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A Bittersweet Time

by Tony Khing / San Jose Sharks
The 1999-00 season was one of the most memorable in St. Louis Blues history. The club won a franchise record 51 games. They also won the Presidents’ Trophy.

The 1999-00 season was also one of the most forgettable in St. Louis Blues history. The No. 1-seeded Blues were eliminated in seven games of the Western Conference Quarterfinals by the eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks.

A few names were standouts on this team – names very recognizable to Sharks fans. Pavol Demitra was the leading scorer with 28 goals, 47 assists and 75 points. Roman Turek had a goals-against average of below 2.00 and a National Hockey League-leading seven shutouts. Future Hall of Famer Al MacInnis was still making defensive forwards flinch with his patented bone-breaking slapshots from the point.

Jamal Mayers with the St. Louis Blues.
Only two players remain active from this team. Oddly enough, they’re playing against each other in this year’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series between Los Angeles and San Jose: Michal Handzus for the Kings and Jamal Mayers for the Sharks. Handzus was the fourth leading scorer on the Blues with 53 points (25 goals). Mayers was in his first full NHL season and had seven goals in 79 games. During that series, Mayers had four assists.

An interviewer mentioned the quarterfinals to Mayers, which didn’t make him too happy (at first). “I appreciate you bringing up good memories,” Mayers said with some disdain. “Anything else you want to talk about?”

But Mayers quickly digressed, making sure his interviewer knew he was just kidding. “We had a great regular season,” Mayers said. “It was a disappointing year when you come up short by losing in the first round. As nice as it was to have a great regular season, when I think back to that year, I only think of the playoffs.”

After St. Louis won the first game, San Jose took the next three. The Blues won Game 5 at home and took Game 6 in San Jose behind a hat trick by that well-known Shark killer Scott Young, who scored 26 goals in 49 regular season games against San Jose. Game 7 went back to St. Louis and two first period Sharks goals helped San Jose to a series win.

One of the more memorable playoff goals in Sharks history came late in that first period. With just 10.2 seconds left, Owen Nolan skated into the Blues zone and fired a slapper from around the center circle. The puck went off Turek, handcuffed him and trickled into the net. Nolan’s goal proved to be the series winner.

What happened to St. Louis seemed to belie conventional playoff karma. They had the best record in the NHL. They were the top seed in their conference. And they even had the hair – not facial, however.

“A few guys on the team dyed their hair blonde,” Mayers said. “I made the mistake of showing some support and going with them while they had it done.”

Mayers was being a team player. That’s a good thing. But with the good comes the bad: he’s got very little hair on his scalp.

“The hairdresser decided I couldn’t get off easy,” Mayers said. “They suggested that I do something with my eyebrows. I reluctantly agreed.”

As a result, Mayers gave new meaning to the phrase “eye of the tiger” with his blonde and black tiger-striped eyebrows. “It definitely wasn’t one of the highlights,” he added.

Tinting the beard wasn’t an option, either. “It would’ve been tough for me to grow facial hair when I was that age,” said Mayers, who was 25 at the time.

San Jose Sharks' Jamal Mayers, left, handles the puck as St. Louis Blues' Brad Boyes (22) defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Today, Mayers is 36. Until last Thursday’s Game 1, he hasn’t appeared in a postseason game since 2003-04 with St. Louis (he played five games in another quarterfinal series loss to San Jose). Not everyone can play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mayers appreciates his opportunity and remembers the lessons he learned back in 2000 as he skates on the fourth line with Ben Eager and Scott Nichol.

“Anytime you’re in the playoffs, it’s about momentum,” Mayers said. “You want to capture the momentum when you don’t have it. You want to keep it when you do have it. You can do that in so many different ways during the game, within a period and within a series. It’s our job as the fourth line to help swing momentum back in our favor.

“The best time of the year is the playoffs,” Mayers added. “You want to be out there and contributing.”

And no doubt Mayers and his linemates will be making their contributions to the Sharks cause on Tuesday in Game 3 at the Staples Center.

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