On the cross-country flight to Detroit, the names Mike Smith, Scott Thornton, and Evgeni Nabokov are weaving together into an interesting yarn that brings several memories into one.
Thornton, of course, is the cousin of current Sharks captain Joe Thornton, and in the years that he played in San Jose, he was one of the more popular veterans on the team. Currently, “Thorty” is retired from the game, living in Collingwood, Ontario, and is taking part in CBC television’s popular “Battle of the Blades” program. That’s a show where Thornton, like some former NHL’ers before him, take on a different skating role in an ice dancing competition with a partner to raise money for a charity. Thornton is dancing with Amanda Evora of Sarasota, FL, and they’re trying to win the competition to raise funds for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
Smith is the starting goaltender of the Phoenix Coyotes, one of the better ones in the game. One of his major attributes is his “puckability,” as coach Todd McLellan described it on the October 5th edition of “Coach’s Chalkboard” on KFOX 98.5/102.1 and the San Jose Sharks Radio Network. On Saturday night, Smith entered history by becoming the 11th goaltender in NHL history to score a goal when he threw the puck the length of the ice into an empty net.
It wasn’t Smith’s first goal as a pro. In his first game for the ECHL’s Lexington Man O’War in 2002-03, Smith had the unique distinction of getting a major penalty for fighting and scoring a goal in the same contest. That’s rather unique, don’t you think?
Nabokov, of course, is the Sharks’ all-time wins leader among goaltenders with 293, and is currently playing for the New York Islanders.
There’s the background. Now, let’s start weaving.
It was March 10, 2002, and the game was played between the Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place (now Rogers Arena). Just 20 seconds after the opening faceoff, Thornton entered into the story when he became involved in an altercation instigated by Canucks’ RW Mike Brown. Then, to add to the drama, Henrik Sedin and Brendan Morrison both scored in the opening frame to give Vancouver the 2-0 lead.
That scenario is normally a negative harbinger for any NHL team. Last season, for instance, the Sharks went 0-10-1 in the 11 games that they trailed by the 2-0 count. Since 2005-06, by my count, they’ve gone 22-88-14 since the 2005-06 season when down by a 2-0 score.
But on that crazy evening in Vancouver, the Sharks were not to be denied. Captain Owen Nolan got the puck rolling when he notched his 17th goal of the season with only one second remaining in the first period. Then, in the second frame, San Jose would score three quick goals by Marco Sturm (at 3:04), Gary Suter (4:24), and Thornton (5:42) to take a 4-2 lead. That goal, by the way, was Thornton’s 20th of the year.
At 8:33 of the second period, it was off to the penalty box again for Thornton and Brown, who dropped the gloves and fought a second round. Defenseman Murray Baron would gain some momentum back for Vancouver at 9:11, and just 33 seconds later, in reaction to a Matt Cooke elbowing penalty, a harmonic convergence ensued. Adam Graves, Bryan Marchment, and Baron all received penalties for roughing in the fracas.
That little tête-a-tête led to a somewhat unique scenario in today’s NHL: Thornton dropped the gloves a third time in a game. It wasn’t with Brown this time, however. It was with Ed Jovanovski, and the bout at 15:06 of the second period was accompanied with an automatic game misconduct for “Thorty,” as per NHL rules.
With 1:44 left in the second period, Teemu Selanne (remember when he wore teal?) put the Sharks in front, 5-3, and things were looking good. But just 1:21 later, with only 23 seconds left in the second period, Jan Hlavac’s goal gave the Canucks life. There was enough craziness in this game for three or four regular season NHL games, and there was still a period to go!
Well, the third period saw the Sharks pick up some insurance, and work their way into the history books. At 3:27, Adam Graves took a pass from Nolan and notched his 13th goal of the season to make it 6-4. Not to be outdone by the shenanigans of the first two periods, a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct were issued to Vancouver’s Jarko Ruutu with just 4:32 to play. That guaranteed a Sharks power play for the rest of the contest, and set things up for the historic moment.
With Vancouver’s net empty in the desperate attempt to get the game closer, Nabokov took the puck to the left side of his goal. With a flick of the wrists, he sent it straight down the ice and into the net with 48 seconds to play, and it made the final score a 7-4 Sharks win.
Nabokov made history by becoming the 8th different goaltender to score (Ron Hextall had 2 goals, so it was the 9th goal scored by a goalie in NHL history). He was the first-ever European-born goaltender to score a goal, and was the first-ever to score on the power play.
When the game ended, everyone was buzzing about Nabokov’s goal and the crazy, physical nature of the contest. But as the score sheet shows, Owen Nolan was the first star of the game because he scored a goal and added four assists for an amazing 5-point night.
The referees in this game, by the way, were Kerry Fraser and Kevin Pollock, and they kept busy, with 91 penalty minutes issued.
So, as you watch the replays of Mike Smith scoring a goal on Saturday night for the Phoenix Coyotes, don’t forget that there has been a goaltender picking up a goal and a fighting major in the same game (Smith in the ECHL), a European goaltender scoring a power play goal (Nabokov), and a CBC “Battle of the Blades” ice dancer scoring a goal and getting three fighting majors and a game misconduct in the same game (Scott Thornton). Nearly all of it occurred on a truly amazing evening when the Sharks’ captain scored five points in a game.