Sharks center Joe Pavelski
will be playing in one of the biggest games of his life on Friday when Team USA faces Finland in the Olympic Semifinals. A chance to play for a gold medal is on the line, but 25-year-old’s not nervous. He’s excited.
“It’s a great opportunity for our team,” said Pavelski on Thursday in an exclusive interview with SJSHARKS.com. “I’m more excited to be playing in it than nervous.”
Team USA’s schedule for Thursday was routine. In preparation for their game against Finland, they skated from 1:15-2:30 PM and studied film after practice. Then the players traveled to Hockey Canada Place to cheer on Team USA in the Women’s Hockey Finals against Team Canada. Following the game, “Pavs” and the boys will have a team dinner.
Although the anxiety might not have gotten to Pavelski, playing in the Olympics can be a nerve-wracking experience.
Even after 22 years, Sharks Assistant Coach Trent Yawney can still remember the nerves he felt as a 21-year-old amateur suiting up for his first Olympics.
“I remember the nervous energy for the first game,” explained Yawney following the Sharks practice on Thursday. “We played against Poland, who we should have beaten pretty handedly, but we ended up only winning 1-0 or 2-0. Then once we got through that we started to play real hockey.”
Prior to earning a spot on an NHL roster, the Sharks Assistant Coach spent three years patrolling the blueline for Team Canada; playing 196 games between 1985 and 1987 at a time when Olympic hockey teams were made up of more prospects than professionals. Then in 1988, the native of Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan helped Team Canada earn fourth place at the Calgary Games.
Now Yawney is watching his own players deal with the pressures of Olympic competition.
“I think that last night Dan Boyle
had his best game of the tournament,” said the 42-year-old. “It takes a while to for chemistry to evolve when you come from different groups and different systems. I think our guys have handled themselves well. They’ve played in a lot of important minutes and I think we still have a couple games left, but they’ve done what I expected them to do.”
After representing Team Canada for four years, Yawney earned a spot with the Chicago Blackhawks --- the team that drafted him 45th overall in 1984 --- where he played four seasons. In 1991, he was traded to Calgary and then signed with St. Louis in 1996. Following a one year stint with the Blues, Yawney returned to the Blackhawks where he played out the final two seasons of his NHL career.
Over his 12 years in the NHL, the 6-foot-3, 195 defenseman played 593 games, scored 129 points and tallied a 783 penalty minutes. This guy is not a stranger to hockeyfights.com.
“I was a bit of a battler,” said Yawney when asked how he would describe his style of play. “I’d like to be known as someone who competed hard. I think that when I came into the NHL, I was a little bit more finesse and as time went on I became more defensive.
“Playing for the National Team was kind of my minor league experience to get to the NHL. During my four years training for the Olympics, the competition we experienced allowed me to grow as a player and a person. We got to see the world and we were playing against the equivalent of --- or better than--- some players in the NHL. So your improvement rate was so much better.”
Now Yawney can be found behind the Sharks bench; working on the team’s defense and penalty kill unit. Prior to his arrival in San Jose, the NHL veteran spent one year as the Assistant Coach for the Blackhawks from 1999-00, five years as the Head Coach for the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals from 2000-05 and two years as the Head Coach for the Blackhawks from 2005-07.
After all he’s experienced in hockey, there are still things Yawney will never forget about his time as an Olympian. First there’s the energy. And then there’s the Olympic Village. And lastly, of course, there’s West German women’s Speed Skating Team.
“They were massive,” remarked Yawney. “I remember how many calories they would eat at the restaurant in the Village. They were huge.”