SAN JOSE - The last time the San Jose Sharks played on SAP Center ice, they watched the Stanley Cup skate off in the wrong hands. Despite the team’s best effort to sustain puck possession and neutralize fast breakouts, the depth of Pittsburgh’s speed-first attack proved to be too much to handle.
The loss stung for players and fans alike, but that memory will in time give way to a fonder recollection of the team’s resiliency through four rounds of grueling playoff hockey. The Sharks gave their fans reason to believe that victory was possible every game, in every situation. They proved it in comeback victories against Los Angeles, Nashville and St. Louis, and then again in game three against Pittsburgh in what is now known in the Bay Area simply as “the Donskoi game.”
Flash forward three months, and the same never-die attitude was found alive amongst Sharks prospects during the team’s preseason opener against Vancouver.
Trailing 2-1 late in the third period, mainstay forward Tommy Wingels forced overtime by scoring with 23 seconds left. Minutes later, rookie Kevin Labanc sent fans home happy.
Labanc, a 20-year-old Brooklyn native, also had an assist in the game. The 2014 sixth-round pick was one of several prospects looking to take advantage of the extra ice slots afforded by the World Cup of Hockey’s cut into San Jose’s roster. San Jose led all NHL teams in players participating in the tournament with seven: USA’s Joe Pavelski, Canada’s Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton, Team Europe's Mikkel Boedker and Finland’s Joonas Donskoi.
Free-agent defenseman pickup David Schlemko stepped up to fill the void, leading all skaters with 23:38 of ice time. The 10-year veteran also assisted on the game-tying and game-winning goals. Meanwhile, fellow defenseman Mirco Mueller struggled through phases of the game. Mueller is expected to be a dependable fill-in on the backend this season and bounce back from a lackluster 2015-16 campaign. It will be interesting to see which way he trends as we approach opening night.
Troy Grosenick played well in net, stopping several tough saves through traffic and off tips, which is exactly what you want to see from someone expected to fill free agent depature James Reimer’s spot as backup. Grosenick played the first half of the game, allowing one goal on eight shots, while 6-4 Lithuanian prospect Mantas Armalis allowed one goal on seven shots in relief.
Vancouver’s Bo Hovart opened scoring 2:06 into the first, while Barclay Goodrow - now sporting number 23 - opened the scoring for the Sharks 14:00 into the second period. Vancouver’s Sven Baertschi gave the Canucks back the lead mid-way through the third before Wingels and Labanc’s heroics.
The Sharks will play host to Arizona on Friday, then rematch the Canucks on Sunday in Vancouver.