Anyway, with the part of me that realised the Sharks were in the first round, things pretty much went the way I predicted. Joe & co shut down, Patty & co with the scoring. The whole team (with the exception of Game 1, first period, where big rookie presence resulted in, ooh, big, bright lights!!! syndrome) winning it together. Just like they did down the last 2 weeks of the season.
Many thoughts and other stuff, but no energy to write. Spam instead about the second line. They used a pic of Patty with three guys no longer on the team which traumatised me greatly. That's Korolyuk, not Milan, nhl.com. *cries*
But the article was nice. :)
Sharks' second line is first rate
By Larry Wigge | NHL.com columnist
May 1, 2006
At first, it almost seemed like a dare.
More appropriately in sports today, we like to talk about setting challenges in front of people. If you do this ... or you do that, then there are great things ahead in your future. It's a dare normally reserved for kids.
But, in this case, the San Jose Sharks put two very gifted young wingers -- Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier -- taken in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, together with captain Patrick Marleau on a forward line shortly after Bernier was recalled from the team's AHL farm club in late January.
The unlikely combination has been lethal ever since.
It was quickly clear that this was a great second line behind Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo and Nils Ekman.
Of course, coach Ron Wilson wanted a second line for depth in the playoffs, when it becomes vogue to stop a team's No. 1 line. But, this line was not just for depth, not when the line starts with a gifted center like Marleau and meshes size, speed and skill -- no matter how young the wingers on the line might be.
Marleau is a given, with his League-leading seven goals -- including two in Game 2 and three more in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs against the Nashville Predators. But the dare, the challenge, was for Bernier and Michalek to keep up with their more talented linemate.
It wasn't the first time Bernier and Michalek heard that challenge from the Sharks. It wasn't the first time the thought crossed General Manager Doug Wilson's mind that these two might someday make a productive pair in the NHL.
"I remember hearing Doug dare Milan to be more assertive, use his size and skills (after the first day of the 2003 draft)," Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek, Milan's brother, told me just before the playoffs began. "And, I remember hearing him challenge Steve to find a personal trainer and get rid of his baby fat, get stronger and more confident in his skills.
"It was clear to me that the Sharks had traded up to get Steve in that draft to perhaps play alongside Milan at some point in the future."
Voila! After eliminating the Predators in five games, the line is making its presence felt. Marleau had seven goals and an assist, Bernier two goals and two assists and Michalek two assists.
"Milan and I were talking on the phone before the series and I made sure to remind him to work extra hard, because of the way teams try to neutralize the other team's top line in the playoffs," Zbynek Michalek told me. "We talk almost every day. And I remember telling him the Sharks would need him and Steve to really be productive under pressure."
And they have been.
"We use our size down low to our advantage,'' Marleau said. "In Milan, you've got a young kid with great speed and soft hands. And Steve is so strong, he's like a big bear who is still quick enough to spin off checks in front of the net and get in position to use his good hands to score.
"They play with a lot of confidence and poise. Not like rookies. They don't look like players who are just getting their feet wet in the NHL. They play like they want to be around for another 10 years or more."
Predators winger Paul Kariya is also impressed with the Sharks' second line.
"They are really hard to play against," Kariya said. "You can't let up if Joe Thornton doesn't score ... because Patrick Marleau and his line can bite you, too."
Dare or not, that draft day in Nashville back in 2003 seems like a back-to-the-future stream of brilliant thinking. Doug Wilson used the sixth pick in the draft to take the flashy and fleet Michalek. And when the Sharks figured there was no way they would get a potential power forward like Bernier with the 21st pick in the first round, Wilson called Boston Bruins General Manager Mike O'Connell and traded the team's first-round pick, plus the No. 66 and 107 picks to the Bruins for the 16th pick, which they used to select Bernier.
When you have a team that emphasizes character before anything else, it is probably a little easier to slot players with the right skills somewhere in the very near future. And it's also true that character players also make your team strong mentally -- like the Sharks.
It's also a fact that you can challenge youngsters like Michalek and Bernier and not be worried about sending them down a wrong path. No second thoughts. Just take a second look at what you have. It's second nature to look for success.
Size, speed, skills and character. Remember? The size difference significantly kicked into gear against a smaller Nashville lineup, with Marleau, at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Bernier, at 6-2, 230, and Michalek, at 6-2, 220. Those three were routinely out-muscling the Predators.
"Our forwards did a great job of winning battles down low and protecting the puck," Ron Wilson said. "If that first unit gets stale, I've got another option now."
Michalek finished his first full NHL season with 17 goals and 18 assists. Bernier had 14 goals and 13 assists in just 39 games, getting most of those points after being recalled just before the Olympic break in early February.
"There's a big difference between young bad players and young good players, Ron Wilson said. "There's not much you can do if they don't have much talent. Milan and Steve are plain and simply good players."
Michalek might have been a surprise to those at the draft in Nashville in 2003. He had only three goals in 46 games for his junior team in the Czech Republic. But he was definitely more mature.
"He was the typical little brother," Zbynek laughed. "He followed me and my friends around and wanted to do everything I did, so he was playing and practicing against kids two and three years older than him all the time. But you could see the skills, the great skating stride and strength he had.
"You could see he had big talent and his vision on the ice was so much better than any of the older guys I played with."
Milan remembers Buffalo Sabres star winger Ales Kotalik being in that group.
"Hockey was my life," he said. "I'd practice two, maybe three times a day -- at morning in school with kids my age and then later with my brother's friends."
Milan and Zbynek were blessed with hard-working parents who wanted nothing better than to see their sons have everything they needed in life. Milan Sr., sells bathroom supplies and Maria, their mom, works in the town hall in Jindrichuv Hradec, a small city in the Czech Republic.
Though Zbynek is two years older than Milan, he was never drafted by an NHL team and his kid brother was on a fast track to the NHL, going right from his first training camp into the starting lineup with the Sharks in October of 2003 -- and scoring a goal in his first NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers. Zbynek, who was originally signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Wild, didn't play in the NHL until late in the 2003-04 season.
"I teased Zbynek that I made it before him," Milan laughed. "But he played more games than I did that season because I had to have knee surgery."
Michalek sustained a knee injury in his second NHL game, when checked hard by former Calgary defenseman Denis Gauthier. Surgery kept him out of action again until February, when he returned at Cleveland (AHL) and injured the knee again and had to have another operation.
"When I came back this season, it was almost two years without hockey and that was really hard for me," Milan said. "Except for the confidence that I was getting from talking to my brother on the phone nearly every day, I was really dejected. I wasn't sure how things would wind up."
The Sharks would still like to see Milan shoot more, but they clearly know they have a pretty good thing going for them with the way the chemistry has melded between Marleau, Michalek and Bernier.
"You have to be a threat out there to shoot and pass," Ron Wilson said. "I remind Milan and Stevie that keeping that thought in mind and being assertive makes it that much harder to defend against them."
Bernier? He's just a very skilled kid, who after a five-game stint with the Sharks earlier in the season, went back down and used his size and strength to tear up the AHL -- proving he is a quick study.
"Doug Wilson was right about my conditioning, I saw that in my first training camp that I was way behind the others in the kind of shape I was in," Bernier said. "So I went out and hired Stephane Dubois, a personal trainer in the Quebec area, right after the draft to get me on track. In addition to the personal trainer, I worked with a power skating coach as well.
"I could see right away at my first training camp that the only way to improve my game was by improving my skating because the speed of the game up here is so much faster than I had ever been involved with before. And now I'm able to move in the corners and around the net a lot easier."
Bernier also doesn't have to worry about the little things that might complicate the life of a rookie, because he's living in Marleau's house and getting some pretty good advice.
"He makes sure I'm always ready," Bernier laughed. "And, on the ice, he makes me improve my speed a lot. If I don't, then I can't possibly keep up with him or Milan."
Bernier's genes are also from a hard work-related background. Richard, who played a little hockey in his days, taught Steve the tools he displays every night.
The chemistry between Marleau, Michalek and Bernier is truly amazing. They play a high-tempo, hard-hitting style and always seem to be buzzing around the opponent's net.
"Sometimes I have to rub my eyes to make sure I'm awake and not dreaming," Marleau laughed. "I get to the rink each day and line up with two offensively gifted young guys who just want to learn. They want to succeed. And it drives me to want to work harder, too."
The Sharks talk about the maturity of Michalek and the unique scoring ability of Bernier. But, in reality, Marleau, Michalek and Bernier combine a lot of the same skills and determination to succeed.
Did the Sharks really envision back at the 2003 draft that some day these two might be doing what they're doing for them right now? There was a smile on Doug Wilson's face that said there was some thought given to finding a right wing and a left wing in the same draft -- and the possibility that some day they might produce at a high level in the NHL.
But no one would have predicted the instant chemistry that has worked out so well between Patrick Marleau, Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier.
Oh man, the idea that they were drafted to play with each other! Doug Wilson, the matchmaker. And that the pick we used for Bernier came from Boston. The Sharks team slogan should be changed to THANK YOU BOSTON. (Yes, no comma, just like the THANK YOU FANS haha.)
I also love that they had to get quotes from Zbynek because Milan is so ESL. And I still don't believe that Patty Marleau talks that much. They must have pieced together months of quotes to get those.