When the Sharks come out against the Vancouver Canucks tonight, they’ll be looking to get revenge for their two losses earlier in the season. But what some may fail to realize is that those two loses came “BJT”, before Joe Thornton and before the huge turnaround in their season.
Everyone knows the impact Thornton has had on the team since his arrival, posting a League leading 84 points since Dec. 1. The big centerman looks to help get the Sharks as high in the playoff ranks as possible before the season ends. It hasn’t been as easy as it may sound for Team Teal. On the day of the trade deadline, March 9, the Sharks were eight points behind Edmonton for the final playoff spot.
“It’s been quite a fight to get back here,” said Jonathan Cheechoo. “We just got into the playoff picture a couple days ago. It’s been a long road back, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
The schedule hasn’t fallen in San Jose’s favor either, as the team has been in a daily grind, finishing off their regular season with six games in nine nights. But what is a testament to the heart in the locker room, is the fact that the Sharks have managed five consecutive wins, despite long travels and back-to-back games. Team Teal does not seem to be disturbed by playing two games in consecutive nights and they will prepare to do just that starting tonight against Vancouver.
“The schedule in itself has been draining,” said Alyn McCauley, who has sat out the last two games with a lower body injury. “We had two five day breaks earlier in the year and I think we’re paying the price right now with six games in nine nights. It’s been good for out team though. We’re a young bunch and I think it’s good for the guys to face this kind of pressure and intensity night in and night out.”
Regardless of the magnitude of these next two games, the Sharks are keeping an even keel when it comes to preparing for the series, going about their business as they have in recent weeks.
“I think we’ve been playing decently the last five games, so we have to come out and continue playing that way,” said Cheechoo. “You can’t really change anything. We need to keep playing solid defense in front of our goalie and the offensive chances will come.”
“We’ve just got to make sure the way we’ve been playing is not so much concerned about what the other team’s doing, but we focus on ourselves,” added Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “We want to get off to a good start, forecheck and have our best players bring their best game. Are they (Vancouver) feeling the pressure? I’m sure they are. For us, when you’re riding a positive feeling, it’s a lot easier to prepare for games and get relaxed.”
Sharks rookie defenseman Josh Gorges will be returning home to British Columbia when the team faces off against Vancouver tonight. This will be the first time since his call up in December that the Kelowna, BC native will get to play in front of his nearby hometown fans.
“It’s awesome for my family to be able to come out,” said Gorges. “A lot of them have never been to an NHL game before, so for them to be able to see that and with me playing in it is special for us. It’s a huge game for the team and that’s where the focus is. I’ll get to see my family afterwards, so it’s an exciting day.”
On the hook for more than 30 tickets, Gorges’ clan couldn’t have picked a better time to watch their first NHL hockey game.
“Tonight’s game is huge,” added Gorges. “We have to come out and have a strong effort. These guys, as well as we are, are fighting for their playoff lives. It’s two teams that will be playing aggressive hockey. We both need these wins, so it’ll be an exciting game.
TOP PROSPECTS TO BE DRAFTED IN COMBINE
The world's top 115 players eligible for selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft have been invited to the League's annual Draft Combine, May 30 to June 3, 2006 at the Park Plaza Toronto Airport Hotel.
The Draft Combine will give NHL clubs a chance to evaluate hockey's future stars just three weeks before the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, June 24. Each NHL club will be represented at the Combine by scouts, management and athletic training staff. The players will conduct interviews with the clubs and undergo medical examinations and fitness testing.
The invitees represent the NHL Central Scouting department's top-rated 70 skaters and nine goaltenders from North American leagues and the projected top 36 European skaters and goaltenders. The NHL will release its final rankings of Draft-eligible players on Thursday, April 20.
Highlighting the list of invitees is a record 10 players from the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based United States National Under-18 team, led by defenseman Erik Johnson, the top-rated North American player in Central Scouting's mid-season rankings.
Among the many invitees with famous family connections in hockey are: Peterborough Petes center Jordan Staal, whose brothers Eric (Carolina Hurricanes) and Marc (Sudbury Wolves, OHL) attended the Combine in 2003 and 2005, respectively; center Viktor Tikhonov (Demitrov (former Sharks coach), Russian league), grandson of the legendary Soviet coach of the same name; U.S. National Under-18 left wing Blake Geoffrion, grandson of Hockey Hall of Famer Bernie Geoffrion and son of former NHL player Danny; and Sudbury Wolves left wing Nick Foligno, son of former NHL player and current Wolves head coach Mike Foligno.
The Sharks will play Vancouver in their final road game of the season tonight at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on FSN plus or heard on the Sharks Radio Network and sjsharks.com.