The Invincible M.A.E. (harleymae) wrote,
The Invincible M.A.E.

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Oh, Owen!

After the goodbye, a shrug
By David Pollak
Mercury News

The super-sized Chevy pickup parked directly outside the player entrance at the Logitech Ice Center looked primed for a getaway. In a sense, it was.

Hockey sticks? Check. Equipment bags? Check. Boxed memories? Check.

Owen Nolan made a farewell trip to the Sharks' practice rink Thursday morning, gathering up his tools of the trade, saying goodbye to his former teammates and talking about his mixed emotions over the 15 hours since he learned he had been traded to Toronto.

``When it happens, it's hard. You try to prepare yourself for it, but once it happens it's a tough situation,'' said Nolan, who had made it clear before Wednesday's deal that he wanted to stay in San Jose.

``Now I'm excited. I can't wait to be part of that team,'' he said, referring to the Maple Leafs, who are fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff race. ``There's a great opportunity to win there.''

Plus, he added, ``I get to go home, I guess, in a little way.'' Nolan, 31, was born in Belfast, Ireland, but was raised in Thorold, Ontario -- about an hour's drive from Toronto, where he is scheduled to make his Maple Leafs debut Saturday against Vancouver.

Skating without the captain's ``C'' on his jersey won't necessarily lessen any pressure, Nolan said. ``I don't think it's going to be an easy task. They traded for me and expect me to produce.''

The trade ended weeks of gossip that the Sharks were going to ship out Nolan before Tuesday's trade deadline. So was he expecting it?

``I was and I wasn't,'' Nolan said. ``You hear so many rumors that you don't know what to believe.''

He seemed to accept General Manager Dean Lombardi's explanation that the move was driven, in part, by economics. Nolan has a contract that could pay him $13 million over the next two seasons. ``I've had some good times here, but business is a part of this game,'' Nolan said.

But Nolan didn't seem to buy the notion that locker-room friction -- and his role in it -- was an issue.

``No, it's a great group of guys. I can't emphasize that enough,'' he said. ``It's a mystery why we are in the position we are at this time of year. But when a team struggles like this, change is going to happen.''

When Nolan got together with his former teammates before the morning skate, there were individual conversations and an impromptu gathering.

``I won't tell you what their comments were,'' he said.

Not long ago Nolan moved to a house in the hills above Los Gatos, and that made it a little more difficult for Lombardi to find him and deliver the news Wednesday night. By the time the G.M. arrived, Nolan had received several phone calls informing him of the trade.

``It was tough,'' Nolan said of his conversation with Lombardi. ``It was pretty emotional.''

Nolan made it clear that though he was no longer a Shark, he wasn't about to abandon the South Bay. His wife, Diana, grew up here and he owns acres of undeveloped land on the east side of Mount Hamilton.

``I love it here. It's a place I want to live when I'm done,'' Nolan said. ``But Toronto is my home now.''

Nolan indicated that his wife, due to deliver their first child in June, is having more trouble adjusting than he is.

``This is a big change for her,'' he said. ``She's definitely shocked, a little upset. But once she realizes the atmosphere that we're going to, she'll cheer up in a hurry.''

Nolan also said he will maintain his business interests in San Jose, including two Britannia Arms pubs.

At the downtown location Thursday afternoon, Michael North -- one of Nolan's partners -- was tending bar. ``Personally, I think losing Owen is a loss not just to us, but to the Sharks and the community,'' he said.

North acknowledged Nolan's reputation as being occasionally gruff but said that's not the person he saw during the player's many visits to the pubs, either with friends or for a charity fundraiser.

``I've got my ups and downs, too,'' North said. ``The difference is I don't have 18,000 people looking at me and expecting me to score three goals every night.''

North said there would be one change in the decor now that Nolan has been traded. For now, the only sign of the player's connection to Britannia Arms is a framed Sharks jersey with the familiar No. 11.

That will stay on the wall, North said, ``but now we've got to get a Toronto jersey, too.''

Chip came home completely smashed last night. It was amusing. I told him about Drew calling Randy "drop dead gorgeous", and he declared that the two of them must be getting it on in the booth every broadcast. :D

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