Sharks fans who love the early years as much as the present will always remember 1993-94 for the Sharks initial playoff run. Jamie Baker scored the vital Game Seven clincher and Igor Larionov was the maestro who led the team in scoring, but Arturs Irbe was the one who seemed to capture everyone’s hearts.
Much for that reason, Irbe will be the first Sharks player inducted to the San Jose Hall of Fame. The Nov. 16 event, presented by Hewlett-Packard, begins with a reception followed by dinner and an induction ceremony. Dinner tickets begin at $200 each and sponsorship packages are available ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. For information and or to purchase tickets, please call 408-288-2936.
Irbe spent five years in San Jose, including part of the inaugural season, had quick stops in Dallas and Vancouver and concluded his National Hockey League career with six campaigns in Carolina. After being away from Silicon Valley for a long time, Irbe still has a strong fondness for his time in San Jose. In fact, he still owns the house he bought while playing here. Irbe may have experienced a deeper playoff run in Carolina, but acknowledged there will always be something magical about San Jose.
“Do you remember your first love,” Irbe said about his Sharks history. “Everybody should or there’s something wrong with them. For me hockey-wise, it was the first love. I love my country and my home team, but what I experienced when I was in San Jose was something else.”
Being able to represent the initial playoff squad in the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame is extremely meaningful to Irbe.
“It’s very special to be elected in San Jose,” Irbe said. “I thought the whole team would make it. The relationship we had amongst the guys, it was special. We had a lot of guys on the team who weren’t wanted in other places. They were called has-beens or underachievers. I think we went beyond the expectations of some fans. We were a bunch of guys who liked each other and played for each other. I feel very fortunate that I’m carrying the torch for all of our players on that team. It’s an honor for the whole team.”
Fan expectations were one thing, but the Sharks players aimed higher than just the quarterfinals vs. Detroit.
“We really believed we could win the Cup,” Irbe said. “There was the shot (off the post by Johan Garpenlov in Game Six of the conference semifinals vs. Toronto). We liked playing together so much and we liked playing at the Shark Tank. It was a honeymoon for us. Some of the players got their second wind (as Sharks players).”
As with all Sharks players, past or current, the community support always comes up. Irbe chuckled a bit when he received a helping hand one day from one of San Jose’s finest on a playoff game day – a story he didn’t like to give up back then, but is fairly humorous now.
“Everybody would do what they could to help us,” Irbe said. “I remember one year in the playoffs, I was heading home after the morning skate. I was in my van because I took my dog with me for some fresh air. Here we are on 280 heading home and I ran out of gas. I’m stuck on 280 without any gas in the Detroit series.”
Hockey players are men of routine and after the morning skate they eat and nap. Now Irbe was facing a break in that routine.
“I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to get home?’” Irbe said, noting cell phones weren’t as prevalent then as they are now. “I needed to get to one of those emergency phones. After I pulled over, a Highway Patrol officer pulled over and asked what the problem was and asked me for my license. I told him I ran out of gas because it was a game day and I needed my nap and I would call a buddy who could manage to get my car and get it home. The officer looked at my driver’s license and said, ‘I know who you are.’”
The officer proceeded to help arrange a call to get the car removed from the freeway and then personally drove Irbe home so the netminder could be rested for the game.
“He made sure I could get home and get ready for the game without worrying,” Irbe said. “Back then, I didn’t want to tell that story. Now I can.”
HP Pavilion, then San Jose Arena, was still in its infancy as was the hockey team. However, the fan support is what has always made everything special in San Jose, even to this day.
“We had a tremendous amount of support from the fans,” Irbe said. “It was a new place and had some many different things, a different language and I was a foreign body there. The people were so receptive. They treated me as one of their own. That made it so special. It was very unique.”