On a day the Sharks were preparing to start the drive for their first Stanley Cup, the team received the sad news that Goaltending Coach Warren Strelow had passed away.
Strelow’s health has been an issue for several years and club personnel knew Strelow may not have much time left following a recent stroke. However, the death of a person close to the entire organization was difficult to deal with nonetheless.
Tonight’s starting netminder, Evgeni Nabokov, was a skilled, but raw netminder when Strelow began working with him in the American Hockey League 10 years ago. Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, along with past Sharks goalies and future ones as well, knew how important Strelow was to their development.
“He taught me so much about what the NHL and life is all about,” said Nabokov. “He helped me learn how to handle success from a great game and failure from a bad game. I learned from him to be positive – it is so easy to be negative. I will miss him, but he will always be in my heart.”
Still, the Sharks will move forward as Strelow would want them to do.
“Our responsibility is to make him proud and to celebrate his life with the pursuit of the Stanley Cup,” said Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson.
“One thing he always wanted was a Stanley Cup and we want to give it to him,” said Nabokov.
The Sharks know Strelow had been a strong leader for what many consider the most important position on a hockey team, but it goes further than that.
“Warren was an integral part of our team and an inspiration for the game of hockey,” said Wilson.
The Sharks are looking forward to honoring Strelow in the near future.
“We’ll do some things, but as this point we’ll honor the family’s request,” said Wilson. “We’re still in the process of deciding exactly what we’ll do.”
“Warren would want as many people possible from the hockey world to celebrate his life,” said Vice President and Assistant General Manager Wayne Thomas. “After the playoffs, there will be a memorial service.”
The Sharks organization had been in contact with Strelow until the difficult end, though Strelow, while able to understand everything, was unable to verbally communicate.
“Personally, I talked with him Saturday night and he was alert,” said Thomas. “He hasn’t been able to talk (since the stroke). He was certainly aware of people (around him) Saturday night.”
“I talked to him right after the Vancouver game,” said Nabokov. “He could not respond, but I was trying to pick him up. His son said he smiled a lot.”
The final time Nabokov saw Strelow in person was before the Sharks long road trip in mid-February.
“The day before we left, we talked a lot about the ups and downs and he was upset that certain things weren’t gong well for us,” said Nabokov. “I told him, don’t worry about us and take care of yourself.”
For someone who gave his entire life to the game he loved, Strelow was able to work up until the time of his stroke, tutoring on the ice with Nabokov and Toskala at the NHL level, down to Dimitri Patzold and Thomas Greiss
at Worcester in the AHL. Strelow used a motorized scooter to manage himself on the ice the past several seasons.
“It’s amazing that he went to the rink and just loved being with the guys,” said Thomas. “He was such a great teacher and communicator. He had an unbelievable talent that separated him (from other coaches).”
Sharks prospect Taylor Dakers is currently with the club as an extra practice netminder. Thomas noted Dakers thought that “he never met a more passionate guy (than Strelow) in his young career.”
Wilson summed up the organization’s thoughts best.
“A life ends, but a relationship does not and it can grow stronger,” said Wilson.
The Sharks netminders, past and present, were waiting to give Strelow a present after the season, but were able to rush the project through.
“We made a mask to give him,” said Nabokov. “The mask is unique and had the five faces (Nabokov, Toskala, [Calgary’s Miikka] Kiprusoff, [Atlanta’s Johan] Hedberg and Patzold, the goaltenders who worked with him in San Jose). It said ‘Strelow’ on the chin and had a quote on it.”
While the custom mask is a very special gift, all hockey fans should be appreciative of the unique gift of goaltending knowledge Strelow provided to the game.
He may have played in 81 of 82 regular season contests, but 20-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic
will be making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut tonight.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Vlasic. “I’m not nervous, but anxious to start.”
Vlasic proved to be not only one of the NHL’s top rookies, if not the top rookie blueliner, but also one of the League’s best defensive defensemen. So there’s not a lot of advice coming his way.
“The veterans are telling me that I played a whole season and not to take things any differently and to play as I’ve been playing,” said Vlasic.
Vlasic could have a special fan in attendance for the Nashville series as his junior coach, Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, is rumored to be stopping by. His junior team, the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was recently eliminated from the playoffs.
Would the Remparts have won the QMJHL title if Vlasic was on their blueline? The Quebec hockey media seem to think so, according to Vlasic.
“A TV station in Quebec City said they lost because I was not there,” he said.
However, the Sharks may have a Stanley Cup parade in downtown San Jose because of Vlasic...
San Jose’s first playoff game will start today at 5 p.m. and will be aired on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.