When the Sharks signed Alexei Semenov this summer, it did not necessarily grab the attention of every Bay Area hockey fan, but now the 6-foot-6 blueliner is part of one of the National Hockey League’s top defensive units.
Semenov did not play at all before his Oct. 22 Sharks debut, but he slowly began making himself a regular member of the lineup in December. However, a broken finger forced him out of action from mid-December until mid-January.
“That was really disappointing,” said Semenov. “I was playing really well and gaining confidence.”
With a likely lineup call for Wednesday’s game against Colorado, Semenov knows he has to be ready to play in case Coach Ron Wilson puts him in the defensive rotation against the Avalanche.
“I’ve got to step in and play my best game,” said Semenov. “Keep it simple and be a plus player. I have to get my confidence back.”
Semenov has been an even or better player in nine of 15 regular season contests.
The Sharks have 30 games remaining and Semenov would like to make it difficult for Wilson to pull him out of the lineup.
“It’s always tough to be in and out,” said Semenov. “We have so many good players. You have to stay with it.”
Still, even with the glut of talent on the Sharks blueline, Semenov is happy to be fighting for playing time in Silicon Valley.
He was selected in the second round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton. Since playing with Edmonton, Semenov appeared in 39 games with Florida. As for the postseason, Semenov’s experience consists of just six playoff games with the Oilers. So obviously, going beyond the first round of the playoffs is very important to him.
“It is good to play in games like that,” said Semenov. “We had good guys in Florida, but here everything is different. I played six playoff games with Edmonton against Dallas. The playoffs are an awesome, unbelievable feeling. The fans celebrate every game. Hopefully I’ll have a stretch like that here. Hopefully we go until June.”
Semenov has fellow Russian speakers Evgeni Nabokov and Sandis Ozolinsh when he wants to use his native language, but his roommate on the road is right wing Steve Bernier. Like most Bay Area hockey fans, Bernier knew virtually nothing about Semenov when training camp opened. Now, Bernier is one of Semenov’s biggest fans.
“I didn’t know anything about him,” said Bernier. “He came from Florida and we didn’t even play them once a year. He’s a funny guy.”
As for the future, fans may only be getting a glimpse of Semenov’s potential as, like many big defensemen, he is still perfecting his trade.
“He’s a player we’ve followed since his junior days,” said Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson. “We felt he had a lot of things work with, (including) his size and hockey sense. We think he’s a late bloomer. Like a lot of D at that age (26), we think we’ll see his game blossom. The injury set him back, but we feel he is getting better as a player.”McLAREN CLOSE
Blueliner Kyle McLaren could return to action by the end of the week after participating in his first full practice with the team on Tuesday. He is recovering from having his knee cleaned out.
“I’m looking for the end of the week,” said McLaren. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
While injured, McLaren said he took advantage of what he could and watched games from the press box.
“You learn a lot up there,” said McLaren. “You can really see the game. When you’re on the ice, you’re at eye-level. Up there, it’s a bird’s eye view. That’s a good learning experience.”
From the press box, a person can see how players are positioning themselves on offense and defense. The game moves slower from up there. But McLaren still knows how difficult things are down below where the game is played at full speed.
“Not to say it’s too easy up there,” said McLaren. “You tend to see the mistakes and how to play our system. On the bench, you say why can’t you pass there and upstairs you see two people in the path.” NEXT GAME
The Sharks will play hosts to Colorado at 7:30 p.m.Wednesday at HP Pavilion. Tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com
. The contest will be aired on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.