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Youngsters To Be Counted On

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
The Sharks 2006 Playoffs Presented By Intersil will get underway Friday at 5:30 p.m. (FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com) and for several Sharks, it will mark their first foray in to the postseason.


For many of the Sharks, Friday will mark their first postseason experience. For the team to be successful, those players will have to continue their production from the regular season.

“Our young guys are a big part of our team,” said veteran Kyle McLaren. “We need both our younger and older guys to get it done.”

The newest Shark, Ville Nieminen, can remember his first playoff run, one that resulted in a Stanley Cup with Colorado.

“I would just tell them it’s the best time of their career,” said Nieminen. “Take nothing for granted. You don’t feel tired and you just play. The further you get the tougher it gets.”

However, he is not worried about his youthful teammates at all.

“The strength of every team is the younger guys,” said Nieminen. “They are so excited, they just can’t get over-excited.”

Up front, Steve Bernier and Milan Michalek will get a great deal of time in their first playoff duty. Grant Stevenson, Ryane Clowe and Patrick Rissmiller will also be a part of the rotation of first-year playoff forwards.

Michalek traveled with Team Teal during the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Playoffs and learned from that experience.

“I can’t wait to start,” said Michalek. “Just watching was really exciting. I hope to use what I learned.”

Bernier may be in his rookie NHL campaign, but is an example of playoff experience coming in different avenues. In 2003-04, while the Sharks were skating to the Western Conference Finals, Bernier was keying a run by his Moncton squad deep into the QMJHL playoffs.

On the blueline, rookies Josh Gorges, Christian Ehrhoff and Matt Carle look to continue their top six roles. While the trio may not have NHL postseason experience, their careers outside of the NHL have given them plenty of big-game experience.

Gorges did everything on the blueline for Kelowna as they captured the Memorial Cup, the highest team honor in the pressure packed Canadian Junior system. Carle captured two consecutive NCAA titles with Denver University and unlike the NHL or CHL, the playoffs are a one game and out scenario, creating an even more pressure packed situation. And Ehrhoff has twice competed on the biggest international hockey stage, the Olympics.

McLaren isn’t concerned about any lack of experience as he has watched Gorges and Ehrhoff’s performance all year long and has seen the rapid development of Carle.

“Those guys have playoff experience at different stages of their career,” said McLaren. “The intensity is different, but the atmosphere is the same. They know the intensity will be higher.”

Gorges’ Memorial Cup experience taught him several strong lessons.

“At this time of year, every game is important, and the Memorial Cup was such a learning experience for me,” said Gorges. “The regular season is not like the playoffs in any league. If you give a game away, you might not be able to get it back. You have to do all the small things. You have to bring the same attitude. The pressure is bigger, but you have to play the same game.”

Carle feels much the same way.

“Playing in the NCAA’s, every game was so important because if you lose, you’re out,” said Carle. “It’s a lot of pressure to know that losing one game will knock you out.”

Ehrhoff will draw upon his experiences from the top level of competition when he skated against the world’s best at the Olympics.

“I expect it to be rough and tough, and faster, but I’m looking forward to it,” said Ehrhoff.

McLaren says that he won’t be offering up too much information.

“If they play the way they have this year, they will be fine,” said McLaren.

Plus the defensemen and forwards won’t have the difficulties of adjusting to a “new” set of rules for the playoffs. The NHL has been adamant that they won’t change the way the game has been called in 2005-06.

“I hope they call it the same,” said Michalek.

Tom Preissing, who has blossomed this year into a strong all-around defender, remembers the lessons learned from his initial playoff run in 2004. The most difficult part could be finding yourself out of the lineup for a game or two and then having to jump back in.

“Your confidence takes a hit, but you have to pick yourself up,” said Preissing.

Just like Chris Mason for Nashville, Vesa Toskala will be carrying the load in net for the first time, but he is also one of the NHL’s hottest netminders and most coaches would take that over experience. And again, the netminders won’t be dealing with a different set of rules.

“The rules are the same and the size of the puck isn’t changing,” said Ron Wilson.

The rookies haven’t been bothered by the NHL from the moment they took the ice and the confidence in themselves and from their teammates says they won’t be bothered by the playoffs either. A very good sign for Sharks fans.
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