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The Importance Of Versatility

by Alison High / San Jose Sharks
Since undertaking the Sharks Head Coach position three years ago, Ron Wilson has established San Jose as one of the National Hockey League’s top teams. Behind that success Wilson has maintained a simple philosophy. And most of his players are in San Jose because of it.

“My philosophy is that you should be able to play any position upfront or left or right defense,” said Wilson following today’s practice at Sharks Ice at San Jose. “Since I’ve been in the organization we’ve drafted a lot of people who can play any position upfront because you’re going to be out of position in a game and you shouldn’t be a liability if you are.”

Wilson has benefited from the signing of veterans Curtis Brown and Mike Grier, as well as the development of Marcel Goc, Milan Michalek and Patrick Rissmiller; all players that can play both center and wing positions. Add these players to a roster that includes Patrick Marleau, a center who will most likely see action as a winger this season, and Joe Thornton, and Wilson has one of the most versatile squads in the NHL.

“The more centermen you have the more you can take centers and make them wingers,” added Wilson. “It can only help your team.”

The Sharks are now a squad with enviable depth in every position. The centers can double as wingers and the wingers can contribute with leadership and selflessness. The twenty-three players that make up the Sharks final roster following training camp will most likely be the most versatile of the bunch.

Curtis Brown, an 11-year veteran, has made a career on being comfortable playing on both ends of the ice. Last season Brown finished fourth in the NHL in blocked shots by a forward and was nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.

“Early in my days of playing hockey I moved around a bit so I became comfortable with it,” said Brown. “I think it’s huge as a player to be comfortable moving around. It gives the coaches some ability to use you in different situations.

“As a center you have a role to play good defense in your own end and not give anything up,” Brown added. “On the wing you’ll have a little bit more of an offensive chance on the forecheck and getting in there to stir things up. You never know when you’re going to get the call, you just have to be ready.”

Marcel Goc shares the opinion of Brown.

“It’s really important that you know where you’re suppose to go,” said Goc. “It doesn’t just happen when the coach tells you you’re on the wing now or you’re center.”

Then there is Milan Michalek. A winger and center from the Czech Republic, Michalek has yet to center a line in the NHL, but the newly re-signed Shark shows no signs of hesitation about playing different positions on the ice.

“It doesn’t really matter to me where I play,“ said Michalek. “I can play anywhere. If the coach puts me in, I’m happy.”

Patrick Rissmiller had a similar answer.

“To me it doesn’t matter,” said Rissmiller. “Wherever they want me to play, I’ll play. It’s usually left wing, but if it’s right wing I’m open to it. Ultimately I just want to be playing and helping the team in anyway possible.”

So what kind of characteristics should a versatile player have? Craig Valette, a Worcester standout in town for his fifth training camp, talked about quickness and intuition.

“Some good traits would be quickness in the defensive zone, a good stick, and you have to have a good hockey sense of where you should be and where the puck should be ahead of time,” explained Valette. “It’s also good to have a little bit of grit in your game for when you’re in the corner in the defensive zone and along the boards if you’re playing the wing.”

And who do most players think is the most versatile member of their team? The majority of the players interviewed had the same answer: Mike Grier.

But when the same question was posed to the Sharks Head Coach, he came up with a completely different answer.

“I would say someone like Patrick Rissmiller,” replied Wilson. “He could be on your first line or your fourth line, he can fill in anywhere.”
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