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Veterans Still Carrying Big Load

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
While recent adulations have gone towards the Sharks young defensemen like Christian Ehrhoff, Josh Gorges, Matt Carle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, as they seem to be the new wave of the NHL defenseman, the Sharks still rely heavily on two workhorses who excelled under the old rules and have more than adapted to the new rules.

Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren were two of the best in the league when defensive hockey revolved around hooking, holding, clutching and grabbing. While it was no where in the rule book, not using your stick to hold a player up would simply have been foolish in the old NHL.

“You got away with what you could,” said Hannan. “The advantage was to the defenseman.”

Many high-level NHLers have simply faded from the landscape after not being able to adapt to the new rules, especially big defensemen. But on the Sharks, Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren have shown that size, combined with skating ability and positioning can make bigger players that much more effective. Of San Jose’s other defensemen that played opening night, none cracked the 205-pound barrier.

Hannan rings in at a fit 225 pounds and McLaren is a hulking 230 pounds. When that type of size adjusts to the rules, it is extremely effective. It’s just that there aren’t as many six-feet-five, 230-pound blueliners anymore.

“Before guys were six-foot-three, four and five,” said McLaren. “Now there are a lot of six-foot-two and one guys. I think there are still some big guys out there, but teams have to try and hide them. Gorgy is probably the prototypical defenseman (at six-foot-one, 195 pounds). He skates and moves the puck well. Carle and Vlasic types are in high demand.”

So what was the secret in adapting to the new NHL?

“You have to be able to skate and have some skills,” said McLaren. “If your work isn’t adequate, you won’t be in the league anymore.”

And what about when there is an itch to use an old effective habit.

“Guys that use their sticks are getting called,” said McLaren.

Getting used to the new rules simply took focus.

“I don’t think I worried too much about it,’ said McLaren. “I’m still adjusting. Instead of fighting in the corners and holding a guy for three seconds, you have to let go after half a second and have better position.”

While McLaren and Hannan have adjusted, they have had their challenges, just like their smaller and sometimes quicker counterparts.

“The game is better, but it has its pros and cons,” said McLaren. “You play against an Ovechkin, Crosby or Patty in practice, and it is tough to skate with them.”

“If you can think, you can still play,” said Hannan.

Plus, the more speed offensive players gain in the neutral zone, the bigger the open ice hit.

“Mac is doing a great job and still gives the big hit,” said Hannan.

In addition, the rule changes do have a few advantages for the defenders chasing dump-ins.

“The forwards were always hooking and holding too,” said Hannan. “Everyone had to adjust. The really big forwards who can’t skate are being filtered out.

With two big blueliners who have adapted, and four others who seem to have the rules built for them, the Sharks defense may thrive like no other this year.

“We’re more about skating and positioning,” said Ehrhoff. “For us and our talent, the rules are a good thing.”

San Jose won their opening contest, but Wilson feels there is room to improve.

“Our shifts were way to long and we had problems in our end because we had so many long shifts,” said Wilson. “At the end of a long shift, nothing good is going to happen.”

Joe Thornton took a break from practice to rest his sore foot.

“I don’t want to push him too much,” said Wilson. “He wanted to skate, but I told him not to go out. I think he is 90-95 percent, which is better than most guys at 100 percent.”

Sharks fans witnessed a scary scene Thursday night at HP Pavilion when referee Rob Martell was struck in the face with a puck, leaving a puddle of blood on the ice. He was unable to finish the game.

On Friday the NHL sent word that Martell could be back to work soon and is not expected to suffer any lingering damage from the blow.

Sharks netminder Nolan Schaefer cleared waivers on Friday morning and has been assigned to Worcester, the Sharks top development affiliate.
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