Back in 2005-06, the Sharks called up a player in the season’s second half who had played just four National Hockey League games in 2003-04.
That player was left wing Patrick Rissmiller. Then 27, Rissmiller used that opportunity to become a playoff regular that spring and has stayed in the rotation.
Now another player is looking to following in those footsteps. Center Tomas Plihal has played in just three NHL games in four professional seasons. However, since his call up from Worcester of the American Hockey League on Jan. 28, Plihal has not missed a contest.
“They took advantage of opportunities,” said right wing Jonathan Cheechoo. “’Rizz’ came up near the playoffs and played his way onto the roster for next year.”
“It’s hard to get here,” said Plihal. “You want your chance and when it finally happens, you hope they like you and you will stay here.”
On the ice, Plihal and Rissmiller have plenty in common.
“They’re very similar,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “They’re dependable people who work hard and pay attention to detail.”
Plihal is doing everything in his power to force Wilson to keep him in San Jose.
“I try to play hard every shift,” said Plihal.
Plihal has just one goal in nine games. But he knows his role: from skating on Patrick Marleau
’s line to helping kill penalties.
Like Rissmiller, Plihal was in the minors for three-plus years before getting his break in three games with the Sharks last season. Cheechoo, while a high pick, spent two seasons in the AHL himself and enjoys the success stories of skaters who finally arrive after years on the buses.
“It’s always nice to see guys like that make it,” said Cheechoo. “It’s not easy to play down there. It’s your first time living on your own.”
Time in the AHL definitely makes NHLers appreciate their current lifestyle.
“It’s so different,” said Plihal. “It’s a charter (plane) instead of buses. You step on the plane and you get food. It’s amazing here. When I talk to my friends back home, they don’t believe me.”
The hotels in the minors are nice enough, but they are not the five-star hotels frequented by NHL teams.
“The travel is a lot worse (in the AHL),” said Cheechoo. “Everything is different. It’s good for players to play down there. It helped my development.”
Plihal says his favorite part of the NHL is the packed arenas, especially HP Pavilion.
“In the AHL, we have 2-3,000 people at a game,” said Plihal. “I love playing in front of 17,000 at home. People are screaming.”
Plihal did not let his four-and-a-half AHL seasons deter him from his goal.
“Sometimes (it’s frustrating), but not very often,” said Plihal. “You have to look forward and not think about it.”
“He’s been doing the right things for a while,” said Wilson. “Unfortunately, there is not much movement in our League. You have to stick with the process.”
The key is to not give up hope.
“Some people take a little longer than others,” said Rissmiller. “Some people are ready right away and some take a few years to get a shot. A lot of times, you think you’re ready, but you have to keep at it. You’ll get a chance with this team or someone else.”
When informed of the comparison to Rissmiller’s NHL path, Plihal liked what he heard.
“I hope I’ll be the same as him and stay for the playoffs and next season,” said Plihal.
Rissmiller harkens back two seasons ago when he was in the same position.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Rissmiller. “When I was playing, it was literally day-by-day. I found out each morning if I was playing that game. You just do what they ask of you.”
Wilson notes that once a player hits the big leagues, it is up to the player whether he sticks or not.
“Hard work opens the door and your effort up here closes it,” said Wilson. “It closes behind you or in front of you.”
Plihal wants to make sure he closes that door. From behind.TV CHANGE
In a change to the television broadcast schedule, FSN Bay Area will televise the Sharks game from Columbus on Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. PST. The game wasn’t on the original broadcast schedule.
In addition, the March 25 game from Phoenix, which was scheduled to be on FSN Bay Area-HD, will be televised nationally on Versus at 7:30 p.m. PST.
San Jose will conclude their season high six-game homestand at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday against Edmonton. Tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be available on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com