For three Sharks players, their path to the National Hockey League began right here, in Nashville at the GEC, on June 21, 2003. It is the same building that San Jose hopes to close out their first round playoff series with the Nashville Predators tonight.
The NHL conducted its annual Entry Draft over two days (June 21-22) in Nashville, Tenn in 2003 and on the first day, the Sharks selected, in order, Milan Michalek (6th overall), Steve Bernier (16th overall) and Matt Carle (2nd round, 47th overall). Those astute selections and the maneuvering of trades/draft picks to move into a position to select them are paying huge dividends now.
All three players played a significant role down the stretch run, helping vault San Jose into the postseason, where their contributions continue to have an impact.
The 21-year old Bernier, scored 21 points (13 goals, 8 assists) over the last 23 games of the regular season after establishing himself with a regular NHL shift after Christmas. During the early part of the season, he split time between San Jose and the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Barons, the top development team of the Sharks.
“It was a special day, a beautiful summer day outside,” recalled Bernier of Draft day. “The rink here was packed—just for the Draft. After hearing my name selected by the Sharks, I remember walking down to the (Draft) table and meeting all the coaches and scouts. It was a blur.”
After being drafted, he knew he would have to work hard to establish himself in the NHL.
“This is where it started for me,” said Bernier. “It will always hold a special place.”
While with Cleveland early in the season, the Sharks played both road games against Nashville at the GEC without Bernier.
“I did not play in the regular season here, so last week (for Games 1 and 2) was my first trip back,” said Bernier. “It was unbelievable, all those memories and emotions came back. The first time I stepped on the ice, I took an extra moment to look around, to take it all in.”
Through the first four games of the postseason, the Quebec City native has posted 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists), including the game-winner in Game 3 at HP Pavillion. Combining with team captain and leading scorer Patrick Marleau
and Michalek, the trio has created a formidable second line that is terrorizing the Predators.
Michalek, a 21-year old native of Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic, established himself in the regular season, posting 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists), finishing sixth on the team and first among Sharks rookies. He captured the Playstation Sharks Rookie of the Year Award. While he has been held to one assist through four games, he is a key component of the aforementioned line with Marleau and Bernier.
Michalek wasted no time or had no trouble in recalling the site of the beginnings of his NHL career
“It was here,” he said with a wide grin. “It is a special building for me Stevie (Bernier) and Matt (Carle). I just waited in the stands for my name to be called. Since then, everything is working out for me.”
Matt Carle has had a whirlwind career—and it is not even two months old. Signed directly out of college on March 19, Carle scored six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in 12 games to close out the regular season. He has posted three assists in the series against Nashville and has not looked out of place.
“I have barely had time to breathe,” said Carle. “I am just trying to stay focused and stay on the task at hand.”
After completing his junior season at Denver University, the Anchorage, Alaska native was named WCHA Player of the Year, WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All WCHA, capping off an honor filled college career by being named the 2006 Hobey Baker Award winner, representative of the college player of the year. He will have to find some room for that trophy in his living room to go next to the two NCAA Championships he won at Denver and the gold medal he helped Team USA capture at the 2004 World Jr. Championships.
He remembers details of Draft Day like it was yesterday.
“I was here (at the GEC) and it was kind of a surprise,” he added. “We were expecting to be picked anywhere in Rounds 3-5. We watched the Sharks wheeling and dealing picks all over the place. I was here with my dad and agent and one of the assistant coaches from Denver. “
Midway through the second round, Carle was still a bit nervous at the uncertainty of the day.
“They announced that San Jose had made a trade right after Calgary picked at 46, and then ‘Burkie’ (Director of Amatuer Scouting Tim Burke) called my name,” he remembers. “I was in shock, it still is a very memorable day.”
Now, playing in his first NHL playoff series, he too is back where it started.
“Last week, my dad reminded me of that,” he said.
While it may have started at the GEC for these three players, this is where they hope it ends for the 2006 Nashville Predators.
“For sure,” said Carle, “that is the plan.”