Sharks

Around 400,000 gather in Pittsburgh for Penguins victory parade

penguins-parade.jpg

Around 400,000 gather in Pittsburgh for Penguins victory parade

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins turned around a once-disappointing season and fired a coach before winning a fourth Stanley Cup, adversity that seemed to make Wednesday's city-wide celebration that much sweeter.

Fans lined the victory parade route more than 10 deep as the players, coaches, their families and support staff rolled by in pickup trucks, convertibles and amphibious duck boats.

"We were slow at one time but, man, were we fast when we finished," general manager Jim Rutherford told the crowd at the end of the parade route.

The parade was held seven years to the day that the 2009 team celebrated its Stanley Cup championship with a downtown victory lap. That parade drew about 375,000 spectators, and city and county public safety officials said this one topped out at 400,000.

"Well the one thing I've learned is this is one crazy sports town," said coach Mike Sullivan, hired to replace Mike Johnston when the team was out of playoff contention in December.

Some fans arrived 12 hours ahead of time for the 11:30 a.m. parade, despite overnight drizzle.

The skies largely cleared, though, as fans threw ribbons and confetti, peered out of office windows and from parking garage platforms, and thronged the city's main downtown streets.

Twins Pat and Joe Stevens, 19, drove 10 hours from Phil Kessel's hometown, Madison, Wisconsin, to honor their favorite player now that he's joined their favorite team.

Kessel joined the team in an offseason trade from Toronto, where fans often took out their frustrations on him in a city that hasn't witnessed a Stanley Cup championship since 1967 - the year the Penguins joined the National Hockey League as one of six expansion teams.

"I was a big fan before, more now," Pat Stevens said. "I always thought that he had good talent, but he didn't have much around him."

Zachary Sheler worked a 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at a convenience store in Johnstown on Tuesday before driving 60 miles west to grab a spot near the parade-ending stage by 3 a.m. He was holding a plastic replica of the Stanley Cup glued together from "a five-gallon bucket and just a bunch of Betty Crocker bowls from the Dollar Tree."

"I just wanted to see the Pens bring back Lord Stanley," said Sheler, 18.

Allie Hosinski, 21, a University of Pittsburgh student, has culturally adopted two of the team's Swedish stars, Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin. She's studied their language for three years at Pitt and will be studying abroad in Stockholm next month.

She wore a plastic-horned Viking helmet and held a sign that, translated, means, "Congratulations to Hornqvist and Hagelin."

"Pittsburgh Egna Vikingar," the sign also said, meaning, "Pittsburgh Our Vikings."

Harry and Lisa Mosser, 59, have been fans since before they got married in 1979 and used their wedding present money to buy season tickets. They knew finding a parking place would be daunting so they drove 20 miles downriver from New Kensington and spent Tuesday night at a hotel to be sure they could get to the parade.

"I paid $200 for a parking space, that's the way I look at it," Lisa Mosser said. "We're both going to be 60 this year and we don't know how many of these we're going to see."

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Erik Karlsson is arguably the best player on the Sharks. According to NHL Network, San Jose's defenseman is the 24th-best player in the league.

In counting down the best players in the current NHL, the league's network placed Karlsson in between 25th-ranked David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, and 23rd-rank Mark Giordano, the Flames' reigning Norris Trophy winner.

"We know that he can put the puck just about anywhere, he can skate himself out of trouble, he can pass himself out of trouble, he can do just about anything," NHL Network's Brian Lawton said of Karlsson. "For a defenseman in today's game that played on one leg basically last year … he did have 16 points in 19 playoff games and it wasn't quite enough, but it was pretty darn heroic if you ask me."

Karlsson totaled 45 points in 53 regular-season games with the Sharks after arriving in San Jose at the start of training camp last year. The Sharks had their best stretch of the season once he found his groove in early December, and if not for a troublesome groin injury, there's no telling how far San Jose could have gone.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner still managed to appear in the All-Star Game, and signed a lucrative eight-year extension with San Jose at the start of free agency. He tallied at least 62 points in each of the previous five seasons, and his 563 points since making his NHL debut are the most among all NHL defenseman, ahead of fellow Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (532).

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Karlsson will be an alternate captain in his second season with the franchise, and one would naturally expect him to benefit from having played a year in the system. He ranked sixth among NHL defensemen in points per game (0.85) last year, and with the departures San Jose suffered in free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see that rate increase in the season ahead, particularly considering Karlsson says he feels "back to normal" after offseason surgery to address the injury that hampered him a year ago.

Assuming Karlsson stays healthy this coming season, you can expect him to be ranked even higher a year from now.

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Whether or not Joe Thornton is a national treasure is debatable, but he's certainly a regional one.

The future Hall of Famer was mic'd up at a recent Sharks' practice, and he put that quality on display. The 40-year-old didn't appear as if his age has caught up to him, as he was quite talkative and involved throughout.

Just watch for yourself:

Whether it was chasing on the forecheck or missing an empty net, the eldest member of the Sharks looked anything but. Enjoying his first healthy offseason in recent memory, Thornton's energy is certainly palpable, and that bodes well for the Sharks as they attempt to get back to the playoffs for the 20th time in the last 22 seasons.

Thornton signed a one-year contract at the beginning of the month to return to the Sharks for his 15th season in San Jose. He'll be one of four alternate captains on the team, after Logan Couture was named the 10th full-time captain in franchise history, taking over for the departed Joe Pavelski.

With Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist leaving in free agency during the offseason, the Sharks are counting on several prospects to take a step forward this coming season -- and on Thornton to help them succeed at the NHL level. While line pairings are still in flux, it wouldn't be shocking whatsoever to see Thornton paired with one of those prospects on his wing.

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Based on Thornton's mic'd up session, he'll be talking that prospects' ear off all game long.