The youthful exuberance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs can turn grown men into young children. There’s a lot more riding on it professionally, but in many ways, the National Hockey League players in the postseason are just as happy as an 8-year-old on the pond.
For those who could easily have seen this year without the playoffs, there’s a great deal of appreciation for being there. The Sharks have two who are grateful for the chance: Kyle Wellwood and Ben Eager.
Eager began the campaign in Atlanta, which finished 12th in the Eastern Conference. Wellwood started the hockey season in Russia, but when he returned to North America, promptly signed with St. Louis. The Blues finished 11th in the Western Conference. Eager was traded to San Jose and Wellwood was claimed off re-entry waivers, but had they remained with their last club, they would likely be pulling out the golf clubs.
Now both are extremely happy hockey players and the thought of not prepping for playoff games right now sounds foreign to each of them.
“I got picked up by the Sharks and get to play in the playoffs again, so it’s a good situation,” Wellwood said. “After a couple of hours, you’re getting on the plane going to San Jose and overjoyed with the opportunity to challenge for the Cup. It’s been a great experience.”
“I was thrilled when I found out I was coming to the Sharks,” Eager said. “I knew a lot about them. They had a great team and we faced them last year in Chicago (in the Western Conference Final). Getting out of Atlanta worked out great for me personally. You realize how much you enjoy playing in the postseason when you’re with a good hockey team. I’m really excited to go to battle with these guys. I’m happy to be a part of the Sharks.”
Both have plenty of postseason experience. Eager won the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks and Wellwood was part of a Vancouver team that tested Chicago in the second round.
“From my own game, I’m more prepared from having played in the playoffs,” Wellwood said. “You learn a lot more about your game. How good the players can be on the top teams and how well you have to counter their game. There’s a lot more to the playoffs and having that experience will help me.”
“I’m looking forward to doing what I do and helping them out in the playoffs,” Eager said. “I think these guys know a lot of what it takes. It’s a long stretch. You’ve got to take care of your body as much as you can because you’re pretty much going every other day for two months if you go all the way. These guys went to the conference final last year and I’m sure they learned that it’s a long stretch. They got pretty close, but there’s a whole other round. You’ve got to pace yourself somewhat and make sure you’re taking care of yourself.”
Wellwood and Eager will simply enjoy the moment when the puck drops on Thursday.
“Anybody in hockey wants to play on a contending team and the Sharks are certainly one of the teams,” Wellwood said. “To be on the roster and playing, for some players is a once in a career thing. I’m hoping this is the year we get into the Final.”
was asked to recall a spectacular save he made against Ryane Clowe
last year in the Western Conference Final.
“I remember one he had the empty net,” Niemi said. “It was sliding and he had a backhand. I was lucky and able to get it with the glove.”
Even with Clowe as a current teammate, Niemi had no remorse over the highlight stop.
“No, that’s funny,” Niemi said about whether he felt bad.
Defenseman Kent Huskins won’t be able to start the quarterfinal series against Los Angeles, but Head Coach Todd McLellan said he could at the midway point.
“I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Huskins said. “It’s just exciting to be back around the guys, practicing every day and feeling like a part of things again. When you’re injured, you’re still traveling with the team, but you’re not doing everything the guys are doing. It’s just really good to be back around the guys.”
DAY 2 OF PRACTICE
McLellan said it was a good day at practice and he liked what he saw on the ice.
“I felt we were a little edgier today, which is a good thing,” McLellan said. “We’re working towards Game 1. Tomorrow, we’ll look for a little more tempo in practice, but you could feel more today.”
San Jose plays host to Los Angeles in Game 1 Thursday at 7 p.m. and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5/102.1 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.