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The thorn
Korolyuk turning out to be a pain
5/15/04 - by Steve Flores

Well, well, well. The blue fish are breathing a little life after all. The San Jose Sharks 3-0 victory in game #3 of the Western Conference Finals showcased the many skills of Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and a better facsimile of the staunch defense that has been the team's trademark all season.

The other game three development was the sliver that Darryl Sutter thought he had rid himself of: Alexander Korolyuk. Once upon a time in San Jose, Korolyuk was a favorite whooping boy of Sutter. The Sharks former head coach would ride the Russian winger concerning everything from work ethic to defensive abilities.

Korolyuk would show flashes of brilliance under the Sutter regime, but those flares were almost always contained to the offensive side of the ice and were as frequent as San Francisco Giant's World Series victory. Just prior to the 2002-2003 season Korolyuk was not signed to a contract and returned to Russia to play in the Russian elite league. Sutter had rid himself of a player that would or could not adapt his substantial skills to the Sutter style.

As we all know the 2002-2003 season went the way of the frozen wastelands of hockey and various changes were made to the Shark's front office and on-ice roster. One of those changes was G.M. Doug Wilson bringing Korolyuk back into the Sharks fold. Wilson knew that Korolyuk had the kind of offensive skills that the Sharks could surely use.

Korolyuk rewarded Wilson's faith with 19 goals and 18 assists in 63 games this season. More importantly the swift winger scored 2 goals in the game three victory over the Sutter led Flames. The first goal was of the nail-driving variety as Korolyuk went in one-one one and beat Mikka Kiprusoff high side with a nifty backhand.

The second goal has become a source of controversy, as it was an empty netter that the winger broke in on and stopped and hesitated before taking the shot. The Flames took it as a rub in their face. Conjecture is that Korolyuk slowed down in attempt to feed the streaking Patrick Marleau (as Marleau is in a goal scoring rut of 7 games).

The Flames began a now common array of shoving, punching, pushing and thuggery that has been common throughout the first three games of the series. The belief on the parts of many is that Korolyuk was in full mental control of what he was doing and that he enjoyed every moment of his actions with Sutter at the forefront of those visions.

Regardless of the reasons or motivations, the mere facts of the dynamic between the two men tends to lead to an interesting sideshow that I'm sure the national media will pick up on when game four unfolds. The Sharks managed to win the third game without really looking like the Sharks that we watched all season long. They need to step it up yet another notch to capture game four and knot the series at two games apiece.

If Korolyuk can find a way to stay as motivated as he has been then that would sit great with everyone with fishy roots. The irony would be that Korolyuk will have finally managed to achieve all that Sutter wanted of him, but at the expense of Sutter himself. Ah Shakespeare would love the twist.

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