The city of Worcester, Massachusetts, just an hour outside of Boston, has been a breath of fresh air for the Sharks American Hockey League franchise.
In January of 2006, the San Jose Sharks announced they were relocating their AHL team from Cleveland to Worcester to play their home games inside the DCU Center. Since the move, the Sharks have accrued many terrific memories.
One major difference between the two cities was the tremendous fan support. The Sharks sold out five games in the heart of the commonwealth and secured a playoff berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in three years. The Sharks had an average attendance in excess of 4,500 fans, totaling just fewer than 200,000 total fans during their inaugural season.
Many people are responsible for the Sharks success in Worcester, specifically the City Manager, City Councilors, Corporate Partners, Season Ticket Holders and hockey fans. This support is a large reason why the Sharks have thrived in Worcester.
Another reason for the team’s success was the character of many Worcester Sharks players. The San Jose Hockey Operations Department signed a few veteran players to help their young prospects adapt to pro hockey. It proved to be successful as the team meshed well both on-and off-the-ice producing 41 wins and 93 points, which secured the fourth and final playoff berth within the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.
Veteran players such as Mathieu Darche, Graham Mink, Patrick Traverse and Scott Ferguson led the way and helped first-year players Joe Pavelski
, Torrey Mitchell
, Thomas Greiss
, Tom Walsh and Dan Spang make smooth transitions in their first professional hockey seasons.
One rookie in particular who seemed to have an extremely smooth transition into professional hockey in North America was the rookie netminder Greiss. He initially found himself splitting time with two other goaltenders through the early part of the year until Nolan Schaefer was loaned to Hershey (and later traded to Pittsburgh) and Dimitri Patzold was called to San Jose on an emergency basis. The Koln, Germany native found himself between the pipes in 22 consecutive games for Team Teal, which ultimately carried the Sharks into the playoffs. In that span, Greiss compiled 15 wins (seven straight), lost just five in regulation and had two shootout losses. For these phenomenal accomplishments, Greiss was duly honored as the team’s Rookie of the Year and also took home the “1-Star Realty Three Stars Award”, which is emblematic of being named one of the game’s three stars most often during the regular season.
Darche and Mink had career seasons for the Sharks. Darche quickly made a name for himself at the start of the season when he potted 19 goals in the team’s first 20 games. The Montreal native finished the 2006-07 season as the team’s leading scorer with 80 points (35 goals, 45 assists) in 76 games. For his strong offensive output, Darche was named to the AHL All-Star Game in Toronto, where he contributed two assists for the Canadian All-Stars in a 7-6 loss to the PlanetUSA All-Stars.
Mink’s start to the season had a much different story than that of Darche. Plagued by a sports hernia early in the season, the gritty winger was in and out of the lineup during the first few months. Although he provided a strong influence while in the lineup, it was difficult for Sharks fans to get to know the real Graham Mink. That is until Jan. 1 rolled around and the Vermont native started to tear up the AHL. From the start of the new year until the end of the regular season, Mink lit the lamp 27 times, which led all AHL players during that time span.
In the postseason, Team Teal put forth a valiant effort against the Manchester Monarchs in the Atlantic Division Semifinals, but couldn’t quite find a way to consistently solve Manchester netminder Jason LaBarbera. Worcester lost the first three games of the series, including a painful double-overtime decision in Game Two. After a disappointing loss on home ice in Game Three, the Boys in Teal could have easily packed it in, but that wasn’t the case. The “Comeback Kids” were just getting started.
Worcester won Game Four at home, then traveled to Manchester and handily won Game Five, 4-1, forcing Game Six back in Worcester. In that contest, the Monarchs jumped out to a 2-0 lead, where the game would stay until 4:30 of the third period when Tom Cavanagh’s goal cut the Monarchs lead to one. Ten minutes later, Mike Iggulden knotted the game at 2-2 and the DCU Center faithful erupted.
Sadly, that goal would be the last of the season for the Worcester Sharks. In yet another contest that would go to double overtime, Monarchs forward Brian Boyle broke the Worcester faithful’s heart when he scored a fluky goal from the doorstep that eluded a sprawled out Patzold for the series victory.
With the promising crop of prospects Team Teal has on the horizon, the Worcester Sharks and the City of Worcester will have an excellent opportunity to pursue the silver prize called the Calder Cup.