By John McGourty | NHL.com
Despite coming of age with the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that has found wins hard to come by in recent times, new San Jose Shark forward Mark Bell does know a little something about winning.
Bell, now 26, won the prestigious Memorial Cup back in 1999 as an accomplished two-way forward with the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's.
Seven years removed from that crowning glory, Bell still carries the lessons learned from that year, and from legendary Ottawa coach Brian Kilrea, in his heart.
"You know what it takes to win those championships," he said. "It takes a 20-guy effort to win. It's no different at the NHL level, it takes every guy pulling on the same rope to win a championship."
Once ultimate victory has been achieved, nothing else suffices for the champions. Moral victories are a pale substitute. Rebuilding years and slow progress become hollow platitudes to excuse failure.
So, upon joining the Sharks this summer as part of a three-team deal, also featuring Ottawa, that significantly changed the NHL landscape, Bell was happy to find that the Sharks were not resting on the laurels of a magnificent late-season charge into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Advancement to the second round, where the team lost a hotly contested, six-game series to the Edmonton Oilers, who finished one win short of hoisting the Stanley Cup, was also not enough to placate the hungry Sharks.
"There's a little bitter taste in the mouths of some guys that were here last year," Bell said. "They felt they didn't go as far as they felt they could and there is some unfinished business. I was brought on board -- with Mike Grier and Curtis Brown -- to bring a Stanley Cup to San Jose and that is what we plan to do."
Yes, the team also added the veteran Brown, a teammate of Bell's in Chicago, and the hard-charging Grier, who advanced to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last year with the Buffalo Sabres. But, it is Bell that is the focal point for the Sharks, who lost only a few complementary players from last season's team, which was virtually unstoppable after the late-November trade for Joe Thornton
In fact, Bell has been placed on San Jose's top line, joining the dynamic duo of Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, a pairing that utterly terrorized opposing defenses in the second half of the season. Thornton, the League MVP, won the scoring race with 125 points. Cheechoo, meanwhile, led the League in goals, striking pay dirt 56 times.
Coach Ron Wilson hopes Bell's aggressive north-south game will open up time and space for Thornton and Cheecho and that Bell was also serve as a physical threat on the line to deter opponents from taking unnecessary liberties against the team's two superstars.
After all, Bell, at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, was quietly developing into a prototypical power forward in Chicago before this summer's trade sent him to San Jose. He has topped 40 points and 100 penalty minutes in each of the last two seasons as he made the slow transition from lower-line banger to top-line power forward.
"I'm a big guy and I can make some room for my linemates, my teammates and for myself, obviously," Bell said. "Hopefully, it brings more wins our way."
Winning, you can see, remains the bottom line for Bell. He remembers how his Ottawa team -- not loaded with superstars by any stretch of the imagination -- came together under Kilrea and did their jobs. The result was a championship that can never be taken away.
"We had some star players, but we also have some guys that you don't hear about that won us that championship," Bell explained. "In the Memorial Cup, (forward) Joe Talbot was a huge part of that and nobody hears about him. He plays in the East Coast (Hockey) League now, but he was an integral part of that. We had great goaltending with Seamus Kotyk. Those are names you don't hear about, but they won that championship for us. We wouldn't have that ring on our finger if it wasn't for those guys."
Bell wants to play a similar contributing role with the Sharks this season. He knows he will never steal the spotlight away from Cheechoo and Thornton, but he is OK with that. Again, he just wants to win.
Cheechoo had many memorable battles in the Ontario Hockey League against Bell's Ottawa team during his own three-year career with the Belleville Bulls. He remembers them clearly and believes Bell can bring the same skill and leadership to the Sharks that he imparted to the 67's.
"Mark's a really good player," Cheechoo said at the start of training camp. "I played against him in junior (in the OHL) so I got to see him eight to 10 times a year. I know what he can do. He's talented, good with the puck, big and strong and good along the boards. I think he'll fit right in with the way our line plays."
San Jose GM Doug Wilson, another alumnus of the 67's program (1974-77), also is familiar with Bell from Bell's his days in Ottawa.
"He's a player I'm very familiar with, being a part of the Ottawa 67s," Wilson said. "He's a big, tough, physical kid who I think can play in all situations, which really fits in with our team. He's already proved that he can score in this League and I think putting him in this environment with our team will be really good for him and good for us."
Bell agrees, even though he admits the trade was hard to take when it was announced. After all, he did grow up in the Chicago organization, joining the team as a first-round pick, No. 8 overall, in the 1998 Entry Draft.
"I've been a part of the Chicago organization for eight years and, yeah, I think the first move is difficult -- especially when you move from the Central time zone to the West," Bell acknowledged. "It's pretty far away from where I grew up. But, at the same time, I've made a lot of nice friends in Chicago and I look back on those years fondly. They gave me a chance to play as a young player and that's what you want. I thank them for that."
It's time now to start thanking the San Jose Sharks for having faith in him by helping his new team win the Stanley Cup.
"I'm very excited coming here," he said. "I'm excited about the change, and I think it's a change for the better. The more and more time I spend with these guys the more and more excited and fortunate I feel."