1991-92 Inaugural Season
Team Record: 17-58-5, 39 points
Team Standing: 6th place, Smythe Division
Did Not Qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Minor League Affiliate: Kansas City Blades (IHL)
Captain: Doug Wilson
Assistant Captains: Kelly Kisio, Bob McGill (Fill-ins: Brian Lawton, Brian Mullen, Rob Zettler)
TV / Radio: KICU-TV Action 36 / KNEW 910AM
With San Jose Arena, under construction, the Sharks descended upon Daly City’s Cow Palace for its first season in the National Hockey League. The 50-year old arena didn’t have the modern amenities, but it was a unique hockey “barn” nonetheless. Seating capacity would be at 10,888, while the ice was at a league minimum 185’x85’, both of which were the smallest in the NHL. But before the ice was laid down, the front office staff had to pick a team.
While the San Jose Sharks are considered a separate franchise in 1991, the team does have some lineage to the days of the first NHL team in the Bay Area, the California Golden Seals. In the mid 1970’s, George and Gordon Gund, who would eventually become the Sharks’ first owners, held a minority ownership of the Seals. After years of issues with attendance, the Gunds packed up the Seals, and moved the club to Cleveland, to become the Barons. The relocation to Ohio didn’t help the struggles and by 1978, the Gunds acquired another struggling team, the Minnesota North Stars, and merged the two teams.
By 1990, the Gunds, citing slipping attendance and the Met Center having subpar amenities, they asked the NHL to relocate the North Stars to the Bay Area. The league’s owners along with NHL President John Zeigler, did not want to relocate the franchise and lose a presence in Minnesota, denied the request. The Gunds and the league came to an agreement that the brothers would have rights to an expansion team in the Bay Area and would sell the North Stars to another group. As part of the deal, the franchise that would eventually become the San Jose Sharks would have the rights to some Minnesota North Stars players. The process would be consummated in a rare Dispersal Draft.
In an effort to immediately make the Sharks a contender, the Gunds had a deal with North Stars ownership to send up to 24 players to San Jose. Minnesota was allowed to protect 14 skaters and two goaltenders with 50 NHL games to their credit. The North Stars were also allowed to protect their 1990 draft picks.
Once San Jose selected 14 skaters and two netminders, the Sharks and North Stars took turns going through the available players until the Sharks had 30 players. For San Jose they acquired:
Shane Churla – RW
Brian Hayward – G
Neil Wilkinson – D
Rob Zettler – D
Ed Courtenay – RW
Kevin Evans – LW
Link Gaetz – D
Dan Keczmer – D
Dean Kolstad – D
Peter Lappin – RW
Pat MacLeod – D
Mike McHugh – LW
Jarmo Myllys – G
Jean-Francois Quintin – LW
Scott Cashman – G
Murray Garbutt – C
Rob Gaudreau – RW
Arturs Irbe – G
Shaun Kane – D
Larry Olimb – D
Tom Pederson – D
Bryan Schoen – G
John Weidbrod – C
Doug Zmolek – D
San Jose and Minnesota alternated picks in the 1991 Expansion Draft. The other 20 teams were able to protect 16 players and two goaltenders. 20 players would be selected, one from each franchise. The Sharks’ ten picks were:
Jeff Hackett – G, New York Islanders
Jayson More – D, Montreal Canadiens
Rick Lessard – D, Calgary Flames
Bob McGill – D, Chicago Blackhawks
Tim Kerr – F, Philadelphia Flyers
Jeff Madill – RW, New Jersey Devils
David Bruce – LW, St. Louis Blues
Greg Paslawski – RW, Buffalo Sabres
Bengt-Ake Gustafsson – F, Detroit Red Wings
Craig Coxe – C, Vancouver Canucks
Prior to the Entry Draft, the Sharks made a number of moves with their Dispersal/Expansion Draft picks. Tim Kerr, Greg Paslawski, Shane Churla were gone and came Brian Mullen, Tony Hrkac, and Kelly Kisio.
NHL ENTRY DRAFT
June 22, 1991 was a historic day in Buffalo. The Sharks went into their first ever Entry Draft looking to draft a face for the franchise. Sadly it wasn’t going to be Eric Lindros. Lindros, was highly touted as “The Next One” coming out of junior hockey was easily expected to be #1 overall. As part of the unique deal that included the Sharks drafting players from the North Stars and entering the NHL one year early, they gave up the rights to the #1 overall pick.
The first ever pick in the NHL’s Entry Draft was Pat Falloon, a speedy, small winger from the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs. A youngster who had a promising future, with lofty expectations being the young star that the Sharks and their fans backing on to be their poster boy. They also picked his teammate, Ray Whitney in the second round. With an extra pick in round two, they would draft their only All-Star defenseman, Sandis Ozolinsh. Of the 13 draft picks San Jose selected, seven of them would go on to play for the Sharks (Falloon, Whitney, Ozolinsh, Dody Wood, Jaroslav Otevrel, Dale Craigwell, Mikhail Kravets) sometime in the team’s history.
SHARKS AND COWS COMING TOGETHER
On September 6, 1991, over 50 players got together in a cramped Cow Palace locker room, to skate on the ice for the first time. Quick trivia note: Perry Anderson was the very first Shark to skate on the ice in a Sharks uniform. This day would be important on another level, as San Jose traded Kerry Torporowski and a 1992 2nd round pick for former Norris Trophy and All-Star defenseman Doug Wilson. His noted leadership would be noted as the team’s first ever captain. He would be the only Shark to play without a helmet.
The team’s first head coach was George Kingston. Known for his successful run as an assistant coach at the University of Calgary hockey program, along with his expertise with Hockey Canada and the Norwegian national hockey program, San Jose selected the teacher to be the first professor for the Pacific Teal, Black and Grey.
The expectations for the team were the usual for a new club in any sport: be competitive in every game, show signs of promise, and stay in playoff contention at the halfway mark. Yeah, that didn’t happen. In the preseason they went 2-6-2, losing a number of 1-goal games. It was apparent that a tight, defensive plan is what the Sharks would be playing. But more so, avoid the wild offensive shootouts, due to lack of firepower.
OCTOBER 4, 1991 – TEAM TEAL SKATES FOR THE FIRST TIME
Nearly 17 months of work, led to a Friday night inside the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia. The San Jose donned their Pacific Teal, Black, Grey uniforms for their first regular season game in history. The game started out rough with the Sharks allowing a substantial amount of shots, with the Canucks enjoying a comfortable 3-0 lead after two periods.
San Jose would make a comeback with Craig Coxe’s shot beat Canucks netminder Kirk MacLean for the first goal in Sharks history. The assists went to Neil Wilkinson and 1980 USA Olympic hockey “miracle maker” Mark Pavelich about five minutes into the third period. Here’s Dan Rusanowsky, calling his first regular season NHL game with the call:
Defensemen Pat MacLeod paired with Doug Wilson, would score the next two goals, tying the game at 3-3. However, with 19 seconds left to play in regulation, Vancouver would score a controversial goal to give them the victory 4-3. Jeff Hackett made 48 saves on 52 shots, taking the loss for San Jose. When receiving treatment after the game, assistant coach Drew Remenda gave him the game puck, to which “Hack” said, “No offense Drew, I’ve seen enough pucks for one night.”
OCTOBER 5, 1991 – THE FIRST HOME OPENER
it had been 5,663 days. 15 years, 6 months, and a day since there was an NHL regular season game played in the Bay Area. A sellout crowd of 10,888 arrived at the Cow Palace to be a part of the first San Jose Sharks home game.
Sadly, the first home game was pretty similar to the first road game, as the Sharks lost 5-2. Wayne Presley scored the first home goal. Vancouver took 39 shots, with Jarmo Myllys making 34 of 37 saves. Hockey returned, but San Jose was 0-2-0 after two games.
OCTOBER 8, 1991 – THE FIRST WIN FOR THE FIN
Three nights after its historic back to back weekend, the San Jose Sharks returned back to the Cow Palace, planning to play better than its first two defeats to the Canucks. This night, the Calgary Flames were in town. The Flames were expected to be a Stanley Cup contender with the likes of Joe Niewendyk, Theo Fleury, Al MacInnis and Joel Otto leading the rush.
Team Teal was going with its third different goaltender, Brian Hayward, hoping for a better result in net. There was a feeling of optimism as San Jose scored first, becoming the initial time they had scored the opening tally, and a lead.
Calgary would come back to make it 2-1, but in the middle frame, Pat Falloon scores his first NHL goal on a short breakaway. San Jose would be down 3-2 in the final period until Craig Coxe tied it early. Then with 3:52 left in regulation, Kelly Kisio tapped in a rebound past Calgary goalie Rick Wamsley. That was the game winning goal as San Jose defeat the Flames 4-3 for the first ever Sharks victory.
THE OCCASIONAL UPS, THE PLENTIFUL DOWNS, THE STRUGGLES
A new team will always have ups and downs and the Sharks had a few ups and a bunch of downs. After that first victory, San Jose lost 13 in a row. In that losing streak, the team embarked on a long East coast road trip. But there were memories made before getting on the flight. As told by Dan Rusanowsky, here: http://sharks.nhl.com/club/blogpostprint.htm?id=14306
Oakland Airport had a rookie pilot practicing landings and takeoffs and blew a tire. Original color analyst Dennis Hull went to teach airport techs how to use a jack, which had to come from SFO causing a multi hour delay. Assistant coach Drew Remenda jumped the gun early by handing out the per diem meal money to the players. With the ongoing delay, a card game broke out and an unlucky player was without lunch money for the upcoming seven game road trip. Newcomer Paul Fenton passed out and needed a stretcher, suffering from a punctured ear drum while trying to clean earwax with a Q-Tip. After all that and multiple delays, the team arrived in Hartford, Connecticut with Drew forgetting to inform the bus company they were coming in late! After all-nighter flight, the team arrived at their hotel at 5:45am… on a game day! Needless to say, the Sharks lost 3-0 to the Whalers, the first time the team was shutout.
The team finished the roadie 0-7-0 but had a fill in television announcer calling the third game of the trip. Los Angeles Kings studio host and one of the persons responsible for getting the Sharks in San Jose, Randy Hahn called his first game for Team Teal in New Jersey.
Team Teal got back on track once they were home. But the ups and downs continued. After two consecutive wins for the first time in their history, San Jose played Detroit to a 3-3 tie. But the game played as the “undercard” to the main event as two big boys, the heavyweight matchup in the NHL took place between San Jose’s Link Gaetz and Detroit’s Bob Probert. It was talked about for weeks and sent a message to the league that this club won’t bow down to anyone.
November 30, 1991 was the date when the Sharks defeated Calgary in the Saddledome, 2-1 for the team’s first victory on the road. On January 4, 1992, the Sharks – Montreal Canadiens game was delayed 45 minutes due to a magnet getting stuck under the Zamboni causing a deep cut through the Cow Palace ice. Sharks would lose a heartbreaker in overtime, 1-0. Two weeks later, Sharks captain Doug Wilson was the team’s first participant in the NHL All-Star Game.
To celebrate the league’s 75th anniversary, home teams wore their road color jerseys after the break. San Jose had its largest offensive output, defeating the Quebec Nordiques 7-4 on February 26, 1992. Two nights later, the Sharks made another strong comeback against Montreal. Down 2-0 and 3-1, they clawed back to a 3-3 tie.
San Jose’s first season had everything, including the first labor stoppage in league history. On April 1, 1992, after rejecting the NHL’s “final offer”, the National Hockey League Players Association went on a ten-day strike. It was a battle between new NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow and NHL President John Ziegler with how free agency took place, arbitration issues, playoff bonuses, and how trading card revenue would be split, which turned out to be the biggest sticking point.
The league and the Sharks got back on the ice on April 12th and lost their last three games. San Jose finished with a 17-58-5 record for 39 points and finished last in the Smythe Division of the Campbell Conference. Team Teal would miss the playoffs by an embarrassing 42 points to 4th place Winnipeg. They would allow ten or more goals three times that inaugural season, and would be shutout nine times.
Team MVP honors would go to Jeff Hackett with 11 victories, looking like he may secure himself the starting job for next season. Pat Falloon led with 25 goals, while the other 20 goal scorer was journeyman David Bruce.
Team Teal unveiled their mascot on January 28th of 1992 unveiled from a Zamboni, but officially named S.J. Sharkie on April 15th during the last game of the season.
Once the season was over, on April 26th, original Sharks general manager Jack Ferreira, who came with the Gunds to San Jose from Minnesota was fired, and replaced by a two person hockey operations committee led by Chuck Grillo and Dean Lombardi with head coach George Kingston also adding vice president of hockey operations to his title.
The bright side to the first season was in the minor leagues. Led by head coach Kevin Constantine, the Sharks top affiliate, the Kansas City Blades won the International Hockey League’s championship, the Turner Cup, showing that the best years were still to come.