Battle of the NHL mascots: When S.J. Sharkie out-Gritty'd Gritty


Battle of the NHL mascots: When S.J. Sharkie out-Gritty'd Gritty

The NHL's biggest star will wear a Philadelphia Flyers jersey but won’t suit up against the Sharks on Tuesday. 

That’s because it’s a mascot. 

Yes, we’re talking about Gritty, the googly-eyed Flyers mascot that went viral almost immediately after being unveiled in a preseason press conference just over two weeks ago. The costumed character looked a bit like a cross between the Phillie Phanatic and Animal the Muppet -- one that’s really, really sleep-deprived -- and became an Internet darling.

Gritty fell before a preseason game, then channeled Kim Kardashian. Appearances on "Good Morning America" and "The Tonight Show" followed suit. So did bits featuring Gritty stand-ins on "Last Week Tonight" and "Conan." 

Now, Gritty -- or, at least the people running its eponymous Twitter account -- has set its terrifying eyes on the Sharks’ mascot, S.J. Sharkie. 

We’re not here to stoke up the #PleaseLikeMyMascot crowd. But with everyone talking about the Flyers mascot, we would be neglecting our Journalistic Duty if we didn’t remind you about two instances where Sharkie out-Gritty'd Gritty in a pre-social media age. 

There was, of course, the time the Sharks mascot hung from the rafters at SAP Center. 

Flashback to March 12, 1999. The Sharks had won three out of four, and were looking to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for just the second time in franchise history. San Jose was tied for seventh in the Western Conference, two points clear of missing the playoffs entirely, and the Detroit Red Wings were in town. 

In an effort to hype up the crowd before the game, Sharkie started to repel from the rafters ... then stopped. Abruptly.

The mascot was stuck hanging over the ice for 20 minutes, according to a report from Ross McKeon in the San Francisco Examiner that night. Rubber mats were laid on the ice, but it didn’t reach that point: Sharkie was lifted to safety after the game was delayed for 12 minutes. 

"It was nice he didn't fall," then-Sharks defenseman Mike Rathje told the paper that night, in what remains an understatement.

The death-defying incident even got the late-night treatment, as it was lampooned in a mock-investigative piece in an episode of “The Daily Show” later that summer. 

Of course, that wasn’t be the only time Sharkie (reportedly) was in a perilous situation with an Original Six franchise in town. 

Just over two-and-a-half years later, the Sharks hosted the New York Rangers on Dec. 28, 2001. With New York up 2-1, once-and-future San Jose antagonist Theoren Fleury was given an attempt-to-injure penalty for kneeing Sharks forward Mark Smith. 

On his way back to the locker room, Fleury ran into San Jose’s mascot, and an altercation ensued. The New York Times wrote the following month that Fleury “allegedly punched Sharkie,” while other outlets reported Fleury broke the performer’s rib. 

Fleury ultimately wrote a letter of apology, and in his return to San Jose exactly one year later with the Chicago Blackhawks, joked to reporters that he hoped the mascot had “been training” for a rematch. In an interview in 2008, the Saskatchewan native said he only “nudged” Sharkie, and later wrote in his 2009 memoir “Playing with Fire” that the incident was blown out of proportion:

“On my way down the tunnel, Sharkie … was standing in my way," Fleury wrote. "He could see me steaming, but he refused to move. He was doing his Sharkie thing, so I brushed past him. Seriously, I barely touched him. The next thing you know, it was reported in the Knight Ridder newspapers that I ‘broke S.J. Sharkie’s ribs in a scuffle after being ejected from a game.’ Typical American [b.s].”

Look, late-night television appearances are cool and all, but Defying Death and Beef With A Professional Athlete are the true rites of mascot passage.  

Gritty might be well on the way toward surpassing Rocky Balboa as a Philadelphia icon, but the mascot pecking order is another matter entirely.

All-Star Tomas Hertl doing best to keep Sharks' spirits up through struggles

All-Star Tomas Hertl doing best to keep Sharks' spirits up through struggles

Sharks forward Tomas Hertl is all set for his debut at NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis.
“A huge accomplishment, it will be a big honor for me,” Hertl -- who is taking the place of injured San Jose captain Logan Couture -- recently said.
While he is on pace for a good statistical season, it's nothing like last year when Hertl potted 35 goals and 74 points.
This time around, the fun-loving forward is on a Sharks club that’s looking like a longshot to qualify for the playoffs.
“I still try to be positive, the smiley guy, the funny guy,” Hertl explained.
He also acknowledged those smiles and uplifting moments have been few and far between this season, but they are still significantly better than the alternative.
“It’s the only way I think to help it,” Hertl stated. “It gets too much in your head. Everybody will be in a bad mood. I try my best to bring it every day, a good mood in the locker room.”
There are widespread assessments as to what's at the root of the Sharks' struggles this season. For Hertl, it’s the defensive failures that bleed over into trying to create too much.
“When we start cheating, we just can’t do it,” Hertl said. “Maybe on other teams, they have different players. On our team, it has to start with defense.
“I think we’ve proven it over the last lot of years. There’s always the stat of ‘two-or-fewer’ goals, we always win those games. We know that and we've always been the team that’s tough against.”

[RELATED: Key storylines to watch through remainder of Sharks' season]
While Hertl’s second NHL season saw San Jose’s rare miss of the postseason, he has never been with the club in a year like this where things already look so bleak entering the All-Star break.
“We have to step it up, and just play together," he said. "Because only the team together can win the games.”

Doug Wilson's job is safe despite Sharks' disappointing season, owner says


Doug Wilson's job is safe despite Sharks' disappointing season, owner says

This season hasn't gone as the Sharks had planned.

After starting out 15-16-2, the Sharks elected to fire head coach Peter DeBoer, much to the shock of players and staff. They promoted Bob Boughner to interim head coach. While the change appeared to initially spark the Sharks, their play has since tapered off since as they enter the All-Star break at 21-25-4 after three straight blowout losses.

With the losses mounting, some have wondered if general manager Doug Wilson's job could be in jeopardy. That is not the case. 

"While we are all very disappointed in the team's performance thus far this season, Doug has a long history of leading our team to success," majority owner Hasso Plattner said in a statement Thursday while announcing changes to the Sharks' business operations. "The last time we failed to meet our winning standards in the 2014-15 season, we were able to quickly rebound and re-establish a winning culture for the next several years. I am supportive of Doug's plan to get our team back on track."

The Sharks have to exit the All-Star break on fire if they want to make a run at a postseason berth. If they limp out of the gate, it will be time for them to focus on the future and how to quickly rebuild the team for a playoff return next season.

[RELATED: Key storylines to focus on during remainder of Sharks season]

Whatever happens, the ship still is Wilson's to guide.