After Tuesday’s end-of-the-season meeting with the players, Sharks Coach Ron Wilson sounded more like a proud father than a coach of a team that was just eliminated for the third straight year in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Wilson spoke of having “tremendous pride” in how the Sharks matured and battled through the season and the playoffs.
“We put everything we had on the ice,” Wilson said in a presser at the Sharks practice facility in San Jose. “We were so close to forcing a Game Seven (in the Western Conference Semifinals vs. Dallas).”
Yes, there’s a feeling of frustration in losing the quadruple overtime elimination Game Six to Dallas, 2-1. But Wilson said there’s only one way to look at that loss.
“I know our players are proud,” Wilson said. “They could all look at each other in the eye and know each guy had the other guy’s back. We leave here with our heads high.”
And not only because of their effort in Game Six, but for the season. In 2007-08, San Jose won its third Pacific Division Championship, had the National Hockey League’s best road record (27-10-4), had the League’s No. 1 penalty kill and had the best record of any team after the Feb. 26 trading deadline (16-2-2).
“We should be rejoicing in how solid our team is,” Wilson said. “I know a lot of teams wish they were in our shoes.
“We’re so much farther ahead now than when we were at the beginning of the season,” Wilson added. “That’s the part you take out of what we accomplished this year as a group. I’m very happy with this group.”
Individually, there were some great performances. Center Joe Thornton
led the NHL in assists for the third straight year. Despite a slow start, Captain Patrick Marleau
ended the season strong with 19 points (nine goals and 10 assists) in his last 20 games. Right wing Jonathan Cheechoo battled through various injuries to score 23 goals. Left wing Milan Michalek had 24 goals.
Of course, who could forget what goaltender Evgeni Nabokov did in 2007-08? The Vezina Trophy finalist led the NHL with 46 wins and was tied for third in goals-against average (2.14) and shutouts (six).
In addition, how about the way third-year defenseman Douglas Murray
stepped into the rotation? Center Joe Pavelski
’s career high 19 goals? The continuous growth of 21-year-old blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic
? And the strong performances from rookie forwards Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell
And, for a strong dose of inspiration, there was center Jeremy Roenick, who had decided to retire after nearly two decades in the NHL, but was coaxed back into the game by his roommate during his Chicago days, Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson.
At the age of 38, Roenick averaged close to 14 minutes a game and scored 14 goals. The future Hockey Hall of Famer’s presence was a plus on the ice and in the locker room.
“Jeremy’s a warrior,” Wilson said. “I wish he could play more. But the way he’s played through his career has taken a toll on his body. We need more guys like ‘J.R.’ He helped a lot guys mature this year. He was unbelievable all year. I hope he comes back. I don’t have to convince J.R. to come back.”
However, there’s the frustration of missing the Western Conference Finals for the third straight year. In Wilson’s four full seasons behind the Sharks bench, his teams have won two division titles, advanced to San Jose’s first conference final and reached three division semifinals.
Ideally, Wilson wanted to spend this day preparing for Game Seven. But now, he’s got to start thinking about 2008-09. And while Wilson’s doing that, he’ll also take some time off to relax after a season that’s lasted more than 200 days.
However, until training camp begins in September, human nature will dictate that his mind will occasionally wander between going back to that Game Six in Dallas and the upcoming season.
“We could easily and deservedly still be playing,” Wilson said. “But we’re not, so you move on from that.”
Four members of the Sharks organization will dress for their country at the World Championships. They include Marcel Goc and Dimitri Patzold for Germany, Evgeni Nabokov for Russia and Douglas Murray