Back in 1995, Bill Guerin was a 25-year-old right wing who completed his fourth National Hockey League season by helping New Jersey win their first Stanley Cup.
“You think it’s going to happen again when you’re that young,” he said. “I did appreciate it back then and I knew what it meant.”
Fast forward to 2007, 11 years later. That 1995 Stanley Cup is the only one on Guerin’s mantle. He more than realizes he’s got a great chance this year to add another one with the San Jose Sharks.
“I’m 36 now and playing hard for that,” he said at his first live presser with the Bay Area media following today’s morning skate before San Jose’s game against Nashville at HP Pavilion.
The 15-year veteran forward was acquired hours before the trade deadline yesterday from St. Louis in exchange for left wing Ville Nieminen, forward prospect Jay Barriball and a first round selection (belonging to New Jersey) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Guerin leaves a team (St. Louis) looking ahead to next season and joins a club which has the potential to go deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I was very happy,” Guerin said. “San Jose is a place that was on my radar, even in the summer (when he was reviewing potential free agent opportunities). They’re well-coached. It’s a good opportunity for me.”
That chance at a Stanley Cup is what put San Jose on Guerin’s radar.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “I wanted to go to a Stanley Cup contender and I believe this team is one.
“It’s never a guarantee,” Guerin continued about winning arguably the most prestigious trophy in professional team sports. “All you can ask for is an opportunity. I believe this is an opportunity for all of us to do something special. We’ve just got to hit stride at the right time and see what happens.”
Guerin won’t be a stranger to some of the players in the Sharks locker room. He played with right wing Mike Grier in Edmonton (1998-00) and defenseman Kyle McLaren and center Joe Thornton
(2000-02) in Boston.
In fact, Thornton picked up Guerin at San Francisco International Airport late last night after the newest Shark had one flight canceled, which caused him to come later to the Bay Area than he had planned.
“That’s big,” Guerin said with a smile, “because he’s usually in bed by about 9 o’clock. I know he was stretching it.”
Besides having played with Thornton, Grier and McLaren, Guerin has also played for Sharks Coach Ron Wilson at the international level. Wilson was Guerin’s Team U.S.A. coach at 1998 Winter Olympics and the 1996 and 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
And for the first time in his National Hockey League coaching career, Wilson is coaching one of his international team players in the NHL.
“This is my 13th year in the League and it’s the first time I’ve coached one of my boys from the World Cups and the Olympics,” Wilson said.
So Wilson knows very well how Guerin can help the Sharks.
“We’ve been a young team all year. Bill’s experience will really help the young guys understand what they have to do to be a successful team in the stretch run and the playoffs,” Wilson said.
The 36-year-old right wing is the oldest and most experienced member of the Sharks. There’s no doubt that leadership from him and newly acquired defenseman Craig Rivet, another 10-plus year NHL veteran, will be expected. Guerin’s actions, as opposed to his words, will carry plenty of weight in the Sharks locker room.
“It’s not so much what guys say. You watch them on the ice. You watch them handle certain situations. You watch their demeanor in the locker room during a high pressure game,” Guerin said. “We’ve all learned from other players before us. It’s just a trickle-down effect. In 10-15 years, these guys (the younger Sharks players) will be doing it for other players. Hopefully, we can rub off on them a little bit.”
Guerin makes his Sharks debut tonight against Peter Forsberg and Nashville at HP Pavilion. He’ll be placed on a line with Thornton and right wing Jonathan Cheechoo.
“He or ‘Cheech’ will play the off-wing (left),” Wilson said. “He’s been on Joe’s line in the past. He’s not going to have any problems blending in.”
Guerin enters tonight’s game having led the Blues with 28 goals and 47 points. His numbers are a marked improvement from year when he scored just 13 goals for Dallas – the fewest he scored since posting just 18 for New Jersey and Edmonton in 1997-98.
“He’s found his scoring touch. Last year was an off-year for him,” Wilson said. “Billy’s found his game.”
The numbers are important, but so are those veteran intangibles, which carry plenty of weight in March and beyond for any Stanley Cup contender.
“He’s a playoff performer. He’s won a Stanley Cup and that’s something we haven’t really had in the locker room,” Wilson said about Guerin. “Acquiring him and Craig Rivet gives everybody the idea we believe we can win the Stanley Cup and we’re addressing it now. We’re not waiting until next year. We think a player like Guerin can make us better and off-set what other teams have done to make themselves better.”
“As you move along in age, you appreciate it (winning a Cup) more,” Guerin said. “And that’s what we have the opportunity to do.”
A limited number of tickets are available for Bill Guerin’s debut tonight against Nashville at HP Pavilion. Tickets are available at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game can be heard on 98.5 K-FOX, The Sharks Radio Network and sjsharks.com and can be seen on FSN Bay Area Plus. Game time is at 7:30 p.m.