There were several first coming out of the morning skate for Friday’s season opener in Sweden. First, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan officially announced that Antti Niemi
would be the starting goaltender. He cautioned not to read too much into it for future games, but he was firm in his decision for the night (day in San Jose).
will start tonight,” said McLellan. “It’s not an indication for the season, it is for today. We’ll play tonight’s game and see what happens from here.”
Niemi has some familiarity with Columbus as they were a division foe during his tenure in Chicago. When it comes to the rising Blue Jackets, they have a growing talent base, but Rick Nash is always a focal point.
“It’s some different players, but it will be more about how we approach (things) and how ready I am,” said Niemi. “He (Nash) is a scorer. He can shoot it hard and really fast. I have to be ready all the time.”
NEW CAPTAINJoe Thornton
will be starting his first game as captain for San Jose. Dan Boyle
will be an alternate captain and, since the Sharks will be the road team, Ryane Clowe
will don the other A.
“I’m really looking forward to tonight,” said Thornton. “We have a really great club and we’ve added a lot this off season so I think everyone is excited to start the season.”
Finally, Tommy Wingels
will start his first NHL game and Logan Couture
will play in his first season opener.
“It will be my first game tonight,” confirmed Wingels. “I’m very excited, it’s what you’ve worked for your whole life, but I can’t get too excited. It’s a great opportunity. To be in the lockerroom with the guys that are here is a pretty special honor. I’m just going to go out there and work hard because success comes when you work hard.”
He hopes one good game can lead to another.
“The way I look at it, if I play well enough, they’ve got to keep me in the lineup,” said Wingels. “I’ll just try to make some plays and try to have some fun out there.”
Before his pregame nap, Wingels might give some people a heads up about his debut.
“I think there will be a few phone calls and a few emails,” said Wingels. “I’ve been telling people I’m not sure yet, so I’m guessing they’ll be pretty exciting.”
His former Miami University teammates have a game later in the evening, but the time frame might let them watch Wingels play for a bit. Wingels found the news out this morning when he walked into the dressing room and saw his name on the board.
For Couture, he’s had the thrill of playoff hockey under his belt, but there is still something special about opening night.
The Sharks have found time to enjoy Germany and Sweden, but now there can be no question about their purpose in Europe.
“Today was a little bit more serious,” said Boyle. “We had a nice team dinner last night. We didn’t come here to play around. We came here to win two hockey games and you can’t win two if you don’t win the first one. We want to get off to a good start tonight.”
The Sharks have not played a game on NHL ice since departing San Jose, so they will need to be on their toes.
“It’s been seven or eight days since we’ve left, so it’s getting a little more real,” said Boyle. “We’ll have to keep it simple and play hard.”
The wait for the regular season games has been a bit long from the players’ standpoint.
“You always want to get started, whoever said the preseason is fun is lying,” said Murray. “You just want to play for games that count.”
“This is my 12th or 13th NHL camp and they don’t get any easier,” said Boyle. “It’s a lot of hard work and not something you necessarily enjoy. It’s nice to get back to playing games and playing together as a team.”
San Jose will open its season at Noon today and the game will be on Versus, 98.5 FKOX and sjsharks.com.