by Mike Benton, Special to SJSHARKS.comPENTICTON, Canada
– If there was any indication of a “welcome to the Sharks” moment, rising Ontario Hockey League star center and San Jose Sharks prospect Michael Sgarbossa felt it a few days ago upon his arrival at Sharks Ice at San Jose for 2011 preseason duties.
Two star players he grew up watching on television walked past him in the hall: Joe Thornton
and Patrick Marleau
Hello, spotlight. The reaction was one you could expect.
“It's one thing to see them on TV - to see them in person, it's quite different,” said Sgarbossa. “Just to see how they carry themselves, do everything, step by step - it's like clockwork how those guys work.”
As he managed to settle into a leather chair at the lobby of the Sharks hotel in Penticton, British Columbia, with dinner in his body, his memory was still fresh in what separates those Sharks icons from the average pro.
“Their routine is always perfect,” said Sgarbossa. “The detail they follow is quite something to watch. It shows in how they good they are."
Sgarbossa, a player who went undrafted but has certainly not gone unnoticed, hopes to be on the opposite side of that exchange someday. It’s a path he hopes to continue creating today when the Sharks open the 2011 Vancouver Canucks YoungStars Tournament in Penticton and face the Calgary Flames at 4:00 p.m.
That path has taken a successful turn in the previous year for the forward who has established his calling card on agility, quick hands and instincts to create offense. As a participant in last year’s tournament with the Sharks, the native of Campbellville, Ontario went wild against the competition as a free agent invitee.
A hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers on Sept. 15 sealed up a four-point effort in just two games during the week, describing it with feelings ranging from “nervous” to “exciting.” That was enough for him to rank second overall in tournament scoring and earn a contract with the Sharks on Sept. 21.
Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson, who was at the tournament to witness Sgarbossa’s breakout, sealed the deal on that day with praise for the 19-year old forward.
“We have been watching Michael for a while now and he showed a glimpse of what we feel he is capable of at the YoungStars Tournament,” said Wilson.
Those comments were still fresh in the mind of Sgarbossa, almost one year to a landmark day in his career.
“It’s quite the compliment,” said Sgarbossa. “When he says something about that to me, I don’t take it quite lightly. It’s quite an honor for not only him to say that, but sign me. It was pretty cool.”
It would only foreshadow the year to come for Sgarbossa.
A midseason trade from the Saginaw Spirit to the Sudbury Wolves resulted in a skyrocketing boost for his offensive production in the Ontario Hockey League. Placed in a prominent scoring role, Sgarbossa collected a whopping 62 points in just 37 games for the Wolves and four team honors, including Top Scorer, at their season ending awards luncheon.
It might be easy for him to depend on an emotional high from the end of last year’s tournament and last season. But the direct and articulate Sharks prospect tried to keep things in perspective when translating the results of 2010-11 into the next step of his career, when it comes to playing for a potential National Hockey League team.
“I don’t know if a different player,” said Sgarbossa. “I think they brought me here for a reason. They know what I’m good at. I’m trying to improve upon that. They’ve told me of the weaknesses I have and hopefully I can correct and get stronger at those. Playing my game will help me along the way.”
Sgarbossa admitted continuous attention to improving his awareness in the defensive zone and increasing his strength on the puck. With that change in his game becoming more pronounced, his prominence has also changed.
With an NHL contract in hand and an impression made from 2010, he no longer flies under the radar as a result of his accomplishments.
“This year they’re going to see what I can do right from the beginning,” said Sgarbossa. “I’m going to have to bring it.”
The spotlight is certainly brighter.