Courtesy of the San Jose Sharks
Patrick Marleau now stands alone.
On a Monday evening in Sin City, Mr. Shark, #12, broke the NHL's all-time games played record with his 1,768th game. He broke Gordie Howe's once long-standing record that was 59 years in the making in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
On that opening faceoff on a line with Thomas Hertl and Rudolfs Balcers, Marleau cemented not only a Hall-of-Fame career but a forever legacy in the South Bay. While the script didn't exactly play out like everybody had hoped, getting the game-winning goal against the only team in the NHL that he doesn't have one against, the night was truly special as well as historic for the 41-year-old native of Aneroid, Saskatchewan.
This leads me to a moment of reflection on what Marleau has meant to the San Jose community over the 20 plus years he's worn a teal jersey (sorry my Canadian friends, we don't call them sweaters like you do). Yeah he spent a couple of years with the Toronto Maple Leafs and had a brief stint with his childhood team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he will always be remembered as the face of the San Jose Sharks long after he finally hangs up his skates for good.
Looking back at the history of this franchise, the Sharks were a novelty item in the Bay Area sports scene for pretty much its first decade. Being in a market where it had two established baseball teams, two football teams (for the most part) and a basketball team rich with both unforgettable and forgettable moments, fans did not know much about hockey in general and they really needed a decade to understand this beautiful game of speed, grace, and brutality.
San Jose tried touting its first-ever draft pick in 1991, Pat Faloon, as the team's premiere player for fans to latch on to. While Faloon had a decent career with the Sharks, he never lived up to the hype or billing that some people had hoped for. One can say Jeff Friesen was the first homegrown talent that was successful as he was the face of the franchise from the mid-to-late 1990s.
But it wasn't until the Sharks drafted Marleau as the number two overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft that he truly became the team's first homegrown superstar. Of course, when I say homegrown, I'm talking about homegrown from an organizational standpoint as he wasn't born in Silicon Valley.
It didn't start out easy for Mr Shark. I remember then head coach Darryl Sutter having some harsh criticism for Marleau after his rookie season. But once Marleau became comfortable with the style of play in the NHL, his game began to take off. Also the rule changes after the 2004 season that got rid of all the clutching and grabbing and allowed the speedsters to show off their skill benefitted guys like Marleau.
Oh boy, did Marleau show off his speed and his ability to put the puck in the back of the net. He quickly became a fan favorite along with guys like Owen Nolan, Marco Sturm, Jonathan Cheechoo, and some guy from London, Ontario named Joe Thornton. But Jumbo was a Bruin first, while Patty was an original Shark.
Growing up as a kid in the 1980s I was taught by my grandfather to be a San Francisco Giants fan. He taught me about the history of the Giants and all the great players who played back in the day as well as the greats in MLB history. My godfather taught me to be an Oakland Raiders fan and gave me a history lesson about all the great Raiders from the 1970s.
I had to discover hockey on my own as the Sharks didn't come into existence until I was 16 years old. So it took a good two years for me to learn all the rules, tangents, and nuances that hockey had, as well as the history, and become passionate about the game. Like Marleau, I was in awe of the Pittsburgh Penguins led by Super Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr (a guy who played his fair share of games in the NHL) at the time. In fact my first hockey experience was in the spring of 1994 when I attended my first Sharks game at the newly-built San Jose Arena, as it was known as back then. The opponent? If you guessed the Penguins, you guessed correctly. It also helped that they had the greatest play-by-play announcer calling their games in Mike Lange. I idolized broadcasters as much as I did athletes and still do to this day.
The point of the last two paragraphs is this: Patrick Marleau became San Jose's own. The South Bay community grew to love Marleau just as Giants fans did with Will Clark, 49ers fans with Joe Montana, and Warriors fans with Chris Mullin. He was one of us and we were proud to have his name on our jerseys. Hockey was the only sport in the Bay Area where the players would stop at the player's entrance gate and sign autographs for the fans after games. I believe having that kind of interaction with the fans is what made San Jose the hockey city it is today.
For Marleau, what also made him a fan favorite was his humbleness. In an era where athletes became more about how much money they could make, how much press (good or bad) they could get, and how much stardom and fame they could attain, Marleau (and for the most part hockey players in general) was the opposite of that. He grew up in a small farming community. It was those small town values that kept him grounded despite the success and fame he would attain over his 23-year career.
One thing the fans forget or maybe don't want to admit, is that these guys are also human just like the rest of us and have emotions just like the rest of us. Marleau, normally very stoic and even-keeled, couldn't help the emotions that poured out on this day. It included the team showing a highlight reel of his career and specially-made t-shirts and sweaters worn dedicated to Marleau. The Golden Knights also paid tribute to Marleau, and included a video message from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
When it was time to ask my question at the pre-morning skate presser, I asked him about which members of the media he enjoyed interacting with from the 20 plus years he's spent in San Jose. After naming a few from the past, Marleau then began to reflect on all the people who helped his career off the ice who were no longer with us. When he thought about his former agent Don Baizley, who passed away in 2013, his emotion poured out in a way that few people have ever seen.
As I could see him trying to keep it together, I said to him that it was okay, and quickly interjected another question in hopes of trying to lighten the mood. After he answered the question, he made sure to get back to showing appreciation for Baizley.
"Going back to my agent Don Baizley, and all that he did for me, throughout my career was extremely amazing for me. I wish I could say more but he was a huge part of my career," Marleau said choking back tears.
It was then when I thought how special Marleau has been to not just the Sharks fans, but the entire community as a whole. There is no Solar4America Ice at San Jose, which before Covid hit had the largest amount of adult hockey leagues west of the Mississippi River, without Marleau and the success of the Sharks throughout the years. The Sharks have made downtown San Jose a place to want to hangout before and after a game. All with the help of their greatest player in franchise history.
After the game, I asked Marleau if he's had a chance to reflect on what his legacy means to the South Bay. The Sharks legend did what he does best, gave credit to his wife Christina, a San Jose native, and thanked the fans for their continued support.
"I'm trying to take it all in. Yeah I think...obviously my wife helps me realize a lot of things that don't come to my own understanding. She's been unbelievable and very supportive throughout my whole career, my whole family (has). My phone's been blowing up the last three or four days. It's all very humbling. As far as the Bay Area and the fans, I mean they're the best I think. To be able to come in and be there and stay there for so long, and to see how the team's evolved, the organization's evolved, how minor league hockey has evolved, it's something special. I'm proud to be part of that."
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Right Winger Kevin Labanc after the Sharks 7-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on November 17, 2022.
Goaltender James Reimer after the Sharks 7-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on November 17, 2022.
Head coach David Quinn after the Sharks 7-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on November 17, 2022.