Sharks Celebrate History at 25th Anniversary Celebration Presented by Ceci Wong
/ San Jose Sharks
SAN JOSE -- Doug Wilson was nearing the end of his playing career as an NHL defenseman when he joined the expansion San Jose Sharks for the 1991-92 season after 14 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.
San Jose, which was awarded an NHL franchise on May 9, 1990, played its first two seasons near San Francisco at the aging Cow Palace while its new arena was under construction.
"We didn't have great teams, but we had great people, we had great character," Wilson, San Jose's general manager since 2003, said at the Sharks 25th Anniversary Celebration presented by Ceci Wong at SAP Center on Tuesday. "A lot of one-goal games that for us was like going into a gun fight with a water pistol. But we knew we were going to battle. But the fans were there for us through thick and thin, and the guys that played on that team made sure of giving everything they had. I still can't believe it's 25 years."
In that quarter of a century, the Sharks have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs 17 times, won the Pacific Division six times and reached the Western Conference Final three times.
"It's a great moment and a sad moment," Sharks majority owner Hasso Plattner said. "Already 25 years. I was here when we had the reception for the original season ticket holders, now for 25 years. Twenty-five years and I'm with the Sharks [for] 23 years. It's a long time, great time, great memories. No Stanley Cup yet."
Plattner said bringing the Cup to San Jose would mean "everything" to him, and that he could only imagine the wild celebration a championship would ignite.
The Sharks lost 58 games in their inaugural season and an NHL-record 71 the next year. But in their third season, the Sharks moved to their new arena in San Jose and stunned the NHL by going 33-35-16 to finish third in the Pacific Division and make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They finished with 82 points, 58 more than they had the previous season. That's still the greatest single-season turnaround in NHL history.
The eighth-seeded Sharks opened the playoffs by upsetting the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in seven games. In the Western Conference Semifinals, the Sharks fell in seven games to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That season helped the Sharks solidify a solid hockey fan base in San Jose.
"It's a product, so you've got to sell the product, so you've got to sell the game," said forward Igor Larionov, who had 56 points for the 1993-94 Sharks. "If you go to a concert, for example, like the Rolling Stones, you know what you're going to get; some great music, a great show.
"That's what we did. We put on a show every night. No matter if we're losing or we're winning, we were playing a good kind of sexy hockey to entertain people because they're not familiar with the game yet. But we showed them how you play a puck-possession game, puck-control game, creating some great masterpieces, scoring chances. That's what the people realized they'd never seen. I would pay money myself to pay that kind of hockey today."
Northern California's first NHL franchise was based in Oakland and played there for nine seasons before being moved to Cleveland after the 1975-76 season. There was no guarantee that a franchise in San Jose would flourish, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he's not surprised the Sharks have survived and thrived for 25 years and built such a passionate fan base.
"It isn’t a surprise at all," Commissioner Bettman said. "This has been an extraordinarily well-run team. It’s bonded so well with the community. To think of the number of high school [hockey] teams there were and there are now; I think it went from four to 27. The number of people playing for fun recreationally; the numbers are staggering. That’s a testament to the organization and to the game. People love the game when they have a chance to connect with it."
Former Sharks captain Owen Nolan, who came to the Sharks from the Colorado Avalanche in a trade on Oct. 26, 1995, said he had his doubts at first about San Jose becoming a hockey town.
"It's come a long way, there's no doubt about it," Nolan said. "When I first got here, I remember laughing a little bit because the fans would be cheering, and I wouldn't really know what they were cheering for. It wasn't a good play or something.
"To see them progress over the years, and they know their hockey now. They've been spoiled with some great hockey and they know what to expect from now on. So it's great to see the city and the fans grow like that."
The current Sharks team, players and coaches, attended the celebration, as did fans and a long list of former Sharks and dignitaries from San Jose.
Forward Patrick Marleau has played for the Sharks since 1997-98, his rookie season. He watched the franchise and the sport grow together in San Jose.
"I think it’s been great being part of it, seeing it grow over the years," Marleau said. "The fan base has been strong and just getting stronger all the time. It’s just great to see, being here for a long time, being a part of the community, putting down some roots and things like that.
"Having kids now they’re a part of it. My oldest son there are like 170-some kids his age who are actually playing [hockey]. That’s pretty amazing for this area. We could probably use a few more rinks around here. It’s fun to see it take hold. Parents get involved, kids get involved, they want to play and be a part of it."