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Chomping out of the gate
A good start will help on and off the ice
10/4/05 - by Derick Bellamy

Ok, where were we? It will be nearly seventeen months since the Sharks hit the ice for a meaningful hockey game. All I can say is it's about PUCKING time! Due to the lockout, most have forgotten about this game. The great thing about it is with the A's and Giants not playing in baseball's playoffs, the 49ers and Raiders off to dismal starts, and the Warriors beginning in November, Team Teal will be the spotlight on the sports pages and newscasts everywhere. The time is now to get the entire Bay Area crazy for pucks.

The head start from the NBA is critical. After the Warriors hot finish and the then uncertainty of the NHL's future, many left the support of the NHL and the Sharks and headed up I-880 for a sudden surging basketball team. With the month head start, the Sharks not only get to bring back the dual sports fan, but open up to the casual fan with reduced ticket prices to watch the great sport of hockey. What will help is something that is a rarity in the history of the Sharks -- a great start in October.

Team Teal has traditionally started slow in October. In their entire existence, San Jose is 2-9-2 all time on Opening Night, with the two wins coming on home ice. A slow start could ultimately kill the Sharks at the gate especially with only three home games in the first month of the season. But in the new NHL, things are changing faster than you can say Niko Dimitrakos five times fast.

The league is now making the game faster and more skillful and attempting to reduce the amount of obstruction for to enhance the offense, which has drastically fallen within the last decade. Gone are any form of interference as the league has stated (once again for the tenth season in a row) that the referees are being told to call anything and everything. This is to eventually create more scoring chances, which should lead to more scoring since the goaltenders no longer look like they borrow equipment from lacrosse goaltenders.

With the Sharks in general, they look to be in the perfect spot to take advantage of the new rules. Speed is the key and with Patrick Marleau, Marco Sturm, and Milan Michalek likely making up the top line, defensemen will for sure be burned now that two-line passes are allowed. Skill and agility is the key for the second line of Alyn McCauley and Nils Ekman. They may not get the ooooh's and aaaahhh's from the crowd like their first line teammates, but are still able to silence opponents. Alexander Korolyuk might be missed for a bit but Niko Dimitrakos, Marcel Goc, or Josh Langfeld can be a replacement minus the fancy dancing and passing.

The grit line may have lost its heart with Mike Ricci now in Phoenix, but Wayne Primeau's play with or without the puck may improve this line. Scott Thornton was getting rave reviews by Sharks brass on his conditioning and may contribute in his mighty ways. Fan favorite Jonathan Cheechoo has suddenly become a serious threat on a line that is usually asked to score a timely goal. The Cheechoo train did that and then some in 2003-04 and is ready to take the next step to stardom. If the fourth line were a jigsaw puzzle, it would be a number of interlocking pieces that fit together no matter what pieces are put in place. Scott Parker has leaned down and improved his skating and Mark Smith still provides the grittiness that this club once depended on.

The defensive core, while losing a couple of its veteran defensemen, is young, agile, and will make you pay if you even attempt to try to create a scoring chance. Anchoring the core are Scott Hannan, Brad Stuart and Kyle McLaren. Hannan has shown he is one of the best young defensemen in the league and international play. Stuart has shown he can play on both ends of the ice to provide the defense and offense from the blue line. He may not thump like McLaren, but gets the job done to prevent the puck from going in. McLaren, when not using Sharks television commentator Drew Remenda as his personal body checking rag doll, is known to continuously thump and bump to fire up his teammates and the fans. The remaining defensemen will be strong, young, and know they must go all out or else. Rob Davison has shown that he might be a younger McLaren waiting in the wings. Christain Ehrhoff could be the offensive threat at the blue line that has sorely been missed since Sandis Ozolinsh was traded ten years ago. Tom Preissing had a breakthrough year by quietly getting the job done, with strong defensive play.

Goaltending has changed drastically since 2003-04. This season, goalies will have streamlined gear, smaller pads to open up more areas for opponents to find bigger holes to score upon. Many have said that the duo of Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala will likely be the least effected by the changes. These goalies were good before, and while every goalie will have to adapt, these two could be denying the opponents all season long.

San Jose did not make a splash in the free agency market, which caused the media to forget about this team and look at the movers and shakers in the NHL. The catch for not going after any free agents could expose the lack of depth in the minor league system that is a cause for concern. In the end, anything less than a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals will not be tolerated. They lost momentum thanks to that darn lockout, but when this team starts winning fans will be back and hopefully the dreams of Lord Stanley taking up residence in Teal Town, anything is possible.

My Prediction: Sharks win the Pacific Division as a #2 seed, and will win the West by defeating Edmonton, Colorado, and Calgary. The Sharks will take care of the upstart Eastern Conference champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games. Let's hope I'm right!

Time for a Challenge -- Step it up Fellow Sharks Fans

I want to issue a challenge to my friends and fellow fans of Team Teal. During the Conference Finals the team asked fans to wear teal throughout to games. However, I was disappointed to see the lack of participation and to see fans in Philadelphia and in particular, Calgary, and nearly 100% participation in wearing their team's colors. So I want to see EVERYONE in teal. Make it an ocean of teal, and make it a tough place for opponents to play in. Remember the old slogan: BE REAL, BE TEAL!

Until next time CHOMP TO THE CUP in 2006!



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