Doug [Wilson] will do what he needs to do.”
Toskala echoed many of Nabokov’s sentiments.
“There are a lot of rumors flying around, but it’s not in my control what happens,” Toskala said. “I’m happy to be a Shark and will always try to play my best when they put me on the ice.”
Wilson understands the situation well and is not about to make any brash decisions. Instead, Wilson has focused on getting the team off to a better start than in seasons past.
“The last two seasons we didn’t get off to good starts,” Wilson said. “Our focus is going to be solely on trying to win our first game on October 5 so we don’t have to dig ourselves out of a hole like we did the last two seasons.”
A key to getting off to a better start could be the offseason acquisitions Wilson made to strengthen his lineup. Adding players like Mike Grier and Mark Bell visibly changed the complexion of the Sharks during the offseason. While both players add a physical presence to the team, both players also have tremendous offensive potential.
Grier has two 20-goal campaigns to his name, while Bell has scored 20-plus goals in each of the past two seasons and recorded 100-plus PIM in the past four. Each player turned a new chapter in their respective careers Friday when they appeared as members of the Sharks for the first time.
“It’s exciting to skate with so many skilled guys and guys that are creative,” Grier said. “It’s a good brand of hockey.”
Grier skated on a line with Marcel Goc and Ville Nieminen, a line that appears to be defensive minded with a good deal of offensive upside. As for Bell, he skated on a line with Joe Thornton
and Jonathan Cheechoo and was busy getting used to his new linemates.
“Obviously they know each other a little bit better than I know them,” Bell said of skating with the reigning League MVP and the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner. “They find each other on the ice really well. That’s why they had so much success together. My job is to compliment them, get them some room and pull my weight on that line.”
One of the unique story lines from Friday was the handful of players who were at their first Sharks training camp despite having played in both regular season and playoff games for the Sharks. Curtis Brown (mid-season acquisition in 2003-04, did not re-sign after season), Matt Carle (joined Sharks for playoff run after his NCAA season ended in 2005-06) and Thornton (mid-season acquisition in 2005-06) all had played for the Sharks but had never gone through training camp with the organization.
“Obviously there are a lot of guys here,” Carle said of first experience at training camp. “Everybody’s looking for a spot and there is a lot of competition. But that’s why we all play the game. Anyone in sports plays because of the competition and we all feed off of that.”
Impressed by the up-tempo was Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson, who had high praise of his young players.
“We wanted everyone coming out firing on all cylinders,” Wilson said. “We explained that to them last night and I was happy and pleased with the performance. It doesn’t look there’s anybody out of place.”
Wilson, pleased with his entire squad’s performance, echoed the theme of the day — competition.
“I have a rough idea of where we are right now,” Wilson said. “Some guys will play their way out of starting positions and some guys will play their way on. That’s always been our policy here. If one guy has played 800 games and some other guy has played none, but the guy that’s played none plays better, he’s in. We’ve never hesitated to do things like that. So that’s what I’m looking forward to; who’s going to step up and surprise us.”
Coach Wilson and the entire Sharks organization are undoubtedly looking forward to another day of healthy competition on day two.
ON THE SCORESHEET
Of the six goals that were scored in Friday’s scrimmage, only one goal was recorded by a player with NHL experience — Ville Nieminen. Dan Spang, Lukas Kaspar, Mathieu Darche, Graham Mink and Michal Macho rounded out the scoring. In the assists department, Kyle McLaren and Craig Valette lead the way, each posting two. Cheechoo led both teams in shots, finding space and getting six shots on net.
KEEP YOUR HEAD ON A SWIVEL, PARTNER
Skating at full speed for the first time, the collisions were abundant. Two of the biggest collisions of the day were among Sharks regulars. During one rush Steve Bernier rode Patrick Rissmiller hard into the half-boards, sending both of them to the ice. However, the biggest collision of the day involved two of the Sharks hardest hitters. McLaren and Doug Murray both came together in an open ice crash, tossing both players in opposite directions.
Not among those skating in Friday’s scrimmage were Jim Fahey (arm), Devin Setoguchi (lower body) and newcomer Mathieu Biron (ankle). Though none of them skated, they are all listed as day-to-day and nothing serious was reported. Evgeni Nabokov (mid-section) started in net and has recovered from what General Manager Doug Wilson described as “a minor operation to clean some things up.” Nabokov moved well and made several high quality saves in 30 minutes of work.