Although the Sharks added some much needed veteran leadership at last week’s trade deadline by acquiring right wing Bill Guerin and defenseman Craig Rivet, much of the focus remains on San Jose’s wealth of young talent.
The current Sharks lineup features standouts at nearly every position. Marc-Edouard Vlasic
and Matt Carle are two of the top young blueliners in the League, while left wing Ryane Clowe
took home NHL Rookie of the Month honors in January. Right wing Steve Bernier is returning to form after a brief stint in Worcester and newcomer Joe Pavelski
filled in admirably at center when Patrick Marleau
was out with his upper body injury. Yet, the leader of the young Sharks pack for the past two seasons has been left wing Milan Michalek.
As a rookie last season, Michalek broke onto the scene posting 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 81 games for the Sharks. His 35 points were tops among rookies on the team as Michalek earned PlayStation “Sharks Rookie of the Year” honors.
“The first year was the hardest,” said Michalek. “I was looking around, learning how everything works. Now I know a little better how everything works and realize the season is long. Everybody is going to have some up and downs and you just have to deal with them.”
A native of Jindrichuv, Czech Republic, Michalek left home at age 13 to pursue his dream of playing in the National Hockey League. He played in juniors through his teenage years, frequently competing against players that were older than him. Today, Michalek still competes with players that are older than him, but is doing so in the NHL. Milan’s older brother Zbynek is a defenseman for the Phoenix Coyotes.
“I was thirteen and I moved away from home,” said Michalek, “I had my own apartment and everything. It was a lot of fun. I was selected to play on the Czech National team when I was about 15 or 16. That is when I really felt like I could make it to the NHL.”
This season, Michalek stormed out of the gates and in the early going looked to be unstoppable. The skilled forward tallied six goals in the first seven games of the season as it seemed that he could score at will. Michalek surpassed his impressive rookie figures, already having posted career highs in goals (18), assists (28) and points (46) with 15 games remaining. But the super sophomore quickly learned the ebb and flow of the game as he slumped, scoring just once in his next 11 games after that.
“I think confidence plays a really big role in my game,” said Michalek. “At first I played really well and my confidence was high. Then some games I didn’t play so well and my confidence was lowered. Now I have regained my confidence and I’m starting to play well again.”
Michalek’s return to form has been evident of late as the winger has posted three points (two goals, one assist) in his past four games including the eventual game-winning goal he scored on Tuesday night in Minnesota. Currently featured on a line with Joe Thornton
and Jonathan Cheechoo, Michalek has combined his speed and skill in the open ice with Thornton’s playmaking ability and Cheechoo’s scoring touch to make one explosive combination.
“I am very happy to be playing with them,” said Michalek of his current linemates Thornton and Cheechoo and former linemate Captain Patrick Marleau
. “They are some of the best players in the League.
“Joe sees the ice so well and with his passing. I know I just have to go to the net and he is going to give it to me. With Patty we play more of a speed game. I really like to play with both of them.”
The Sharks are currently nestled in between the Anaheim Ducks and the Dallas Stars in the race for the Pacific Division crown, nine points back of Anaheim and just one point ahead of Dallas. Michalek and the rest of the Sharks know that they will need to continue playing at the top of their game as they make a late season charge and playoff run for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
“The playoffs are so much fun,” said an eager Michalek. “I can’t wait for the playoffs to start.”
With Michalek and the Sharks playing some of their best hockey of the season of late, those sentiments are undoubtedly shared by the entire Sharks organization and Sharks fans everywhere.
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA
Thursday’s practice was no ordinary practice for the San Jose Sharks. The team donned their game uniforms and met at Center Ice to snap their Official 2006-07 Team Photo. After the photo was taken, the players slipped back into their practice jerseys for their usual skate at HP Pavilion at San Jose.
The Sharks return home from their three-game road trip and will open a three-game homestand on Friday night, playing host to the red hot Vancouver Canucks. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be a RADIO ONLY broadcast. Friday’s game was originally set to be broadcast on FSN+, but was dropped from the broadcast schedule earlier in the season. The game can be heard on KFOX 98.5 FM, Sharks Radio Network Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.