The San Jose Sharks brought back an old face on a tryout basis Sunday, returning defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh to his initial club.
Ozolinsh, 35, last played for the New York Rangers in 2006-07. He was part of the first headline-grabbing trade in Sharks history when he was sent to the Colorado Avalanche for Owen Nolan in 1995.
In 1993-94, Ozolinsh set franchise records for a defenseman that still stand with 26 goals and 64 points. As a young NHLer in just his second campaign, Ozolinsh formed a five-man unit with Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov, Johan Garpenlov and Jeff Norton that propelled San Jose to the Western Conference Semifinals in just the club’s third season.
Ozolinsh won a Stanley Cup with Colorado and has been to the Stanley Cup Finals with Anaheim as well. In 21 contests last year, he posted three assists, and for his career has an impressive 164 goals and 384 helpers in 836 contests.
If he is able to crack the roster, it would give the Sharks one on-ice tie back to the club’s Cow Palace days. Ray Whitney (Carolina) and Wade Flaherty (Vancouver) are the only other current NHLers who played with the Sharks in the Cow Palace that are still in the league.
One of the most prominent Latvians to play in the NHL, along with former Sharks netminder Arturs Irbe, Ozolinsh has skated for San Jose, Colorado, Carolina, Florida, Anaheim and the Rangers. He’s a seven-time All-Star and was named to one first team NHL All-Star squad.
Ozolinsh enjoyed his first tour of duty in San Jose and is hoping for a second go-around.
“I have a lot of good memories here and I’m excited to be here,” said Ozolinsh.
Ozolinsh knows the Sharks are a far cry from the franchise he broke in with.
“It’s changed a lot,” said Ozolinsh. “There is nobody on the team from when I played. They have a nice practice facility.”
So why did Ozolinsh pick San Jose?
“This team has a chance at a Stanley Cup,” said Ozolinsh. “I really hope to make this team.”
Last season, after his time with the Rangers, Ozolinsh spent time rehabbing an injured knee and dealt with a substance abuse issue.
“I feel good mentally and physically,” said Ozolinsh. “I took a little time to see how I felt. I was more concerned mentally. My head had to be in the right place. I had to make sure I could handle the pressure and once I felt comfortable (it was easy).”
Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson has a personal history with Ozolinsh as the Sharks top hockey executive was still playing when the Latvian broke in, but Wilson still checked out the entire scenario.
“We talked about my situation and I told him everything,” said Ozolinsh.
“We know him very well,” said Wilson. “Ricci played with him in Colorado and sat next to him in the dressing room. We did our research into things and he’s at a good point.”
What Ozolinsh can still do will be seen when he hits the ice.
“We appreciate what he does and can bring to the team,” said Wilson. “Why wouldn’t you try it (with him)?”
Team A, behind goals from Marcel Goc, Joe Thornton
and Joe Pavelski
, prevailed in the morning scrimmage 3-1. It marked the second straight scrimmage that Goc potted a tally. Logan Couture
netted the lone goal for Team B.