Sharks

Sharks fan Zak Kroft discusses his pregame videos, plans to visit San Jose

Sharks fan Zak Kroft discusses his pregame videos, plans to visit San Jose

SAN JOSE – His videos have become synonymous with Sharks’ game day ritual. The hat-and-scarf combo popping in the mirror reflection. The animated pre-game pep talk on what it takes to beat the opponent. That relentless plea to “Stay out of the penalty box!”

Sharks superfan Zak Kroft has become a staple presence in the San Jose Sharks’ social media universe, despite the fact he lives 2,664 miles away in Toronto. Now, the Thornhill, Ontario native has a goal in mind that will top off his many years of fandom – finally making it out to San Jose to watch Team Teal play in their home barn.

“The fact he’s never been to a game in San Jose is incredible,” says Phil Casella, host of Sharks-Barracuda YouTube podcast The Cuda Phil Show, which Kroft is a frequent  guest on. “It’s crazy how passionate he is. Just his zeal for the team.”

Despite growing up in Maple Leafs’ country, Kroft developed a love for the San Jose squad at the age of 10.

“My older brother got me into hockey,” Kroft said in a phone interview with NBC Sports California. “He was like, ‘Hey, there’s this team you might like! They’re called the Sharks.’”

After falling in love with the team’s logo and getting a classic white Sharks sweater of his own, Kroft’s fandom has only grown. He’s met several past and present players over the years, some of whom have signed that same jersey. Kroft has had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with former captain Owen Nolan – Kroft’s first favorite player – on a couple occasions at an event in Toronto, and talked hockey with Sharks’ radio announcer Dan Rusanowsky on one of Team Teal’s roadies through Canada. Since seeing games in San Jose hasn’t been an option, Kroft goes to see his favorite team on as many road games as he can – where he can also bond with other Sharks fans from the area.

“There are tons of Sharks fans in Toronto,” Kroft exclaimed. “I have a friend who lives two minutes away from me in Toronto who’s a big Sharks fan.”

But the place Kroft really began bonding with fellow fans has been on social media, where his enthusiastic dissertation of the team’s performance garnered him a following. After chatting with other fans on Facebook, Kroft got the idea to take his usual rant and create a game day video centralized around giving the Sharks a pregame speech. 

“I just started doing them,” Kroft said, before adding with a laugh, “My goal is to get them on the cube someday.”

The high-octane videos brought Kroft even closer with his fellow fans. So close even, some have been kind enough to mail him gameday giveaways he otherwise wouldn’t have gotten having never been to a game in San Jose.

“I think the first thing a got was a Joe Pavelski bobblehead,” Kroft reflected. “I think I have a ‘Playoff Mode” t-shirt on the way. It really is amazing how great this fanbase is.”

Kroft may have the opportunity to get his own gameday giveaways in the not-to-distant future because of the effort to get him out a Sharks home game. The trek from Toronto is an expensive one, and fellow fan Casella is heading up an effort to raise money to make Kroft’s dream of coming to San Jose a reality.

“He’s all the way in Canada, but I consider him my friend,” Casella told NBC. “We want to get him out here. Take him to a game, take good care of him.”

How is Casella attempting to make this trip happen? Raising money by selling shirts decorated with Kroft’s face and his infamous taglines.

“It’s so amazing,” Kroft gushed when asked about the shirts. “People are wearing shirts with my face on it. It’s so shocking and so amazing.”

Between now and when he makes that trip, Kroft will continue to create his videos every game day. And with the playoffs about to get underway, he’s hoping the Sharks make a deep enough run that there will be many more videos to come.

[RELATED: Sharks confident heading into Vegas series]

“I think if the Sharks stay healthy and don’t make any mistakes, I think they could do it,” Kroft said enthusiastically. “I want this team to win a Cup.”

He likely also wants the team to “Stay out of the penalty box!” while they’re at it.

Joe Thornton showing Sharks no sign of post-trade deadline hangover

Joe Thornton showing Sharks no sign of post-trade deadline hangover

SAN JOSE -- Joe Thornton has a no movement clause in his Sharks contract but made it crystal clear last week he was willing to waive it for a chance to win his first Stanley Cup. That won’t happen here in San Jose, where a miserable season mercifully is winding down.

General manager Doug Wilson shipped three players to playoff contenders. Patrick Marleau was in that group, now gunning for a championship with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Thornton was not.  Jumbo's still rocking teal. 

The 40-year old future Hall-of-Famer expressed disappointment in that outcome the following day, but the sentiment didn’t last long.

Thornton’s already back to his jovial self, with no lingering grief that might impact play as the Sharks play out the string starting Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils.

“That’s one guy I never worry about,” Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said Wednesday after Sharks morning skate. “I said it would’ve been nice to find the right situation and the right opportunity. He was very public with his comments about that. We support that as well and would’ve liked to see someone who has given so much to the game be rewarded.

“But, the very next day, and even today we had a conversation about it, and he said all that’s over with now and let’s get back to work. We’re all doing something we love to do. There’s no better example of that mindset than Jumbo. He always has a smile from ear to ear and loves coming to the rink every day. That’s never going to be an issue with him.”

Captain Logan Couture’s a bit torn over seeing Thornton still with the Sharks, but ultimately happy to have his friend help lead this team down the stretch.

“We’re fortunate to have him,” Couture said. “I do wish I was going to be watching him playing in a couple weeks, still on the ice with a chance to win the Stanley Cup, just because he deserves it. He’s such a great competitor and such a great guy. But I am happy he’s here, though, I wish we were headed to the playoffs.

"Unfortunately, that’s not the way it is.”

[RELATED: Wilson hopes Sharks' youngsters can help team finish on high note]

Thornton has said this won’t be his last hurrah, though his Sharks tenure might be ending soon. He’s set for unrestricted free agency after the season, with an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup atop the priority list.

That seems unlikely for a Sharks team with several upgrades and additions needed to find previous form.

The fact Thornton wants to keep playing isn't surprising to those who see him work every day.

“I’m not shocked,” Couture said. “He’s going to be 41 in July but he still has some game left. Some of these games lately, he has been one of our best players and led our team, through all the injuries, to compete in these games. He still has great hockey in him. He sees the ice as well as anyone as has life in his legs.

"It’s pretty remarkable.”

Could Joe Thornton leave Sharks for Maple Leafs in NHL free agency?

jumbousatsi.jpg
USATSI

Could Joe Thornton leave Sharks for Maple Leafs in NHL free agency?

Joe Thornton has said his 22nd NHL season won't be his "last hurrah," and the longtime Shark can sign elsewhere this summer as an unrestricted free agent. 

Thornton wasn't traded to a contender to pursue his first Stanley Cup before this week's deadline, and winning a ring will be top of mind on July 1. San Jose currently has the second-worst record in the Western Conference, so could Thornton be tempted to leave the Bay Area this summer? 

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman predicted Wednesday in his "31 Thoughts" column that the Toronto Maple Leafs "will be a factor" if Thornton decides to sign elsewhere. 

"I can’t confirm this, but I believe the Maple Leafs considered adding him now," Friedman wrote Wednesday. "Two things stopped it: 1) their decision not to make short-term fixes after the Carolina loss, and 2) are they really a legit contender if they have to go through Boston or Tampa Bay or both? ... Thornton would have eased the tension right now, but the organization wants to see how everyone top to bottom reacts and performs. Next season is a different story."

The Maple Leafs' last loss before the trade deadline came at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes and an emergency backup goalie, and the notoriously tranquil Leafs fan base and media circuit reacted about as calmly as you'd expect. Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas was a cooler head, however, opting not to make any major moves while the Leafs hang on to the Atlantic Division's last playoff spot. 

Toronto should make the Stanley Cup playoffs, but its path out of the Eastern Conference looks daunting this year and beyond. The Atlantic boasts the NHL's two best teams in the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, and both are as well-built for success in the 2021 postseason as they are this spring. Thornton could help the Leafs close the gap, but he'll turn 41 in July and can't do that by himself. 

If all goes well this offseason -- and that's still an if -- Thornton's current team would have a clearer route to a Cup. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has made it clear he intends to build a contending team for 2021. San Jose restocked its draft cupboard ahead of the trade deadline and could use that newfound ammunition to build around a core that Wilson believes in. The Pacific Division is by far the NHL's weakest, too, and the teams ahead of the Sharks all will face a salary-cap crunch of some kind this summer. The opportunity is there to get back into contention that might not have been if San Jose was in another division.

[RELATED: Marleau faces familiar foe in first game with Penguins]

Thornton, for his part, told The Athletic's Kevin Kurz that he believes in the Sharks' ability to contend next season. 

"I think we’ve seen -- maybe not to this extent -- but I think last time we missed the playoffs (in 2015), we go to the Cup final (in 2016)," Thornton told Kurz on Tuesday. "We have pieces here that are the backbone of this team, and I hope that’s the case going forward.”

Thornton is at the stage of his career where winning is more important than anything else. As long as he believes he can do that in San Jose as his career winds down, it's hard to envision anything else.