Every hockey player dreams of skating with the Stanley Cup hoisted high over their head after playing in a grueling seven-game series. That image sparks a competitive drive in anyone with a pulse. Head Coach Ron Wilson knows that and it makes his pre-season mantra simple: Live The Dream.
Reflecting upon the 2003-04 season, Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson knows one thing, "Everyone wants to say it was a success, but only one team had a successful season and that was Tampa Bay."
With that said, resting on their laurels was not an option for the Sharks. If preseason results are any indication that this message was understood, Coach Wilson has done his job.
In just his second full season as bench boss for the Sharks, he led the team to a franchise-best 7-0-0 record in the preseason. That is a rousing success considering that before this season, the best preseason winning streak was only three games and that was done in 1994.
Although preseason games don't mean anything during the season, the coaching staff was able to use it to evaluate several key young players.
"No one in particular stood out throughout preseason but it is because we had very high expectations entering camp on a number of players like Marcel Goc, Ryane Clowe, and Josh Gorges.," said Coach Wilson. "They responded and met those expectations."
Goc opened the eyes of the hockey world when he burst on the scene in the 2004 playoffs. In his first two games at the NHL level, he distributed a game-winning, series-clinching assist and scored a game-winning, series-clinching goal.
He will open this season with the Sharks following a solid camp. His attention to detail and solid all-around play adds another dimension to the team.
"He is a very well-rounded, detailed player that will help us," said Coach Wilson. "You don't find many young players that can play off the puck like he does."
Winning 68% of his face-off draws in the first six games helps his cause too. With the departure of Vincent Damphousse and Mike Ricci, he will be called on to win important draws.
"We need our veterans to step up and play their part in winning face-offs," said Wilson. "But Marcel will come in and definitely give us some help in that department."
Clowe used the preseason to set himself apart from other left wing prospects in the system. A true power forward, Clowe was the Barons Most Valuable Player in 2004-05. He led the team in several offensive categories including goals (27), assists (35), points (62), plus/minus (+19), First Goals (9), Multi-point games (16), power play goals (14) and power play points (23).
Throughout the preseason, he continually won pucks in the corners, blocked shots and laid out hits. All these little intangibles helped the Sharks win games. Even in doing all that, he managed to tie Patrick Marleau for the team lead in goals.
"He'll enable us to continue to be strong in the corners," said Wilson. "He excels in fore-checking and has a great set of hands. We aren't expecting huge offensive numbers from him quite yet, but going forward, he'll be right there."
On the defensive front, several players battled for two spots on the Sharks blueline. Few, if any, players used this time to advance themselves more than Gorges. The Barons Rookie of the Year in 2004-05, Gorges became known for fundamental play. His positioning and decision-making became evident early during his first professional season and the same characteristics were seen in the preseason.
"He's one of the defensemen that go unnoticed," analyzed the coach. "That is usually because players like that don't make mistakes. He has room to grow offensively, but he'll get comfortable with the speed of the NHL and adjust well."
With young players blossoming, the veterans continued their steady play. Marleau, Scott Thornton and Wayne Primeau all had solid training camps. Their leadership was backed up on the ice. The wins point to that.
Even though the wins don't count for the regular season, it has the Sharks on the right track. To Ron Wilson, that is important.
"There is a lot more to being successful in sports than just being good physically," stated Coach Wilson. "A big part of it is being confident and we have cultivated that feeling of confidence in the preseason. That is important to winning."
Let's hope that the confidence continues and it turns dreams into reality.