Sharks' Mario Ferraro is bright spot at center of franchise's future

Sharks' Mario Ferraro is bright spot at center of franchise's future

SAN JOSE -- At this time last year, Mario Ferraro was surrounded by similar-aged players while starring at the University of Massachusetts. But for the last five months, he has been the Sharks' youngest player, nearly half the age of his eldest teammate.

From the way the defenseman has performed in his first NHL season, you would think Ferraro was a five-year veteran. But frequently, as it was after he scored San Jose's first goal in a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, his youthful energy is on display and infects all those around him.

The Sharks were dead in the water after the first period, trailing 2-0 with nothing good to point to. Ferraro changed that in a hurry in the second, as he scored just over two minutes into the frame, and proceeded to use that to fire up the rest of his teammates. Both the skill involved in scoring the goal, and the leadership shown afterward are qualities rarely found in a 21-year-old rookie.

"I try to be a leader wherever I go, no matter how old," Ferraro said after the much-needed win. "I think that everyone in this room is a leader in their own way. They bring something different to the game and to the rink every day. So, that's always something you try to do is try to lead by example. But, of course, I've got a lot of great people to follow in their footsteps around here. I'm trying to improve on my leadership and I only do that by learning from the great leaders that we have on this team already."

Of the elders whose footsteps Ferraro hopes to follow, there arguably isn't a better model than Marc-Edouard Vlasic. And, in fact, that process has already begun. Like Vlasic, Ferraro skipped the minors altogether and was immediately thrown into the fire at the NHL level after being drafted as a second-round pick. Vlasic is now in his 14th season, but this time, the shoe on the other foot. Now, he's the elder statesmen paired up with the standout rookie.

"It's been a lot of fun," Vlasic said of playing alongside Ferraro, as they did against the Devils. "He's very energetic, plays hard. He skates. He can move the puck really well."

There aren't many players who can speak to Ferraro's experience this season, but Vlasic is one of them. He's very impressed with his rookie counterpart, and appreciates the fact that the opportunities he has received have been earned and not simply given.

"It's tough, but he's doing a great job," Vlasic said of Ferraro's challenge of entering the league at such a young age. "He's playing against great players, he's playing hard like I said, and he's getting rewarded. He's playing a lot, but he's playing well, so that's why he's playing a lot."

[RELATED: What Kane hopes to teach young Sharks for rest of season]

Ferraro totaled 30 shifts and 23:54 of ice time in the win over the Devils, both of which are career-highs. His minutes have significantly increased as of late, though, and that's not by accident. Injuries and the trade deadline have created opportunities for younger players to take on larger roles, and through his play, Ferraro has done nothing but prove he deserves one.

"He always seems to be fired up and ready to go, and it's contagious," Sharks interim coach Bob Bougher described Ferraro. "I think he's a well-liked guy in the room, and for a rookie, he's not a quiet kid. He's not afraid to get in the middle of it off the ice, as well as on the ice. He has had a great season. You can see the maturity in his game, from the beginning of the season until now. He's playing in major situations, and his development has been great all year."

Not much has gone right for San Jose this season. At almost every opportunity where something could go wrong, it has. But Ferraro's growth and development is one of the few major exceptions. He has surpassed even the wildest of expectations, and as good as he has looked as a rookie, he is well on his way to becoming a franchise cornerstone on the back end.

He has been the bright spot of the Sharks' season. And the best surely is yet to come.

Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane


Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

Sharks captain Logan Couture thanked Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu for speaking out against racism in hockey, tweeting a note Saturday that said the sport and society "are only scraping the surface in what desperately needs fixing."

"Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey," Couture wrote. "That's a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. [At times,] I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue."

Kane later tweeted his appreciation of Couture's message.

Kane, who is black, has become increasingly vocal speaking out against racism within -- and beyond -- the sport in the past year. In September, Kane told TSN 1040 in Vancouver that hockey lagged behind other professional sports in diversity and addressing racism after fan told him to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment. Kane called a story in "The Players Tribune" earlier this month authored by Aliu, whose revelation that Bill Peters directed racial slurs towards him in the AHL led to the Calgary Flames firing their now-former coach late last year, a must-read for everyone involved in hockey.

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody Monday outraged Kane, tweeting that video of the incident made his "[f---ing] blood boil." Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, could be heard on video saying "I can't breathe" as former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while three other officers at the scene looked on. Chauvin and the three officers were fired Tuesday, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

[RELATED: Kerr says he, white people have to do more to fight racism]

Kane said Friday in an interview on ESPN's "First Take" that white athletes couldn't leave speaking up against systematic racism to their black peers. While Kane felt supported by his teammates, he told "Writers Bloc" on CJCL in Toronto later that day that hockey's team-first culture often encourages silence on a wide range of issues in the sport and outside of it.

“Is it going to change? I hope," Kane said (H/T Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva). "I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change. But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.

“And until things change at the top ... until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often publicly comment, said in a rare statement Friday that the Sharks applauded Kane's "rational and thoughtful response to the terrible tragedy" of Floyd's death. Defenseman Mario Ferraro retweeted the statement, and Couture's note is the first tweeted by one of Kane's San Jose teammates in support.

Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality


Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality

Sharks winger Evander Kane called on prominent white professional athletes to speak out against police brutality against African Americans.

Kane, who is black, joined ESPN's "First Take" on Friday morning to discuss George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this week. The 28-year-old Kane said it can't just fall on black athletes to lend their voices to causes of racial justice, and white players joining their black peers is "the only way" for professional athletes to truly affect change.

"We've been outraged for hundreds of years and nothing has changed," Kane said of black people speaking out against racism (H/T Fear the Fin's Sheng Peng). "It's time for guys like (Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback) Tom Brady and (Pittsburgh Penguins center) Sidney Crosby and those types of figures to speak up about what is right, and clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong. Because that's the only way we're gonna actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism."

Bystanders in Minneapolis recorded video Monday of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, having a white police officer's knee pressed into his neck for nearly eight minutes as three other officers looked on. Floyd pleaded that he couldn't breathe, but state charging documents alleged that the officer, Derek Chauvin, continued to have his knee on Floyd's neck for almost three minutes after he became non-responsive. Chauvin and the three other officers were fired Tuesday, and he was arrested on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday.

Kane tweeted Tuesday night that the video of Floyd's death made his "[f--king] blood boil." He shared a petition Wednesday night calling for the four former officers to face charges.

The forward has been increasingly outspoken against racism in the last year, particularly in hockey. Kane is one of just 43 NHL players of color, according to WDET, and they account for fewer than 5 percent of the league. He said he hasn't seen "too many" hockey players discuss Floyd's death, but Kane feels supported by his teammates in speaking out.

"In terms of my teammates, they're incredibly supportive of me and what I stand for," Kane said. "I think hockey, unfortunately, has a different culture than some of the other sports in terms of speaking out and using your voice and speaking your mind. I think for me, I'm one of the anomalies when it comes to NHL players doing that. That's another part of the problem, guys being scared to really speak their mind and stand up for what is right."

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often address the media, shared his support of Kane in a rare statement Friday hours after Kane's appearance on "First Take."

"There is no room for racism in society," the statement read. "We applaud Evander for his thoughtful and rational response to the recent terrible tragedy. Events like this occur way too often. We all must find a way to do better."

Kane tweeted he was "proud to be part of" the Sharks in response.

[RELATED: Kap starts fund to pay lawyers for Minneapolis protesters]

Kane said sports have the inclusive potential to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds. In order to live up to it, Kane thinks athletes -- white and black -- need to pull in the same direction off the rink, field and court.

"[When] we talk about our own personal battles outside of sports, there's a lot of people that are silent on issues," he said. "They're important issues. They're issues that have been going on for hundreds of years, and we need that same type of team mentality to be brought to issues outside of our sport."