The Playoffs are easily my favorite part of the NHL’s calendar. I thought this would be a good time of year to dive into the first edition of a regular feature for the site called “Back In Time.” Here I’ll dig into some of the moments in hockey history where a whole season/series/career can be crystallized up in one moment. Today I’ll focus on my first real memory of the Sharks. A memory where I can remember who I was with, where I was, and what the air smelled like. The moment? Game 6 of the Conference Finals in the 1994 playoffs.
It was May 12, 1994, and the Sharks were in Toronto to take on the Leafs. They were up 3-2 in the series and had a chance to go to the conference finals to play Gretzky’s Kings. I was living in the Big Smoke at that time, and still in high school. Remember from my first post, I grew up a MASSIVE Leaf fan but had warmed to the Sharks. Rooting for an underdog was always fun, and the Sharks had had their fair share of underdoggedness in their first two seasons. But this season was different, and as a Leaf fan I could feel it. Toronto was abuzz with the Leafs playoff chances, the weather had turned warm but people still wore Clark and Gilmour jerseys around the city like they were tank tops.
The Sharks had a special team though, and everyone knew it. Arturs Irbe was playing out of his mind, Pat Falloon was among the team’s 20-goal scorers and Sergei Makarov had put in 30. A young Ray Whitney and Sandis Ozolinch were linchpins ofa team in only it’s 3rd season. The Sharks seemed like a team of destiny after having just shocked the hockey world by upsetting the mighty Red Wings, courtesy of Sharks Radio Network commentator Jamie Baker. They also had proved themselves to be a quite formidible opponent and were tough as nails in a brawl earlier in the series.
That particular night in May I was at the Bathurst Bowlerama with my buddy J-Rod, and the air was thick with the smell of stale hot dogs, feet and playoff excitement. Why were we at a bowling alley instead of watching the game at home? Because we knew there would be a lot of people there to cheer with and the prospects of buying a few Moslon Canadians with fake IDs was decent. And we weren’t alone, the joint was packed with fans of puck. Midway through the third period the game was tied and J-Rod and I were sitting on pins and needles. At period’s end, we knew we were in store for bonus hockey.
The game kicked into overtime and so did the level of excitement. The bowling alley switched all of the video scoreboards to the game, nobody in the joint was bowling. Every single eye in the place was tuned to the TVs. Let me repeat that: EVERY eye was on the game. The guy spritzing deodorant into the shoes? That guy was watching. The gal who was 5 frames into a perfect game? She had put her ball down. Even the guy dishing up 7-hour old pizza and 7-day old hot dogs was watching. Everyone was tuned in.
Garpnelov and Makarov were two of San Jose’s biggest threats, the two players Leaf fans were terrified of. Garpenlov, in particular, was circling all game like, well, a shark. Then, in OT, he picked up a loose puck in the zone and blasted one towards Felix Potvin. We held our breath as the play by play came in: “Garpenlov shoots…he scores! NO, ITS OFF THE CROSSBAR!” You can see the highlight here from the Sharks feed, the Sharks’ Randy Hahn makes the call. Mike Gartner goes on to score the OT winner, the Leafs beat the Sharks in game 7 and advance to the Conference Finals and for a brief moment it was great to be a Leaf fan.
So, in the end, maybe not the best memory for Shark fans. But when I think of that 1994 Sharks team, I think of the sound of Garpenlov ringing one off the post behind Potvin and what could have been from the young upstart team from San Jose. And, don’t worry, the Sharks have had PLENTY of reasons since to celebrate victories over the Leafs.
Where were you when Garpenlov’s shot hit the post? Got a moment you want eulogized in Back in Time? Tweet me @bluelineboomer
Want to debate a list? Tweet me @bluelineboomer
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Tags: 1994 Playoffs Arturs Irbe Bob Cole Doug Gilmour Featured Jamie Baker Johan Garpenlov Kerry Fraser Pat Falloon Popular Randy Hahn Ray Whitney San Jose Sharks Sandis Ozolinch Sergei Makarov Toronto Maple Leafs Wayne Gretzky Wendel Clark