When talking about age and the San Jose Sharks, the conversation leans towards mentions of Claude Lemieux (over 40), Jeremy Roenick and Rob Blake (both in their late 30s) and their experience. The Sharks also have a strong group of core players in their prime such as Captain Patrick Marleau
, Joe Thornton
and Dan Boyle
. These three are in their late 20s and early 30s. Finally, there’s the group of early 20-somethings who are at the proverbial cusp of their prime years.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
is just 21 years old. Yet he feels completely comfortable within the locker room and hanging around the team’s elders.
“I’ve always hung around older guys and it makes me feel more mature than 21,” said Vlasic, who carries himself like an experienced veteran and not like someone who turned 21 last March. “How often do 21 year olds hang out with 38 year olds?”
Being around older players isn’t a foreign experience for Vlasic.
“When I was 16, I was playing with 20 year olds in junior,” Vlasic said. “Now that I’m 21, I’m playing with a 43-year-old. Everybody just gets along.”
Younger and older players doing off-ice activities together isn’t always the norm in a National Hockey League team’s locker room. But this happens with the Sharks.
“It’s interesting,” right wing Devin Setoguchi, 22, said. “Generally on a team, the younger guys hang out together and the older guys stick together.”
“Once you make the team, you are a player in the room,” Lemieux said. “When I was young, we had eight rookies and we played a big role and won the Cup (Montreal, 1986). Still the older guys hung out together. I didn’t like how it felt.”
In San Jose’s locker room, Marleau is the captain and Thornton is considered one of the top NHL players. But all players are respected equally.
“Everyone holds everyone else accountable and everyone has a say,” Setoguchi said. “If I make a mistake, they let me know. And Joe says if he makes a mistake, he wants me to let him know about it.”
The respect the younger players receive makes them all the more reverent of the veterans.
“You look around the room and see Claude, Blake and J.R.,” Setoguchi said. “It’s an honor to play with guys like them.”
Roenick has gone out of his way to befriend some of the younger Sharks. Roommates Setoguchi and center Torrey Mitchell
are weekly guests at the Roenick house for dinner.
“J.R. invites us over to dinner twice a week,” Setoguchi said. “I feel like one of his kids, but I feel like one of his friends, too.”
So do the younger players ever feel a generation gap between themselves and the veterans?
“Sometimes you’ll hear stories about what they did in Philly in 1994 and I’ll say I used to play NHL ’94 (the video game) when I was 12 years old,” Setoguchi said.
There’s always good-natured ribbing about age, but on the Sharks, the cliché “age doesn’t matter” is just not a statement. It’s a fact.
The Sharks will play hosts to Carolina on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and the contest will be available on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com. Tickets can be found at www.ticketmaster.com or at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office.