When the Sharks acquired the veteran defenseman from the Montreal Canadiens just before last season’s trading deadline, an initial conversation with San Jose Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson made him feel at home right away.
"His encouraging words, the vision he has and where this team wants to go,” Rivet said, “is something that immediately sparked me."
Rivet has been sparked so much that he is two points away from tying his career best 34 point output and he has been an undeniable leader for the Sharks on the blueline, serving as an alternate captain.
“It’s probably among my best years,” said Rivet. “It’s been one of my most enjoyable. Ron (Wilson) has given me a chance to be a regular guy on the power play and I’m taking advantage of playing with Patty, Joe, Milan and Cheech.”
Still, Rivet is best enjoying the fact that he is playing on a club focused on winning a Stanley Cup.
“It’s nice to look in the papers and see the statistics,” said Rivet. “It gives you that warm fuzzy feeling, but what I enjoy the most is winning hockey games and that is the only focus anyone should have. If you’re not winning hockey games, statistics mean absolutely nothing.”
Rivet has shown his offensive game this year and has always been a physical blueliner, but after Ryane Clowe
went down with a knee injury, and before Jody Shelley was acquired, Rivet would drop the gloves if the Sharks needed him to.
“It’s something I never go into a game looking to make it happen,” said Rivet. “Sometimes you need to protect your teammate. We’re here for each other and that’s just part of my game.”
After a full season in the Bay Area, he seems like a lifer for the California lifestyle.
“Montreal is an incredible place with all the history and what comes with that is all the attention they get," said Sharks teammate Joe Thornton
, who experienced a similar start to his career playing for Boston, another Original Six club. “To come out here (San Jose) and you have five writers, max, it’s much more laid back. There's no tabloids with who’s where, who’s dating who, things like that. You can just really focus in on hockey.
“He (Rivet) didn't know what San Jose was all about, but he quickly learned to love it out here.”
Having played literally only a handful of games against San Jose under the NHL's unbalanced schedule, Rivet had to do some homework to find out what he was getting himself into.
"The first thing I did when I got traded was get on the computer to see who was on the team because when you play in the Eastern Conference you're almost in a bubble," Rivet said. "When I started looking these guys up, I had never heard of them. They're young, they're 1-2-3 years in the League and I hadn't played against these guys. We don't get a whole lot of exposure seeing these guys. We get a whole lot of sports news, but it seems to be the same teams over and over again.
While his transition and immediate fit into the San Jose lineup was seamless to the casual observer, Rivet was battling much more than relocation anxiety. The pneumonia bug that forced him to miss what would’ve been his final nine games with the Canadiens wasn’t completely out of his system. In fact, the condition was worse at times while with the Sharks. He just chose not to go public with any complaints.
Rivet came exactly as was advertised on the ice -- passionate, hard-working, versatile and tough to play against. He scored eight points in his 17 late-season games with the Sharks, and was a key playoff performer with two goals and five points in 11 postseason games.
The 33-year-old had made quite the first impression, too.
"I was excited because I thought that’s another piece of the puzzle, a veteran defenseman who stabilizes the group," Sharks Coach Ron Wilson said. "He brings a level of intensity consistently. He's always ready for every game. Guys like that in your room, it can only have a positive impact, especially on the younger guys who come in and realize how difficult it is. There are no easy games and you have to do it three or four times a week."
Thornton knew what it would mean, too, considering Rivet was always assigned to match up against Thornton when the two battled in the East.
"He's big, strong, he skates very, very well, he plays tough, plays with an edge," Thornton said. "When I played against him, I always knew he was on the other team. He's going to finish his hits and just make life miserable on you.
"He's just a good all-around player. I know first-hand playing against him, he’s someone you want on your team."
And someone the Sharks wanted for more than a couple months. The big question heading into the offseason was whether Rivet would use his unrestricted free agent status to shop his services around.
Well, that never came to fruition. His expression of truly enjoying San Jose was genuine and the Sharks were grateful in return – with a four-year, $14 million contract extension. Rivet had a new home, far from where his career started.
"An extremely important reason why I wanted to come back was the coaching staff," Rivet said. "I'd have to say Ronnie is the best coach I've had in my career. He's been in the League a lot longer than most; his style and his approach to the game, obviously wanting to make his players better and wanting to challenge his players, was a key for me.
"Rob Zettler, I can't say enough about," Rivet said of the San Jose assistant coach who works with the defense. "He's a guy from the day I got here I've learned a lot from. It goes to show it doesn't matter what you are, there's still always room for improvement in your game. I think these guys taking a look at my game are helping me even at the age of 33 to get better."
Rivet, who played in the shadows of those who received more publicity such as Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov, has become one of the better blueliners in the Western Conference. He’s also shared his experiences with many of the young Sharks defensemen such as Christian Ehrhoff, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
, Matt Carle and Douglas Murray
"When you're a younger player and times are tough, they seem to be magnified a little more. You're unsure of what the future holds," Rivet said. "Maybe to hear it from an older player who has been through that, not just once or twice but many times over my career, can help out in certain situations."
"It’s the way the NHL is today," Wilson said. "You're going to have some younger players, maybe playing before they're truly ready. At times, they’ll look more than ready and other nights they look like they shouldn't be around.
“You have to fast track some people and I think the only way you can do that is to have certain elements in your room with experience to help bridge the gap. They help coach these guys, help encourage these guys through the rough phases."
Former Sharks defenseman Bryan Marchment recently noticed what Rivet can bring to the locker room. Marchment, now a scout, sat in on a meeting for the defensemen and was impressed with Rivet's willingness to speak up, not afraid to voice his opinion and convey his experience in a positive manner.
"Good right-handed defensemen are hard to find, not just because he's right-handed, but he's a mentor to the younger guys, a great team guy,” Marchment said. “You can see that in the dressing room -- and hopefully it helps out in the long run."
For the 20-year-old Vlasic, enjoying success during his second season after an outstanding rookie year in 2006-07, is a Montreal native and remembers watching Rivet play for the Canadiens while growing up.
"If I have a question, he’ll be the first one to help me,” he added. “When he says something, it's not just the young guys, but everyone who listens. He's always there to encourage you. If you made a nice play or a bad play, he's there to tell you. He's always there for the guys."
Being a mentor is important, but Rivet knows the best way to set an example is through his own strong play. He’s played in more than 700 games and knows he needs a certain mindset in order to be successful.
"I come to the rink each and every day wanting to work hard,” Rivet said. “But at the same time, you have to have fun. Sometimes when times are tough that can be taken out of the game. But if you can still keep that in the game, even through tough times, I think you'll be able to get out of whatever you're in quicker."
Rivet’s attitude carries him a long way – especially with his head coach.
"When he has a bad period, a bad game, he ultimately takes responsibility for it. He holds himself accountable, which you try to teach to players," Wilson said. "Trust me, there are a lot of people who try to hide when they make mistakes. But when you have a guy like that who stands up, those are the qualities you want young guys to learn.
“He's a good defensive defenseman, but we’re not looking for him to be Bobby Orr. He just has to be Craig Rivet."