Owen Nolan

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Gretzky to Lemieux, Nolan’s ‘called shot,’ space pucks: Remembering the ’97 NHL All-Star Game

As the hockey world decends on San Jose this weekend for the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, there will be plenty of remembrances of the first time the Sharks hosted the midseason festivities back in 1997. This is one of them.

San Jose was supposed to host the 1995 NHL All-Star Game but a pesky little lockout put an end to the city’s hopes of welcoming the league’s top stars for a weekend. 

But two years later, a work stoppage-free season saw the NHL name the Sharks as hosts of the midseason event. And since it was taking place near Silicon Valley, there was a lot of looking to the future. The league will be announcing their player and puck tracking plans this weekend, which will give fans and teams much more information about the game than they’ve ever had before. 

Back in the mid-’90s we had the FOX Trax puck. That was about as far out as it got.

A futuristic feel

Since the game was broadcast on FOX in the U.S., that meant the glow puck was used during the broadcast. Now, FOX was known for using quirky animations and graphics that were very fitting for the 1990’s. But this intro, narrated by NBC’s own Mike Emrick, was something else. It was real heavy on Star Trek and left us wondering why Teemu Selanne drove a cardboard cutout of Captain Kirk into the boards? All because he hung out with Wayne and the gang with the Eastern Conference?

The puck drop from space

Before the actual game began, a ceremonial puck drop was held. This wasn’t any ceremonial puck drop. This one was out of this world as astronauts from the space shuttle Columbia dropped the puck from way up above Earth down to Sharks mascot SJ Sharkie, who then presented it so Chris Chelios and Wayne Gretzky could get on with the show.

Granato’s emotional first All-Star Game

Tony Granato was one of two Sharks representing the Western Conference due to being a special selection as named by Commissioner Gary Bettman. He was one of the starters in the game, taking an injured Joe Sakic’s spot, and took the opening faceoff against former Los Angeles Kings teammate and good friend Wayne Gretzky.

It was a great gesture as the previous January Granato had to be rushed to a hospital after attending a Super Bowl party at Gretzky’s home. After crashing into the boards while diving for a puck a few days earlier, the 32-year-old forward needed emergency brain surgery. He had played the next game but complained of headaches and doctor’s found a blood clot in his brain.

After undergoing four hours of surgery, he missed the remainder of the season, and after a bit of a wait in free agency, signed with the Sharks that August. Later that year he would be named the winner of the Masterton Trophy.

“A year ago I didn’t even care if I played hockey again,” Granato said. “So all this stuff that’s happened this year, I just take as a bonus. To be able to come back and do something you love to do so much when you thought it was all over is a great thrill.”

Gretzky to Lemieux, Part II

The ’97 Game was the first time that Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were teammates since the legendary 1987 Canada Cup, when the Great One fed a pass to Le Manifique for the winning goal against the Soviet Union in Game 3 of the Final. This was also Lemieux’s final All-Star Game before his first retirement after the 1996-97 season.

It only took 10 minutes into the first period for the two hockey greats to connect on a goal — one that beat fellow legend Patrick Roy to give the Eastern Conference a 2-0 lead.

The Called Shot

The East may have won the game and Mark Recchi may have taken home MVP honors with a hat trick, but the real memories were provided by Owen Nolan. The Sharks forward set an All-Star Game record by scoring twice in eight seconds late in the second period to set up a third period duel with Dominik Hasek.

After the Dominator denied Nolan a hat trick several times in the final frame, he was finally rewarded with 2:03 left in the game in memorable fashion.

Hasek had no idea about the famous moment until after the game. The Buffalo Sabres netminder was focused on the puck, not the point.

“That was definitely not designed. It was spontaneous,” Nolan told David Pollack of The Athletic recently.

Stick-tap to HOF Hockey for the FOX videos

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Fanspeak: Joe Thornton voted greatest Shark in franchise history

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This summer, NBC Sports’ social media team is conducting the #NHLGreatest initiative, designed for fans to choose the best player in each franchise’s history. Balloting was conducted through three platforms — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — with thousands of votes being cast. The results of this initiative will be released throughout the month of August, in conjunction with PHT’s Team of the Day series.

San Jose Sharks

1. Joe Thornton — 477 votes

2. Patrick Marleau — 475 votes

3. Owen Nolan — 352 votes

4. Other — 395 votes

Quite the close vote we had here and just think, both of these guys were supposed to be ticketed out of town this summer! But seriously, are there two players more emblematic of the Sharks than Thornton and Marleau? Not a chance, and Thornton is the best of the bunch.

Thornton’s arrival to town via a lopsided deal with the Boston Bruins that only cost the Sharks Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau netted them an instant MVP winner and one of the best set-up men in the game. After nine seasons in San Jose, he has 740 points in 675 games with 567 of those points coming from assists.

Seeing Thornton come out on top of this vote may surprise some Sharks faithful given that Marleau has been a lifer in a Sharks uniform and leads the franchise’s all-time list in games played, goals, and points. But it’s Thornton who drives the bus (for now) as the team captain. The fact he was given the “C” after it was taken from Marleau is still a touchy matter among some fans, but there’s been no doubt he’s the leader since he’s had it.

Now if they can just get to the Stanley Cup Final, maybe they become immortals in San Jose.

Owen Nolan calls Sharks loss ‘disheartening’

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Former San Jose Sharks great Owen Nolan was recently inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. After eight seasons with the Sharks, he’s a guy who has strong ties to the team and community. He’s also a guy with opinions.

As Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News shares in an interview with Nolan, he’s feeling down about seeing the Sharks lose in seven games to the Los Angeles Kings, especially after holding a 3-0 lead.

I am surprised. I really thought this year we were going to make a really solid run at it, especially when they get up three-games-to-none. To lose four straight, it was disheartening,” Nolan said. “Everybody will have their opinion. Nobody really knows what went wrong except for inside the organization.”

Hearing a Sharks alum like Nolan call their latest playoff departure “disheartening” is like hearing it from a disappointed parent.

You know Nolan loves the team and wants to see the best for them (he was team captain for a bit) but coming up short when they were so close to finishing it off and moving on hits him right in the emotional wheelhouse.

For the record, Nolan knew a thing or two about coming up big in a big spot for the Sharks. Just ask Roman Turek…

Owen Nolan retires a San Jose Shark

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After 18 seasons and 1200 games played, Owen Nolan has retired in teal.

The gritty 39-year-old power forward signed a one-day contract with San Jose on Tuesday, followed by a press conference announcing his retirement and celebrating his career:

San Jose made the playoffs in five of Nolan’s eight seasons in the Bay Area, including a huge upset of the Presidents Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues in 2000. He ranks second on the franchise leaderboard in goals (206) and power-play goals (75) and third in assists (245) and points (451).

The press conference was a who’s who of former and current franchise greats. Four of San Jose’s eight captains — Nolan, Doug Wilson, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thorton — were in attendance, along with a number of Nolan’s ex-teammates, including Dave Lowry, Mike Ricci and Jarome Iginla (the two won gold together for Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics.)

An emotional Nolan choked back tears while addressing the audience, thanking his friends, family, teammates, the San Jose organization and all the Sharks supporters.

“To all the fans, without you guys there are no sports,” Nolan said. “Thank you very much.”

Owen Nolan to formally retire Tuesday in San Jose?

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This just in from the San Jose Sharks:

WHAT: Former Sharks captain Owen Nolan will make an announcement regarding the future of his hockey career.

WHEN: Tues., Feb. 7, at 2:30 p.m. (PDT)

WHERE: The Grill at HP Pavilion

WHO: Owen Nolan, Doug Wilson, and “special guests”

And why? The Sharks didn’t include that part, but the speculation is Nolan will formally retire.

The 39-year-old hasn’t played in the NHL since 2010. He tried out with the Canucks in the fall, but was released.

Nolan was selected first overall in 1990 by the Quebec Nordiques. He spent eight seasons with the Sharks from 1995 to 2003, scoring 206 goals and 245 assists (not including the playoffs).