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Sharks 1st Coach Looks Back On Early Years

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

By Evan Weiner, NHL.com correspondent.

Every training camp, no matter what the sport, no matter whether it's an established team or an expansion team, you can count on a coach or a general manager saying that in order to have a chance of being successful, the team has to stay away from injuries.
In September 1991, when San Jose Sharks coach George Kingston started training camp, he knew that his expansion Sharks were going to be in for a long season as most first year NHL expansion teams struggle. So, it was imperative that everyone stay healthy if the team was to play competitively on a nightly basis.

But what Kingston didn't expect in the Sharks' first ever training camp would be having his two trainers, Tommy Woodcock and Bob Crocker, Jr., go down to injuries. Plus, one night his team sat in an airplane on the tarmac thanks to a flat tire.

By mid-training camp, Kingston must have been wondered why he accepted George Gund's offer to coach the expansion Sharks.

"What you are prepared for is anything that can happen," Kingston recalled. "The trainer going down, the players having to cover, sitting on the tarmac at an airport waiting for your plane to have the flat tire fixed and you go from rebound to rebound in some of your travel experiences. When you are a new franchise, its really important for the team to weather that well, and our players did well."

Airplane delays are one thing, but losing two trainers because of injuries is unusual and that forced players into different and unexpected roles.

"One went down with a bad back caused by carting along the extra bags and the other went down with a cut hand that took him out of the action," Kingston remembered. "The players stepped right in, sharpened the skates, did the things that needed to be done to keep the show on the road. The players were great."

Some NHL teams have taken long training camp road trips with the hopes of having players bond quickly. That wasn't a problem for Kingston and his group. The coach didn't have to tell the players to help out until replacements came along. They volunteered to assume the trainer's duties and Kingston thought that brought his team together.

"They saw the only way it was going to happen is that everybody had to pitch in and help and the players were excellent at helping out," Kingston said.

Kingston and the Sharks found out quickly about some of the hidden talents that players didn't know they had. Wayne Presley and Jayson More stood out. Presley found out he could sharpen skates pretty well and More knew his way around the washer and dryer, an essential skill for any hockey team.

"Wayne was very, very good," said Kingston. "I think what you do, you find talents of your players and talents of the people in the organization that are not called upon to use very often. Certainly, 'Press' did a great job with the skates and other players picked up and each shouldered part of the responsibility to make the job of the team functioning well.

"You name the player and they all shouldered a different responsibility. Jayson, I think his wife had him well trained, sure."

Do the players ever complain? "They don't dare," Kingston wryly replied.

The Sharks brought in a trainer to be on the bench during pre-season games.

"Obviously the players couldn't do all the things on the bench surrounding the team during that time. But they pulled through and did whatever they could away from actually playing the game. I think the players looked at it as sort of a character building experience. It was certainly a team bonding experience because they all fulfilled different roles and did them well," the first Sharks coach explained.

"I am sure this happened to other organizations. It's just a matter of rolling with the blows and making sure you go forward with in a positive way and look for the best part of it, the humor of the situation, take it and go."

Kingston lost his two trainers and sat on a tarmac before the team ever played its first NHL game, which made him think about his fate and the fate of the team that was doing so well selling its distinctive logo and jersey.

"We didn't know if we were going to get out of training camp," Kingston smiled. "There were a lot of omens about that. As the season progressed the season went along much better."

The Sharks ended up winning 17 games in the franchise's first season, lost 58 and tied seven and finished up with 41 points. Kingston lost his backup skate sharpener when Presley was sent to Buffalo at the trade deadline. Not the worst expansion team, the Sharks were better than the first year Washington Capitals, a team that won eight games in 1974-75 and had 21 points, and the 1972-23 New York Islanders, who went 12-60-6.

But no one on either the 1972 Islanders or the 1974 Capitals in those franchise's first ever training camps went through the kind of team binding and character building that San Jose Sharks players did back in 1991 when they found out collectively there is more to playing hockey than just skating, shooting, checking, killing penalties and stopping pucks.

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