Outstanding on-ice play enabled the San Jose Sharks to beat the Pacific Division rival Calgary Flames Saturday, October 19. However, outstanding unity off it is the reason they reached 7-0-1 for the second consecutive season.
Teams in the NHL will not win for long if they are not cohesive. It may be something that can be hidden from the outside world, but not from reporters behind the scenes in the dressing room.
Interviews confront players on the spot, not giving time to circle the wagons to protect any signs they are coming apart. Questions cannot all be prepared for in the moments the team has before they are joined by the media throng. Players not part of the leadership are often queried, making reactions harder for the team to control. Mood in the dressing room cannot be simply whitewashed.
The interviews Saturday—particularly portions not broadcast by CSN California—are telling about the 2013-14 Sharks. Even when a question is not understood like the example below, how a player misinterprets it can be telling.
Patrick Marleau was asked what was different giving him fast starts to each of the past two seasons. Even though his answer suggested he thought he was being asked about what is different between those two experiences, it also showed how much he preferred a full training camp and season as well as the importance of building off a strong finish last spring:
This season’s a lot different because obviously it’s a full season, full training camp. The success we had last year and in the playoffs—just trying to build off of that.
Players were questioned one at a time—Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Marleau in order Saturday, rather than with the latter two reversed as they were broadcast—with few others in the room. Often the questions of one player would end as the next player would emerge from the door that is off-limits to the media in a smoothly-run operation.
Over time, they follow the lead in professionalism from general manager Doug Wilson that permeates team staff in every department. But there is no way to help Tomas Hertl, who speaks limited English much less be able to be coached about responses. (His would-be translator Martin Havlat has now even rejoined the team for the road trip and looks to be months closer to returning than expected.)
Behind the scenes, it is easy to see examples of this tight-knit team: Wilson consoling a goalie for his bad game just into what would become a Vezina Trophy finalist season, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns toying with the media, Hertl faking a pulled hamstring coming out the team-only door and the responses of players to questions.
The photo list shows each of the six common questions asked Saturday night and each answer given by those that were asked among the five people (four players and coach Todd McLellan) interviewed.