By Kyle McLorg, Guest Contributor
I started watching the Sharks in 2008, the year that they won the Presidents’ Trophy. Don’t string me up, hockey nuts, it’s not my fault that I wasn’t raised on hockey — If I could have picked it up earlier I would have. People are often born into their fanhood, and Team Teal was just not included in my bloodline.
Truth be told, I didn’t miss much by showing up late to the party. Stellar regular seasons followed by playoff disappointments — that’s the most appropriate way to describe the last three seasons, and yet it sounds a lot like most of the other 17 years, doesn’t it?
So if this is how I feel about three years of blue balls on ice — empty and dissatisfied — I can only imagine what the Sharks fans of the old guard are thinking right now.
This year’s team is stocked with talent, but hockey is a funny sport — talent, it seems, is only an incalculable portion of the entire pie. The Sharks’ 2008 season should be evidence of that: each line was packed with goal scorers. They went on a regular season run that even ESPN couldn’t ignore. But when it came time to have heart — when the pretty goals stopped finding their way into the net — disappointment again fell upon the South Bay. The 2012 Sharks are a team similarly chocked full of potential, but the question remains if that potential will be broached.
Hockey is an insane mixture of skill, heart, desire, grit, clutch, belief, humility and luck. Not one of these elements can take you all the way — just ask Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks. He knocked the Sharks out of the Stanley Cup Finals running last season with one of the flukiest goals I’ve ever witnessed, only to have Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas said “luck this.” It was Thomas’ legendary performance, a true exhibition of talent and grit, that embarrassed Vancouver en route to a championship for Boston.
Diehard puck fans will tell you that the Stanley Cup playoffs equate to the toughest championship road in all sports. I’m not going to fall into defending this argument — there is simply no way of convincing all. I will acknowledge, however, that four rounds of best-of-7 hockey is incredibly taxing. For the Sharks, the fourth and final round has proved to be the most elusive.
In this Sharks fan’s eyes the 2012 playoffs will be welcomed with extremely high expectations. Although it would come as no surprise if it happens, I simply will not accept an early playoff exit. I fully expect a trip to the Finals this year.
While the Sharks defense was notably weak last year, they bolstered their blue line this offseason by trading for Brent Burns, as well as signing defensemen like Jim Vandemeer and Colin White. The Sharks have been getting uncanny production from their third and fourth lines, a spot that has been surprisingly anemic in years past. Players like Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell have actually been stealing some of the shine from the Sharks usual playmakers. And the chemistry between defense and goaltender Antti Niemi has continued to grow, now in it’s second full year of inception. Should the Sharks continue to dominate in special teams and finish in close games, they should be well set up to make a run for the Cup.
The San Jose Sharks have been playoff underachievers by nature for years, and at times it’s like Sharks fans possess more belief in their team than the players hold for themselves. Each year, as we watch the dust settle on our disappointment, we look hard in the mirror and say, “Next year will be our time. Next year we will make it over the top.”
That next year better be this year. The Sharks have everything it takes to win — goal scorers, stout defense, nails goal tending and finishing ability. They just need to find that perfect concoction of the aforementioned elements necessary to win when it counts.
The moment that they find that delicate mixture is the precise moment that they will finally make it over the top. If the Sharks find a way to harness that belief and achieve what their fans expect of them, they will at long last bring a Stanley Cup championship to San Jose.