The San Jose Sharks are a proud franchise. They have only been in existence for a little more than 25 years, but they are something of a marketing miracle. When people think of where hockey is played, it is an almost certainty that they will be thinking of some place cold, some place where the tip of your nose in the middle of winter is frozen. The Original Six NHL teams: Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, and Detroit, cold can most certainly be checked off of the list.
In 1991, when San Jose was awarded a franchise, there was a certain amount of skepticism about whether they would be able to gather a loyal fan base. Warm weather and hockey are not synonymous. Neither are hockey and the West Coast. You can listen to hockey players talk about early childhood memories, and it is essentially a guarantee that they will mention skating on a pond or shooting into a net in freezing conditions.
In the 100 years of the NHL, there has been a grand total of one player from San Jose, California. John Emmons, who was a forward and had six points in his career. By comparison, there are two players on the Sharks current roster from London, Ontario, and two more from Guelph, Ontario. Sure maybe you know where Guelph, Ontario is, but I can almost guarantee being a Californian that the massive majority of folks from the Bay Area would have no idea where it is.
Patrick Marleau is from Aneroid, Saskatchewan, Canada. A quick glance at the Wikipedia page for Aneroid will show that the population there is 45, and that their notable resident is indeed Patrick Marleau. As I write this article, the weather in Aneroid is ten degrees Fahrenheit. In San Jose, California, where Marleau prepares to play his first game after his historic milestone in Vancouver, it is 60 degrees. The population of San Jose? At over one million, it is the tenth biggest city in America.
The marriage between Marleau and the Sharks seems so odd, yet so beautiful and necessary. Marleau was born on September 15, 1979, precisely 12 years and 19 days before the Sharks played their first game. Six years after their first game, the fortune of the Sharks would drastically change in the 1997 draft. With the #2 overall pick, the Sharks selected Marleau, and the franchise would never be the same.
No one could have imagined on that fateful day in the previous century, that Marleau would eventually join the 500 goal club. More amazingly, he did it with one team. His team. The Bay Area’s team. A team that Sharks fans would argue with their dying breaths that ESPN had not heard of until last year.
As the organization prepares to honor Patrick Marleau for his 500th goal, it is important that they honor him the right way. Patty as Sharks fans affectionately call him, is Mr. Shark. He is the guy.
Joe Pavelski may be the current captain. Joe Thornton may be the best player in franchise history. Timo Meier and the youngsters may be the future of the Sharks. Marleau’s nickname, “Patty”, does not have the same ring as another fan favorite, Jonathan Cheechoo. Mike Ricci was loved for the emotion he played with, and Owen Nolan was our guy. He was our man who represented our city at our All-Star game in 1996.
As much as they were and are fan favorites, those former players were not good enough to have their jersey’s retired. That will change when Patrick Marleau retires, hopefully never having worn another jersey. His #12 will hang in the rafters of the Tank long after he is done playing. It isn’t just that he scored 500 goals, or has 1,000 points. Sure he has scored a game winning goal against every other team in the NHL, but that is not it either.
No. See, Patrick Marleau has played 1,468 games in his NHL career, and every one of them has been for San Jose. He has played each and every one of those games, the last 599 of them consecutively, with pride and skill.
But most importantly, he was a part of the movement that brought hockey to the Bay Area. Back during Marleau’s captaincy and a little beyond that, The Tank was known as the hardest place to play in hockey. The fans were loud and they were rowdy. That all started with Marleau coming to town. So not only did Marleau bring this franchise to consistent relevance, but he brought hockey to NorCal.
Which brings us all back to this perfect and odd marriage. A young man was drafted out of a tiny town of 45 people. He was drafted to a large city with advancing technology, lots of variety, and a sputtering hockey franchise. In that fateful 1997 draft, Marleau was taken second, one pick after Jumbo Joe Thornton.
Thornton came to the Sharks in 2005-2006 in what is still one of the greatest trades in any sports ever (not for the Bruins). Together the first and second picks of that draft have made San Jose a perennial power. Thornton, however, will never be Patrick Marleau. Someday, his #19 jersey will also go up in the rafters and reside alongside Patty’s #12.
Thornton is the adopted son with the overwhelming beard. He helped forge a culture with Marleau that has brought elite talents through the organization like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture, Pavs, and a number of other players. But it is Patty who is the founding father, who really started it all.
The young man from a small town in hockey crazed Canada. He took a journey to a city that really should not have a hockey team. He has shown desire, elite talent, and loyalty to the organization and city. The young man became a grizzled veteran and never left, despite being stripped of a captaincy, despite rough playoff journeys along the way. Patrick Marleau is a 500 goal scorer, and he has done it with the San Jose Sharks. He is our guy, a guy who has embraced the city (see the featured photo above), and he has been since that day oh so long ago.
Patrick Marleau and the Sharks organization have been together since 1997. Sharks fans can only hope, that it will remain that way for the rest of hockey history. It was a marriage that was unforeseen. It was a marriage that has turned out rather successfully for both. Now it is time to take the final step, and win the Stanley Cup.
So that Mr. Shark can hold the cup, for the only NHL city and franchise he has ever known.
This article was initially written in February, when Patrick Marleau was still a member of the San Jose Sharks. He has since signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency, and left the only team he ever knew. That will not matter to Sharks fans. They will be forever grateful for Patty because…
Patrick Marleau is Mr. Shark. No matter what team he plays for. No matter how long down the road it is and if the Sharks have finally won the Stanley Cup.
Patrick Marleau is, and will always be Mr. San Jose Shark.