Through the years, coaches in many team sports have tried to motivate their players by saying they should play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. But, when that name on the front is the Sharks logo placed on a teal jersey, that representation holds a little more meaning for a few former players and a group of lucky fans who were each given the opportunity to take part in a great tradition, all for the benefit of youth and families in the local community.
The team's annual "Shark For A Day Fantasy Camp," was held March 19 and is one of the most popular events of the season. All net proceeds generated from the day benefit the Sharks Foundation.
While adult campers experienced a full day in the life of a National Hockey League player, including a morning skate and a full game, four ex-players got to show their appreciation for having worn teal by joining the campers throughout the whole day.
Defenseman Al Iafrate (with the Sharks from 1996-98) had sat out the previous two seasons when he came to San Jose. Bad knees and other ailments limited Iafrate to 59 games in two years and he wasn't the dominating offensive force that he was with Toronto and Washington.
But Iafrate always appreciated the chance the Sharks gave him to play one more time.
"When I got here in 1996, my body was pretty much done," Iafrate said. "They treated me like anyone wants to be treated, like a person. They lived with me through a lot of brutal injuries. This is a first-class organization. When you have the opportunity to help in any way to raise money to help someone, you're supposed to be selfless in this life and do as much for others, if not more, than you do for yourself. The Sharks are an unbelievable organization. I'm grateful to be considered as part of it."
"The Sharks Foundation has been very valuable in the community," said Steve Shields (1998-01), who was a skater, and not a goaltender, for the camp. "They find different ways to create opportunities to help different organizations. This (camp) is one that people can participate in and get something back in return that's fun for them…and for me."
Showing gratitude wasn't limited to those who wore the Sharks sweater at one time. Darren Pang, former Chicago Blackhawks goaltender and now St. Louis Blues television analyst, coached one of the fantasy teams in the game.
Pang has always felt some affiliation with the Sharks. That's because some of Pang's teammates and good friends (Doug Wilson, Bob McGill and Wayne Presley) became Sharks during the team's first year in 1991-92. Pang also knows Vice President and Assistant General Manager Wayne Thomas and was friends with the late Warren Strelow, San Jose's goaltending coach from 2000-07.
"Anytime they've ever asked me to be a part of anything, I try to help out as much as possible," Pang said. "On a day like this, even though I do television and have to get ready for the game, it means a lot to the players who are here and have paid a lot of money to be part of a fantasy camp and want that experience."
The Sharks Foundation benefited on Saturday and the former players enjoyed their time. But actually, the real winners were the campers. These adults (including two women) ranged in age from 22-60 and came from as far as New Jersey and Canada.
"Everybody works hard, raises their families and tries to do the right thing," Pang said. "Here, you get a chance to be rewarded for what you do in your everyday life. For the wives, mothers and fathers, they get to watch their husband or child get to be a kid again."