Entering his third NHL season with the Sharks, Niko Dimitrakos is no stranger to big crowds. As a member of the University of Maine Black Bears from 1998-2002, Dimitrakos became used to playing in front of a packed crowd at Alfond Sports Arena. Now, three years later, the Boston, Massacussets native still enjoys the same type of support.
“The fans here in San Jose are great,” said Dimitrakos. “Just about every night we’re sold out. I’ve been very fortunate to play in front of some of the best hockey fans in the world, both here and in college.”
Some may say Dimitrakos is spoiled, having played for some of the best college hockey fans in the world, only to come to San Jose and receive even more crowd support. It’s something that the Sharks forward does not take for granted.
“Playing at Maine was great,” he said. “It’s probably one of the best places to play college hockey. It’s sold out every night, 6,000 fans. The whole state is really behind the team which is great.”
Dimitrakos enjoyed a successful college career that saw the feisty forward notch 127 points (49 goals, 78 assists) in 135 games for Maine. While at the University of Maine, the right winger had the privilege of playing for one of the best college coaches of all time, Shawn Walsh.
Just before Dimitrakos’ senior season, Walsh passed away after a 15-month battle with kidney cancer. A highly successful coach, leading his Black Bears to two NCAA Championships in 17 years, Walsh was very influential for Dimitrakos’ development as a professional hockey player.
“He’s one of the best college coaches of all time,” said Dimitrakos. “It’s a tragedy that he passed away at an early age. He’s probably one of the best motivators I’ve ever played for and he always knew how to get the most out of his players. He was just a great guy.”
After an impressive college career, Dimitrakos packed his bags and headed for Cleveland, the minor league affiliate of the Sharks. The Sharks drafted Dimitrakos in the fifth round (155th overall) in the 1999 Entry Draft, just one season after the Boston, Massacusetts native helped lead the Black Bears to the NCAA Championship.
How did Dimitrakos fare in his first professional season? He impressed Sharks Executives and was named the Barons Rookie of the Year after posting 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) in 55 games. His solid play earned him a call up to San Jose where he notched 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 21 games.
Niko carried his success over to the 2003-04 season in which he played in 68 games for team teal, racking up 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists). The forward also played a key role in helping the Sharks advance further than they ever had before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Niko pitched in with nine points in the playoffs, including the game-winning, overtime goal in game one of the Western Conference Quarterfinals vs. St. Louis.
Dimitrakos hopes to help the Sharks get back to the Western Conference Finals this year, and finish some unfinished business. In his mind, it is defiantly possible.
“We have the tools in this dressing room to get back to where we were two years ago,” he said. “We pretty much have the same guys, we just have to fine tune some things. I think we’re playing good hockey, but everyone’s got to get on the same page and help each other out and believe in everyone else. Once we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Much of Dimitrakos’ success can be attributed to his mother, who when Niko was young would constantly keep him active in sports.
“I played hockey and baseball growing up depending on the seasonal changes,” said Dimitrakos. “Just a lot of sports in general and a lot of competition, which was good because it made me who I am today. My parents are great. They’ve always been behind me. My mom would always bring me to the rink when I was a kid and make sure I was always where I needed to be.”
Niko looks forward to every opportunity he gets to spend with his family.
“They came out here last season for a couple weeks and watched a few games,” he said. “Pretty soon they should be coming for a couple more.”
During the past offseason, Dimitrakos took some time to travel to Europe where he played hockey in Switzerland. While in Europe, he traveled to France and Italy where he visited some of his relatives over there.
“It was great being able to turn a negative into a positive one,” Niko said, speaking of the lockout. “I also got into fishing a little bit. I went to Canada for seven days and stayed in a log cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere, so that was pretty cool.”
I doubt if you’ll be seeing Niko on the cover of BassMaster anytime soon, but you’ll surely find him at HP Pavilion causing havoc for opposing goalies.
LIGHTNING’S COLEMAN TO BE FIRST NHL DIVERSITY PROGRAM PLAYER TO DRESS FOR NHL GAME
Tampa Bay goaltender Gerald Coleman, of Romeoville, Ill., will become the first NHL Diversity program player to dress for an NHL regular-season game tonight when the Lightning host the New York Rangers at the St. Pete Times Forum. Coleman was selected by the Lightning in seventh round (224th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and was recalled yesterday from the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield, Mass.
Coleman was introduced to hockey through an NHL Diversity program, the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois Diversity Program, formerly Chicago P.U.C.K. He was the program's representative at the 1997 Willie O'Ree All-Star Game in Chicago and returned as an alumni coach in 2001, when Tampa Bay hosted the event. Coleman also participated in USA Hockey's Under-18 National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
VERIZON SUPER PAGES RALLY TOWEL GIVEAWAY THIS SATURDAY!
Every fan attending Saturday’s game against the Dallas Stars will receive a Sharks Rally towel courtesy of Verizon Super Pages. Game time is at 7:30 p.m. For those that can’t attend, the game will be broadcast on FSN-HD, on the Sharks Radio Network and sjsharks.com.