“Hockey is a game of passion. Every player at every level has this passion and love for the game. Fans too share this trait.
Just about every NHL fan has a story; a story when and how they came to know the game. Perhaps it was growing up in a frigid climate and learning to skate on a frozen pond. For others it was a father or older brother that brought the game home. Still others discovered the game on TV or by attending a game in person. No matter how a fan gets introduced to the game they are never quite the same.
We all have our favorite teams. The Sharks are fortunate to have a dedicated following in the Bay Area. Some older folks probably remember cheering for the Seals in Oakland. Many transplants to California still follow the team they grew up with…the Red Wings, the Flyers and the Rangers all draw a crowd when they visit San Jose.
For many fans it gets even deeper than a love for the game or a team…it’s a favorite player that means the most.
How do we come to select who will be our favorite player?
I believe we want our guy to reflect our team, our town and ourselves; our values.
My first hockey heroes were from the Red Wings of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Frank Mahovolich were the stars of that high-flying squad. But it was the hard-working selfless players that I liked to watch. Peter Mahovolich, Frank’s younger brother would later earn all-star status as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. But in his earlier days with Detroit, Mahovolich was a big strong forward who was good on faceoffs, and always had his check. Any offense Pete could offer was a bonus. He worked hard and seemed like a good guy when I would see him on TV or at the old Olympia Stadium.
It was in the early 70’s when the Wings acquired a highly-touted young forward from Montreal. Mickey Redmond could skate with anyone. His shot was explosive off the stick and he was fearless driving to the net. The good news was he would get even better. Mickey was the first Detroit player to ever net 50 goals and he did it twice! Mick’s career would be cut short by back ailments. Later in my life I was fortunate enough to work with Mickey on the Red Wings’ TV broadcasts. He is a fabulous guy who taught me much about the NHL game. I consider Mickey a mentor and friend.
Minnesota-born Henry Boucha enjoyed a short moment in the sun with Detroit. Boucha burst upon the NHL scene with a pair of strong performances on nationally televised games. In the era before helmets, Boucha was immediately identifiable by his long black hair and trademark headband. But it was his all-out, all-the-time effort that I loved to watch. He was a ball of energy on the penalty kill, daring the likes of Orr and Park to shoot from the point. He would hurry the shooter only slide off his skates to block shot after shot. His speed created more than his share of breakaways. He never ever gave up on a loose puck. Boucha would later play for the North Stars where he suffered a severe eye injury that all but ended his career.
Take a moment and think of your all-time Shark favorites.
An informal poll was taken on the Sharks team plane last night asking, who are Sharks fans all-time favorites? After a short powwow here’s what I’ve come up with.
The current Sharks squad has several fan favorites. Any one of them could become an all-timer in the years ahead…but not quite yet. Patrick Marleau
, Jonathon Cheechoo, Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Thornton
all have their followings. But their body of work is yet to be completed so I’m ruling them out for this discussion.
First the honorable mentions: Marco Sturm
Before the November trade to Boston, Marco Sturm was certainly a fan favorite. His speed, hard work and ready smile was a huge part of the Sharks’ personality from the first time he donned the San Jose sweater. Tony Granato
As a member of the LA Kings, Granato suffered a near career-ending injury. It would have been the end for most players, but Tony’s hard work and desire seemed to push him beyond normal limits. San Jose fans embraced Tony as their own from the very beginning. They loved the energy he brought to each and every game. He always delivered. Off the ice he always found time to lend a hand to local charities. Marty McSorley
By the time Marty got to San Jose he already had a huge fan following from his days in Edmonton and Los Angeles. He was a very rare commodity in hockey. He could play forward and defense. He was one of toughest players in the NHL yet off the ice Marty one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. He always had time for the fans. He’d make sure every last person got an autograph or photo. Al Iafrate
It’s just a shame that Big Al’s career was cut short by injuries. His time in San Jose was short. But in that time the fans loved the way Al played the game. His reckless abandon and canon slapshot were his trademark. I still recall a 1998 game against Detroit when Al attempted another comeback. Playing on just one good knee, Iafrate was the First Star by scoring a goal and making several key defensive plays in the Sharks victory. In his post-game radio interview Al announced to the world, “We shagged them baby!”
Enough of the honorable mentions, here are the top 5 all-time San Jose favorites… Link Gaetz
Hockey returned to the Bay Area in 1991. It was in those days that Gaetz brought Cow Palace fans to their feet. Always ready to drop the gloves, Link quickly became one of the league’s premier heavyweights. His 326 penalty minutes in 1991-92 are still a franchise record. Who can forget Link’s epic battle with all-time tough guy Bob Probert? The Sharks didn’t win many games back then, but the fans were always entertained by the Linkster. Igor Larionov
One of the greatest hockey players of all-time made his home in San Jose during the mid 1990’s. Igor Larionov played grace and skill as he helped put the Sharks on the map. Nicknamed ‘the Professor” Igor was a thinking man’s hockey player. He could see the ice like few others. A precision passer and leader both on and off the ice, Larionov brought class and style to the game. As a central player in the 1994 playoff upset win over Detroit, Igor will always be remembered in Northern California. Arturs Irbe
Few players have ever connected with the fans like Irbe did with Shark fans in 1993-94. Arturs played goal like a forward…aggressive, quick and with great emotion. His wandering from the goal crease provided gray hair for his coaches and his fans. Yet he always found a way to make a big stop just when it mattered most. “Like a wall” is the way Irbe described his play. To this day Irbe is a hero in the South Bay. Jeff Freisen
From the very first time Jeff stepped on San Jose ice, fans loved him. In a time when the Sharks were rebuilding, Friesen was the hope for a better future. His lightning-quick speed and aggressive style were a hit with local fans. As a young player Jeff played with great emotion and a ready smile. Remember how he used to jump into the glass after scoring a goal? Fans loved ‘Freezie’ and he loved them back! Mike Ricci
Was it the long hair? Maybe it was his relentless, determined style? No. What it was is Mike Ricci loved the game, loved the fans and loved his teammates. It is rare in these days that you see a player play with such raw emotions. Mike Ricci brought 100% to the rink every single day and the fans knew it. San Jose fans could identify with a hard-working, yet modest demeanor. Mike played his best when it mattered the most. They don’t make ‘em like Ricci anymore.
So there you have it…one guy’s opinion.
For Seagate Technology's In the Crease, I’m Frank Albin