Sharks

Sharks' Joe Thornton takes the ice without his famous beard

beardlessjumbo3.jpg
Marcus White/NBC Sports Bay Area

Sharks' Joe Thornton takes the ice without his famous beard

SAN JOSE -- A man wearing No. 19 hit the ice at the Sharks' practice facility Tuesday morning.

That man, of course, still was Joe Thornton, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t immediately recognize him.

The San Jose center practiced without his famous “lifestyle beard” one day after bearded teammate Brent Burns helped shave it at a season-opening party. 

Thornton and Burns first started growing their beards during the 2015-16 season, and they didn't shave en route to the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final that season. Burns told reporters during San Jose’s locker-room cleanout that he and Thornton had “lifestyle beards,” and Thornton said the beard was here to stay during the ensuing training camp. 

The beard presented its own set of challenges for the veteran center. He told ESPN the Magazine in 2017 that, in addition to food crumbs, “[you] just have to constantly look to make sure there isn't s--- in this kind of beard.”

“Last week, I went to get the dog groomed,” Thornton said at the time. “Simple, right? There was a tree outside the place, and the wind blew and the pollen came down. I go inside and the groomer goes, "Hey, you got something in your beard." I run my hand through it, and my buddy goes, "Nope, you still have a ton of s--- in your beard." But I just feel comfortable in a beard.”

There also were the times that opponents pulled on Thornton’s beard. Then-St. Louis Blues forward David Backes was the first during the 2016 postseason. Last season, Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri grabbed more than he bargained for when he pulled out a piece of Thornton’s beard in a fight. 

“I thought I was a hockey player and not a barber,” Kadri said after the fight on Jan. 4. “I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t mean to grab him there. He’s a big boy, I couldn’t reach all the way across his shoulder and felt like I just grabbed him in the middle of his jersey and just came down with a handful of hair.”

The Sharks were sure to save the portion of Thornton’s beard that fell out that night, and they appeared to do the same Monday. San Jose captain Joe Pavelski shared a photo on Twitter of the aftermath of Thornton’s shave. 

There’s no word yet if Thornton’s former facial hair is on the way to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

It's not clear when the Sharks will play next.

One star took a big step towards rejoining them when they do.

Tomas Hertl posted a video Wednesday on his Instagram of him skating in his native Czech Republic, writing that he was "[f]inally back" on the ice.

View this post on Instagram

Finally back 🏒 @filipchlapik @hertlik89

A post shared by Tomas Hertl (@hertlik48) on

Hertl, 26, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in January and missed the final 18 games of the Sharks' season before it was suspended -- and, ultimately, ended -- due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center injured his knee on Jan. 29 against the Vancouver Canucks, just four days after playing in his first All-Star Game. 

The 2012 first-round pick was one of the lone bright spots in the Sharks' otherwise dreary season, scoring 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games. San Jose generated 56.76 percent of the expected goals and 54.38 percent of the high-danger chances with Hertl on the ice at full strength, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Hertl himself accounted for his highest rate of 5-on-5 expected goals (0.95 per hour) of any season other than his rookie year.

Hertl said in May that he expected to be ready to start the 2020-21 season, no matter when that is.

"I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away," Hertl said at the time. "My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”

[RELATED: Thornton reportedly could play in Switzerland before NHL season]

Hertl's return to the ice marks an offseason milestone for the forward, who's signed through 2022.

He and his wife, Aneta, announced last month that they're expecting a baby in November.

'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

russianpenguinsgetty.jpg
Getty Images

'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

Vodka, violence and victory.

“Red Penguins,” a documentary released by Universal for streaming On Demand on Tuesday, chronicles the brief foray by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins into ownership of a Russian professional hockey team. The film features plenty of vodka and violence, although victory proved to be elusive.

Penguins owners Tom Ruta and Steven Baldwin made the decision to invest in the struggling club HC CSKA Moscow, which previously had been controlled by the Soviet Union’s Red Army. Steven Warshaw, then the Penguins' vice president for sales and marketing, was the man tasked with overseeing the day-to-day operations on the ground in Moscow, and guides you through all of the unbelievable twists and turns that came with bringing American ideals of organizational structure and capitalism into a society that was amid a transition from decades of communism.

An in-arena strip club, live bears serving beer and a near nine-figure partnership with Disney are just part of what came to define the Penguins’ wild reign behind the Iron Curtain.

Director Gabe Polsky utilizes Warshaw and his enigmatic personality to tell the majority of the story, but also includes interviews from Russia with the team’s former mascot and broadcaster in Moscow, as well as former Red Army manager Valery Gushin, who developed a unique relationship with Warshaw that was both friendly and contentious.

The crew had to traverse some dangerous ground in collecting the interviews, and even had one interview interrupted by KGB officials.

“This overweight man was just sort of standing behind us for like, way more longer than comfortable,” Polsky said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area last week. “Within a couple minutes, the police show up and you hear it, and start saying ‘get the hell out of here,’ and basically they thought there was a bomb nearby.”

Equal parts hilarious and chilling, “Red Penguins” showcases the wildest aspects of running a professional sports franchise in Russia while detailing the danger and sadness that can be a consequence of doing business parallel to an organized crime syndicate.

Polsky, who is the son of Soviet immigrants to the United States, believes American hockey fans and sports fans in general can get a unique look at the complicated relationship between the two world superpowers, and how that dynamic both brought the Penguins immense popularity in Russia and led to their downfall.

“Almost no films out there, that are English-speaking, that take the audience into Russia,” Polsky said. “Seeing the people, understand the psychology, mentality, up against the American mentality, and you see it even more clearly.

“There’s a lot to kind of unpack and understand in this film.”

Whether you’re a Sharks fan, a general sports fan or even just someone who enjoys a compelling story involving international relations, “Red Penguins” will have you glued to your screen.