Monday night’s game vs. Los Angeles was a tough one for the Sharks, but the night was still special for left wing Jody Shelley as he played in his 500th National Hockey League game. Not a bad accomplishment for a player who went completely undrafted out of junior hockey.
“His role is very important to our organization,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “For him to play 500 games post-lockout (with salary cap and rule changes), that’s a reflection on his ability.”
“It’s great to see him get to 500,” center Patrick Marleau
It’s not as if Shelley didn’t have some talent to his game as he posted 25 goals with Halifax in 1996-97, but there weren’t any contract offers in hand.
“I blew my ACL so I went to university,” Shelley said.
Due to an agreement with the Canadian Hockey League, Shelley was afforded a scholarship at the university level, but he wanted a shot at professional hockey.
“I left and my parents were like, ‘Oh no he gave up his scholarship,’” Shelley said. “I saw a lot of guys I played with in junior in the NHL and said I don’t want to be one of those guys wondering.”
Shelley took a chance and signed a two-way contract with Saint-John that had him spend most of the time in the first two years at Johnstown.
There was a lot of down time. Shelley made the most of it by constantly working on his game with his team’s assistant coaches. And now after 500 NHL games, he still works with the assistant coaches. In fact, Shelley is always one of the last players off the ice following practice.
“I’ve had to work at it every day,” Shelley said about his game. “The assistant coaches and head coaches always had time for me. Dave King (in Columbus) worked with me every day. Even today, (Assistant Coaches Trent) Yawney, (Matt) Shaw and ‘Woody’ (Jay Woodcroft) work with me. If you’re not getting better, you’re done.”
Even with the hard work in the early years, Shelley wasn’t planning on an NHL career, or even a long one.
“Back then if you told me I would play 500 games, I would’ve said you’re crazy,” Shelley said. “The NHL was so far away it was a dream. When I was in Saint-John, it seemed possible for the first time.”
There are some players who handle the enforcer role, but only dress in every third game because they’re such a liability on the ice. Shelley does enough of the other things to warrant playing virtually every game when he’s healthy.
“For a big guy, he skates really well,” left wing Ryane Clowe
said. “A lot of (bigger) guys can barely turn and when they try to hit you they can’t touch you.”
“He understands what his role is,” McLellan said. “He has a lot of hits in the corners and he blocks shots.”
As a player who spent two seasons in the ECHL, two levels beneath the NHL, Shelley has earned everything he has gotten.
“He worked his way up from the East Coast league,” Clowe said. “To go from university to the East Coast league to the AHL to Columbus, it shows a lot of desire and character.”
“He’s a true pro the way he comes to the rink and plays,” Marleau said.
“His teammates like him and appreciate him,” McLellan said.
The policeman’s role is important for the Sharks and always makes the player a popular teammate. Remember, Shelley’s services are required when someone is taking liberties with a teammate and he will always be there. With Shelley on the ice, the Sharks players always know someone has their back.
“I think he’s as good at what he does as anyone in the League,” Clowe said. “He doesn’t pick his spots. It’s not an easy job and you’ve got to earn every inch. He lets other guys know it’s going to be a hard night.”
“He’s a really good teammate,” Marleau said.
Shelley’s popularity on the bench and in the room isn’t limited to his on-ice protective skills.
“He’s definitely a guy who can make you laugh,” Marleau said. “He’s very easy to talk to and a guy you like to go grab lunch with and hang out with. He’s just a great guy.”
Shelley doesn’t have the “C” or the “A” on his sweater, but he really doesn’t need a letter to be recognized in the locker room.
“He’s definitely one of the bigger leaders on the team,” Clowe said. “He’s a very valuable part of our team.”
Shelley fondly recalls his NHL debut, which occurred with Columbus on Feb. 17, 2001 vs. Pittsburgh.
“My first year, I played just one game,” Shelley said. “I think I had two fights in eight seconds.”
One of Shelley’s fondest hockey memories is dropping the gloves with Bob Probert.
“I got to fight Probert three times in one game at Chicago,” Shelley said. “He was the toughest player I fought. We played two nights later in Columbus and we fought again on the first shift. Not many people can say that.”
Now he’s 500 games into what has become a fine NHL career.
“It’s amazing,” said Shelley of playing 500 games. “Now I just want to play 500 more. I’m halfway through my career.”
The Sharks led the NHL with eight Olympians selected. Anaheim, Detroit and Vancouver each had seven.
McLellan noted that center Manny Malhotra will remain in a day-to-day situation, but that he will miss Wednesday’s contest vs. St. Louis
The Sharks will play hosts to St. Louis on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office or at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.