Since their beginning, the San Jose Sharks have held a special place in the heart of San Jose, California. Their first four years of existence were critical to the establishment of the team within the city. Like all expansion teams, they had a shaky start but eventually they fought back and earned the respect of not only the Bay Area but also the NHL. This is their story.
The story of the San Jose Sharks begins in Oakland, California 1974. Gordon and George Gund III bought a minority stake in the California Golden Seals and were instrumental in them moving to Cleveland in 1976. Eventually, the Gund’s interest in Cleveland waned and they desired to build a hockey team in the Bay Area. A petition to move the Minnesota North Stars to the Bay Area was denied by the NHL. Unbeknownst to the Gunds, former Hartfort Whaler owner Howard Baldwin was making a serious effort to start an expansion team in San Jose where a new arena was being built. Eventually the league decided to have the Gunds sell their share of the North Stars to Baldwin and then the Gunds would be granted an expansion franchise in San Jose. Additionally, the new team would be allowed to take players from the North Stars and the North Stars would be allowed to be an equal participant in the next spring’s expansion draft.
The new team was scheduled to begin play in 1991-1992 and immediately began signing players. Right wing Pat Falloon was the first player ever drafted by San Jose, second overall in the draft. In addition to Falloon, the team also signed Doug Wilson, Link Gaetz and Jeff Hackett among a slew of others.
Thousands of individuals submitted suggestions for the new team’s name. “The Blades” won the vote but the team’s officials still didn’t like it, figuring it had too many negative connotations, and decided to go with the second place name. Thus, the San Jose Sharks were born.
The Games Begin
After much planning, the San Jose Sharks were ready to play their inaugural season in the Cow Palace. With coach George Kingston leading the charge, they finished at the bottom of the Smythe Division, winning just 17 games. Falloon led the team with 59 points and Hackett led the team with 11 wins.
The following season was worse, with the team once again finishing at the bottom of the Smythe Division and won just 11 games. Centre Kelly Kisio led the team with 78 points and goaltender Arturs Ibre won seven games. Times were changing for the Sharks. At the end of the year Kingston was fired and they moved to the newly opened San Jose Arena.
Home, At Last
Before the 1993-1994 season, the Sharks hired Kevin Constantine to be their new coach. Moving into a new arena, the team sensed that a fresh start was right around the corner. Soon, the sparkling new 17,562 seat venue would witness a truly unforgettable season which would put the Sharks on the map sooner than anyone expected.
Before the season began, the Sharks drafted center Viktor Kozlov from HC Dynamo Moscow. They finished the season third in the Pacific Division, winning 33 games and reaching the playoffs for the first time in team history. Bob Erris Right wing Sergei Makarov led the team with 68 points and Arturs Ibre won 30 games.
The Sharks met the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs as the eighth and final seed. As heavy underdogs, the Sharks were not expected to win the series but they put up a great fight. The Sharks were down 2-1 in the series but woke up and won the next two games 4-3 and 6-4. The Red Wings refused to go down quietly and beat the Sharks in Game Six 7-1, setting up an epic Game Seven. Entering Joe Louis Arena, the Sharks had come further than anyone had thought possible and were determined to finish the season strong. They beat the mighty Red Wings 3-2. It was a climactic moment that won over hearts all over the Bay Area. It hardly mattered that they lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the next round, they had done the impossible and won over their city.
Emboldened by their success, the Sharks set out to go even further in the playoffs the next season. They won 19 games in the strike shortened season and finished seventh in the Western Conference. They defeated the Calgary Flames in seven games to start the playoffs but lost to the Red Wings in four games. By going to the playoffs in back to back years, the Sharks had established their presence in the NHL. Since then, they have continued to search for their first Stanley Cup.