With the offseason departure of forwards Mark Bell and Mark Smith, defenseman Scott Hannan and goaltender Vesa Toskala, the San Jose Sharks now look to their wealth of young talent to fill the openings created over the summer.
While the rookies and the U50s (the term used to refer to a player who has not yet competed in 50 career NHL games) battle furiously to show the Sharks front office that they are ready to be trusted with a roster spot, journeyman Brad Norton has also thrown his name into the mix.
Norton, the brother of former Shark Jeff Norton, has 124 career NHL games to his credit, seeing playing time over five different seasons for five different teams. On paper, Norton, 32, does not appear to be the prototypical player that ends up in San Jose via free agency. One ice, however, the comparison is much clearer.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound native of Cambridge, Massachusetts physically blends right in next to several members of the current Sharks roster like Kyle McLaren (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), Joe Thornton (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), Patrick Rissmiller (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and Douglas Murray (6-foot-3, 240 pounds).
“It’s kind of funny. Usually every camp I walk into, everybody’s looking at me like I’m the big guy,” said Norton. “I usually stick out like a sore thumb. But here I walk around and there are guys I’m looking eye-to-eye with that can skate like the wind and do everything else.”
In addition to his size, Norton also brings an element of physicality and versatility to the ice.
“That’s what I bring, I stand up for my teammates,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend it’s anything else. But now a day you have to be able to play too. I love standing up for my teammates. That’s my job. But I don’t think I’m as one-dimensional as some guys that do it. I think I can play. I can jump back to defense if there’s ever an injury. I’m not going to hurt my team with penalties and I’m not a defensive liability.”
Last season, Bell led the Sharks with nine fighting majors while Ryane Clowe came in second on the squad with eight. Bell’s departure combined with Clowe’s increased offensive responsibilities as a projected top-six forward could put more of an emphasis on the physical aspect of Norton’s game. But the gritty utility man who prides himself on being able to play in all situations is focusing on playing hockey and making the best of his current situation, not fighting.
“I was talking with San Jose (last season) before I signed with Detroit,” he said. “I’d been here a bunch when my brother was here and it was always a place that I wanted to play. It has just a great nucleus of guys. I think this staff has put together what can be a great team. We have all the pieces and we just have to pull it all together.
“All that and my wife works in LA [where the two make their permanent residence] so it really works well,” added a smiling Norton.”
With continued solid play on the part of Brad Norton, the career journeyman may surprise some people yet and find a permanent spot in San Jose’s lineup.
DAY TWO: TRAINING CAMP SCRIMMAGE
Unlike Day One’s fast-paced and highly offensive intrasquad scrimmage, Day Two’s contest was more of a defensive showdown with Team Black avenging Friday’s 4-3 defeat with a 2-1 victory.
Dimitri Patzold was perfect in his 30 minutes of work, saving all 16 shots he faced in the first half in goal for Team Black. Patzold gave way to Thomas Greiss, who stopped 12 of 13 shots he faced, securing the victory in the second half. Up front for Team Black it was Torrey Mitchell and Marcel Goc who provided the scoring.
Mitchell beat Evgeni Nabokov midway through the first half on a pinpoint snapshot after a receiving a sensational backhand courtesy of Jamie McGinn. Goc made it 2-0 in favor of Team Black 11:05 into the second half with a rebound goal past Taylor Dakers. Christian Ehrhoff and Mike Grier were credited with the assists.
Tomas Plihal broke up the shutout and pulled Team White within a goal with 14:04 to play in the scrimmage on a feed from Matt Carle.
Steve Bernier had a noticeably physical scrimmage on Saturday, connecting on several big hits. One his most active shift of the day, the power forward attempted to finish Rob Davison who had his head down as he moved the puck out of his zone. But the gritty defender saw Bernier in time to counter the winger’s blow and knocked Bernier to the ice.
When the puck made its way back to Davison, he moved the puck to his defensive partner for the shift, Dan Spang, who was on the wrong end of another one of Bernier’s big hits. Bernier knocked the offensive-minded defenseman to the ice as several fans applauded the hit.
The hit of the day however belonged to Brennan Evans who cleared out Ashton Rome with a blistering hip-check. As Rome moved over the blueline with the puck on the attack, he attempted to turn from the boards on his off-wing back through the middle. Evans had other ideas and sent Rome airborne with a perfectly timed and executed hip-check.
Team Black and Team White are all square with one win apiece with the decisive third of three training camp scrimmages set for Sunday morning at 11:00 AM at Sharks Ice at San Jose. The scrimmage will be held at Sharks Ice’s South Rink and will be open to the public.
If you cannot make the scrimmage in person, be sure to Crash the Net at www.sjsharks.com for a brief recap of the game and everything Sharks hockey.