Communication is the biggest asset for a club, as it's the very definition of keeping everyone on the same page. Whether it's loose humor or enforcing a message, the Sharks have maintained that they are one big family throughout their history. In 2013, one player joined the growing family of the Sharks franchise, even if he couldn't understand his peers.
Tomas Hertl broke into the league, somewhat taking it by sheer force, scoring seven goals in his first career five games. He did it without understanding English, outside of some of the basic words on the ice from his teammates. It was a tough transition for Hertl in the beginning, as he was only one of two Czech natives on the roster when he first joined the team.
"When I got here, I barely spoke English, I loved to talk, I loved to have fun, but the first couple years it was tough because you barely speak, but over the years it's changed," said Hertl.
It certainly has changed over the years, as the Sharks have added several other players who did not really have a grasp on the English language. This year was Danil Yurtaykin, who played primarily in Russia. Last year, Radim Simek was in the same situation as he played in his native country before joining the Barracuda in 2017-18. Simek noted the same scenario Hertl experienced. Everything was foreign and new.
"It was a big difference. Here is a different culture and for me, it was pretty hard because I didn't speak English [well]," said Simek. "Everything was new for me here, but my first time here was a big surprise because I've never seen the professional team with coaches and players."
Simek has come a long way from when he first arrived. He said it was difficult in the beginning, as he was the only Czech native on the Barracuda two seasons ago. When he joined the Sharks for the 2018-19 campaign, he was alongside fellow Czechs Hertl and Lukas Radil. Hertl was one of the first to step up and help him out, a leadership quality that was taught to him from the very beginning.
"When I got here, Martin Havlat helped me. So with Simek, I flew with him at the same time, so I tried and help him get phone numbers, get around, there were a lot of meetings so we made sure he understands all the stuff we do here," Hertl said. "Even guys, they like to help, they try talking to them more slowly because everybody is a big family here, and every time they need something, especially when Simek had a knee problem, it's easier for me to help him and speak Czech, so I'm always there for them, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be there for other guys when they come to the Sharks."
It's no accident that Hertl stepped up to help Simek adjust to the North American lifestyle and learn to communicate with his teammates and coaches not just on the ice during drills, but away from the rink in everyday life. It's a quality that's developed over time from the leadership in the room.
"That's engrained here, and it starts with Joe Thornton, said DeBoer. "Joe has set the culture for this team for the last 20 years. If you are on the team, you are part of the family. He's the first guy that has gone out of his way for the young guys or new guys. When you grow up in that type of culture as Tommy has, you inherit those characteristics and you start doing that, and I think that's the beauty of the group."
And Hertl wasn't the only one who helped Simek out during his adjustment to a new life. Thornton still was there, trying to find ways to make him laugh or feel a part of the team. Even though Hertl helped with the logistics of Simek's life, several other players stepped up to make him a part of the family.
"Tommy helped me the first year because I was in his apartment the first couple days," said Simek. "He helped me with an apartment and spoke with my agent because he wanted to help me. Last year was good because everyone from the team would help me too. Jumbo [Thornton] still was trying to speak with me and it was more fun stuff rather than something about life here [in the locker room]. Jumbo is a good guy and he tried to make the locker room fun, even when we didn't play well and he's still positive and that's fun with him."
Little instances like this have created the culture that molded Hertl into who he is today. A leader on the ice in his expanding role; skating in big minutes during a game, power-play time and difficult penalty kill situations. It was one of several factors why he earned an assistant captain role alongside veterans Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Thornton. His attitude and investment in the organization from his debut in 2013 gave him the opportunity to officially be a part of the leadership group.
I was pretty surprised. I was really happy when Pete told us, it was actually five guys, said Hertl. "I was really, really happy about it and proud. I can tell my parents and my friends, but I know it's a big responsibility. I'm ready for that too."
The impact that he's had on the organization has already shown, as he made a sizeable impact in the 2019 playoffs, voiced his confidence in the team after Game 5 in the First Round, and was named Co-Player of the year with Burns in the 2018-19 season. That's just the on-ice contributions in recent history.
Away from the rink and in the locker room, Radil has mirrored Hertl's value and helped Yurtaykin in his first month with the Sharks, helping translate the message from the coaches or other players and continuing a strong line of communication within the organization. It eases the burden on the coaching staff to make sure the players understand what is happening in a game situation or during a drill at practice.
"Communication is everything, especially from a coach to a player, said head coach Peter DeBoer. "We are trying to get them the right messaging and a lot of things get lost in translation when the player doesn't understand the language. Having Tommy there with Simek to help with that and Radil here this year with Yurtaykin to help with the Russian is really important because having that clear communication is imperative."
It's important to Hertl to make others feel like they are part of the family in the organization, as back home for some of these players, it's a completely different lifestyle.
"It's a little bit different, back home is a different lifestyle, and when you get here, even the league is different, we have so many games," said Hertl. "You just try to help, especially the European guys, because it's something new for them, new people, new food, so you try and help them. I think it's pretty easy in hockey because like I said, it's a big family here, we help each other and even the team really helps us to get through it. If you need anything, you just ask and they help you, so that's not bad."
The qualities that Hertl was immersed in has helped him become who he is today. A teammate that is willing to go the extra mile to make sure a player is welcome, happy, and part of the big family in San Jose.