Through the years, coaches in many team sports have tried to motivate their players by saying they should play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back.
That old, yet true, saying was part of the motivation for four former Sharks players to skate in the team’s annual “Shark For A Day Fantasy Camp,” which was held last Saturday. The camp is one of the most popular events of the season and net proceeds benefit the Sharks Foundation.
While adult campers experienced a full day in the life of a National Hockey League player, the four ex-players got to show their appreciation for having worn teal by skating with the campers in a morning skate and in an actual game.
Defenseman Al Iafrate (with the Sharks from 1996-98) had sat out the previous two seasons when he came to San Jose. Bad knees and other ailments limited Iafrate to 59 games in two years and he wasn’t the dominating offensive force that he was with Toronto and Washington.
But Iafrate always appreciated the chance the Sharks gave him to play one more time.
“When I got here in 1996, my body was pretty much done,” Iafrate said. “They treated me like anyone wants to be treated, like a person. They lived with me through a lot of brutal injuries. This is a first-class organization. When you have the opportunity to help in any way to raise money to help someone, you’re supposed to be selfless in this life and do as much for others, if not more, than you do for yourself. The Sharks are an unbelievable organization. I’m grateful to be considered as part of it.”
“The Sharks Foundation has been very valuable in the community,” said Steve Shields (1998-01), who was a skater, and not a goaltender, for the camp. “They find different ways to create opportunities to help different organizations. This (camp) is one that people can participate in and get something back in return that’s fun for them…and for me.”
Showing gratitude wasn’t limited to those who wore the Sharks sweater at one time. Darren Pang, former Chicago Blackhawks goaltender and now St. Louis Blues television analyst, coached one of the fantasy teams in the game.
Pang has always felt some affiliation with the Sharks. That’s because some of Pang’s teammates and good friends (Doug Wilson, Bob McGill and Wayne Presley) became Sharks during the team’s first year in 1991-92. Pang also knows Vice President and Assistant General Manager Wayne Thomas and was friends with the late Warren Strelow, San Jose’s goaltending coach from 2000-07.
“Anytime they’ve ever asked me to be a part of anything, I try to help out as much as possible,” Pang said. “On a day like this, even though I do television and have to get ready for the game, it means a lot to the players who are here and have paid a lot of money to be part of a fantasy camp and want that experience.”
Another participant who never played for the Sharks was Bret Hedican, now CSN California hockey analyst. The former defenseman won the 2006 Stanley Cup with Carolina and almost signed with the Sharks in 2009, but opted to retire because of his back. But now because of his work on CSN California and in the last two fantasy camps, Hedican feels like he’s worn the Sharks colors.
“I cover the team and get to watch them on a nightly basis,” said Hedican, who showed off his skating skills for one of the teams. “For me to be a part of it on the outside and now with this really makes me feel like a part of it. It’s been great.”
A trip to San Jose brought back great memories for forward Murray Craven (1997-00) and defenseman Jayson More (1991-96). Craven came to the Sharks from Chicago before the 1997-98 season. Since that year, San Jose has missed the postseason just once in 12 years. In fact, the Sharks had finished 13th in the Western Conference for the previous two years.
“I had a great experience,” Craven said. “This was my last team that I played for in the League. We made some great strides. We had a year where we re-established ourselves. Ever since then, this team has been a big factor in the playoff hunts and the Stanley Cup talk.”
More was an original Shark. He was also a member of that memorable 1993-94 eighth-seeded squad which upset No. 1 Detroit in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. More, whose playing career ended in 1998-99 due to injury, had never been back to San Jose since his playing days.
“I’ve wanted to come back for a lot of years,” More said. “I’m glad I had the chance to do it.”
Craven, Iafrate, More and Shields weren’t the only former Sharks players who enjoyed their experience. Sharks Radio Color Analyst Jamie Baker (1993-96 and 1998) coached one of the teams and Development Coach Mike Ricci (1997-04) helped run the morning skate.
The Sharks Foundation benefited on Saturday and the former players enjoyed their time. But actually, the real winners were the campers. These adults (including two women) ranged in age from 22-60 and came from as far as New Jersey and Canada.
“Hockey is what we have in common,” More said. “It brings us together. These people play a big part in the success of the team. These guys are great fans. They understand the game, so it helps them educate others and bring new fans into the game.”
“Everybody works hard, raises their families and tries to do the right thing,” Pang said. “Here, you get a chance to be rewarded for what you do in your everyday life. For the wives, mothers and fathers, they get to watch their husband or child get to be a kid again.”