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Dan's View from Center Ice - Sharks Blog Debut

by Dan Rusanowsky / San Jose Sharks

Play-by-play announcers craft stories each and every night, and some of the more interesting ones happen in the context of history. It is from this history, and all of these stories, that provides us with insight as to where success comes from in the NHL.

For instance, let’s look at a recent game between the Sharks and the Minnesota Wild on December 6th. In the game, Sharks fans certainly had to be agitated by the fact that after getting seven shots on goal and scoring once in only the first minute of play and seeing the opposing goaltender knocked out with an injury, the resilient Wild still found a way to emerge with their best-record-in-the-NHL moniker still intact.

Because Niklas Backstrom was out with an injury, rookie Matt Hackett was the goaltender summoned to NHL debut duty when starter Josh Harding was injured on a collision in front with his teammate, Nick Schultz. Hackett’s story embraces a variety of angles that are interesting and informative to any hockey fan, including that of the team that he defeated.

First things, first: it was somewhat ironic to note that Hackett is the nephew of Jeff Hackett, the goaltender who was between the pipes for the Sharks on October 4, 1991 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, when San Jose played its very first NHL game. Here are a few other juxtapositions:
  • Thomas Greiss relieved starter Antti Niemi on November 3rd at HP Pavilion vs. Pittsburgh, with the Sharks trailing, 2-0. He played the final 62:56, stopping 29 shots, and was 3-for-3 in the shootout, as San Jose outlasted Burgh Hockey, 4-3.
  • Matt Hackett relieved Harding at the 1:11 mark of the first after the Schultz collision, and after the Sharks peppered the starter with 7 shots, scoring once. The Sharks took a season-high 23 shots on net in the first period, but never scored on Hackett. He ended up with 34 saves for the night, even though he had no true warm-up.
  • Back in 1991, Jeff Hackett did have a warm-up. But he was as red-hot as his nephew in the second period of that first-ever game, facing 22 Canucks shots and stopping 21. Only a Petr Nedved power-play goal got by him.
  • In the Minnesota game on Tuesday, Brentwood’s Casey Wellman played in his home area for the first time as a professional, and recorded one assist. With family and friends seeing him for the first time, Wellman represented the San Jose Junior Sharks, his former team, with pride.
  • In 1991, Chula Vista native Craig Coxe, noted more for his pugnacity than his scoring touch, wound up notching the first goal in San Jose Sharks history against goaltender Kirk McLean. He also represented the state of California, and has since called it his favorite NHL memory.
 Sharks forward Logan Couture was probably the only Sharks player who wasn’t surprised at Matt Hackett’s successful performance. Logan and Matt grew up either 9 or 15 doors away from each other in London, Ontario, depending on who is doing the counting. Couture fired a lot of shots at Hackett over the summer, and he repeatedly told people that he thought that the youngster was going to be a very good NHL goaltender.

By the way, my broadcast colleague Drew Remenda was on the Sharks coaching staff back in 1991, and he recalled that Jeff Hackett was a bit dehydrated, and was rehydrating in the training room after the game. Drew was able to get an official on the ice to retrieve a game puck for the goaltender, but when he presented it to him, Hackett flipped it back. “I’ve seen enough rubber tonight,” he quipped.

Something tells me that Matt Hackett may have heard that story at some point.

But there is one additional thing that I’d like to point out from the Matt Hackett story that is worth noting: it is his work ethic and preparation that have afforded him the opportunity to get a chance at the NHL level, and it is that ethic and that preparation that has given him the confidence he needs.

Where did that work ethic and preparation come from?

Certainly, it came in part from the training and discussions he had with his uncle, a former NHL goaltender, while growing up. Facing lots of shots from Logan Couture in the summer, which brings forth images of Sidney Crosby firing pucks at a dryer in the garage, was another part of the preparation.

But perhaps the most important part of the preparation came in developing these good habits as a young professional in the American Hockey League before continuing his development in the NHL.

Last season, Hackett was the goaltender with the Houston Aeros, the Wild’s top affiliate. Mike Yeo, who was doing some developing of his own, was his head coach. The Aeros advanced all the way to the Calder Cup Final round against Binghamton, and Hackett forged a 14-10 post-season record. It was a similar story to his uncle, Jeff, who backstopped the Springfield Indians to a Calder Cup championship and springboarded that into an NHL career that lasted 500 games.

The Sharks are also reaping many of the benefits of the great job that Roy Sommer and David Cunniff are doing with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL. While they have yet to win a Calder Cup, it is noteworthy to observe the value of that experience, both regular season and post-season.

Justin Braun began his career after his senior year at Massachusetts-Amherst. Playing in three regular season AHL games, he stayed with Worcester through 11 Calder Cup contests, and in that cauldron, showed that he can be a professional. He continues that development today.

Logan Couture began his 2009-10 season with a flash of promise, scoring his first NHL goal in the always difficult Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings on November 5, 2009. Playing 42 games in the AHL, he was arguably the League’s best player upon his recall, and he scored 4 goals in 15 Stanley Cup playoff games that spring. Last year, he was the runner up for the Calder Trophy, scoring 22 of his 32 goals on the road and adding 7-7-14 in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Jason Demers showed his promise in a promising rookie season in Worcester in 2008-09, including 12 Calder Cup playoff games which furthered his development. He continues to develop, accepting additional challenges as he moves forward in his NHL career in San Jose.

Andrew Desjardins worked his way from Laredo in the CHL to Worcester, where he played in 23 Calder Cup games over two seasons. From there, he worked his way into a chance with the parent club, and has been earning a position here ever since.

Jamie McGinn. Joe Pavelski. Douglas Murray. Antti Niemi. Antero Niittymaki. All of these players have spent time in the AHL, and that introduction to the world of professional hockey was critical to all of them.

Todd McLellan and Matt Shaw both have coached in the AHL, honing their craft on the way to the top of their profession. It is in the Calder Cup playoffs that their work was often showcased.

When you see a young player achieve success as Matt Hackett did on December 6th, you have to understand the true commitment that the player had to make to get himself to that level. At every point in the Sharks’ roster, and every other NHL team, there are stories such as these.

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