Sharks reflect on Joe Thornton passing Gordie Howe on all-time assists list

Sharks reflect on Joe Thornton passing Gordie Howe on all-time assists list

You could point to a lot of big moments over the Sharks highly-successful four-game road trip through Canada. Getting the best of a tough Winnipeg Jets team. Keeping their emotions in check against the Calgary Flames and getting their revenge on the scoreboard.

But if there was one highlight that capped the roadie off perfectly, it was the one that took place Monday evening in Vancouver when Joe Thornton passed Gordie Howe on the NHL's all-time assists list.

“There are really no words,” teammate Logan Couture told the media after the Thornton tallied the record-breaking assist in San Jose’s 7-2 win over the Canucks. “To say I’m in the dressing room with a guy that’s ahead of Gordie Howe now. It’s pretty crazy.”

Thornton has been reaching plenty of milestones over the course of this season -- one he began battling back from the aftermath of having knee surgery. Jumbo’s teammates have always spoken highly of him. Whenever he’s reached a milestone during the 2018-19 campaign, they’ve pointed out how hard he works, how much of a legend he truly is.

Scoring his 400th career goal was a pretty big moment. Tying Teemu Selanne on the NHL’s all-time points list on Monday evening is a big deal, too. But in the second period against the Canucks, Thornton won a puck battle in San Jose territory and motored up the ice to set up Kevin Labanc for a goal. That assist put Thornton ahead of Mr. Hockey -- and that moment put him on a whole other level.

“When you pass Gordie Howe on any list, I don’t care what list it is, that’s the story of the night,” Sharks’ head coach Peter DeBoer said. “That’s an unbelievable accomplishment. Unbelievable career.”

“He’s a special player,” Couture continued. “He’s been a special player for two decades.”

Those two decades have seen plenty of ups and downs for No. 19, yet the seasoned veteran has continued to work through whatever adversity comes his way. It’s that unwavering work ethic and continuous high level of compete that makes it so hard to believe when Thornton doesn’t always get the celebrated reaction he deserves. Heck, who knows if fans will ever get over him being snubbed from that 100 Greatest Players list a couple years back. His teammates don’t appear to have let such things go.

“I still believe that he’s underrated,” Couture admitted. “I still don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for how world class of a player he has been over two decades.”

But Monday night was no time for dwelling on the negatives. Joe Thornton now sits on a list ahead of one of the most decorated skaters to ever play the game. 

“That’s something that should be celebrated,” DeBoer said. “I think our whole group is excited we were here to witness that.”

How Sharks’ Evander Kane, wife are healing since unborn daughter’s death


How Sharks’ Evander Kane, wife are healing since unborn daughter’s death

SAN JOSE -- Evander Kane had a relatively visible summer, including his near-nude photo shoot with ESPN and some back-and-forth jawing with Las Vegas’ Ryan Reaves.

However, none of that carried the same importance as the recovery that the Sharks winger and his wife, Anna, continue to make following the passing of their unborn daughter, Eva, at 26 weeks, almost exactly six months ago.

“It definitely makes you realize what’s important,” Kane said last week. “Every minute, you had different emotions, different feelings. My wife, seeing what she went through, it was harder on nobody else but her.”

Kane’s absence from the Sharks in late February initially corresponded with a high hit that Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara laid on him. Most of the public thought Kane’s extended leave was related to injury, until March 14, when he publicly revealed the tragedy on Twitter.

“It takes a real big toll on you, and I had to step away for a week there, in order to re-group and gather myself. And to be there for my wife,” Kane said. 

The hockey community across North America instantly responded to Kane via social media and other platforms. And it made a difference.

“It was humbling, actually, the support that we got,” Kane said. “Especially from the hockey world. I don’t want to say surprising, but it was, in the amount of support we got, and we’re very appreciative of it.”

Evander and his wife also received special support from a much closer place. Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson and his wife, Melinda, had lost their unborn child in March 2018, and were quick to be of comfort, given their unfortunate bond.

“Having a fellow teammate that has been through that process as well, and our wives being good friends, I think that definitely helped,” Kane said.

[RELATED: Sharks' alternate captains just as important as Couture]

Despite all of last season’s turmoil, Kane still managed to be one point shy of his career-high 57, while missing seven games. It’s amazing what he went through on a personal level during those final months, and leads you to believe some fresh beginnings will do he and his wife well.

“It’s still a process,” Kane said. “It was six months [last month]. It will always be a process, and we just want to cherish her much as we can. For me, that’s how I’ll move on. I find myself talking to her, even though nobody is around. It’s one of the ways I kind of find peace with it.”

Sharks alternate captains' job just as important as Logan Couture's

Sharks alternate captains' job just as important as Logan Couture's

SAN JOSE - Fans might have been scratching their heads when it was announced ahead of training camp that the Sharks will have four alternate captains this season.

But as head coach Peter DeBoer explained when camp opened up, each player wearing an "A"-- Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, and Erik Karlsson -- brings something different to the table. And their jobs will be just as important as that of newly-appointed captain Logan Couture

"For me, it's always about the people around the guy wearing the 'C,'" DeBoer said. "They're just as important, and we've got two former captains in there in Jumbo (Joe Thornton) and Erik Karlsson."

He has a point. San Jose's "A-team" boasts a resume of players with extensive leadership backgrounds. From Thornton's and Karlsson's experiences as being captains to Burns' run as being one of the loudest voices in the Sharks' dressing room. Couture himself said having a group like that around him is a plus.

"I'm lucky here in San Jose," Couture said on Friday, the first day of training camp. "There are a lot of guys who are leaders and a few guys who have been captains in the past. So we've got a great leadership group." 

The one alternate captain selection that has garnered the most attention thus far has been Tomas Hertl, who is wearing a letter for the first time in his professional career. Of course, anyone who has kept tabs on the Czech forward during his tenure in teal knows he has developed into a leader over the last couple of seasons, particularly last season when he took rookies Lukas Radil and Radim Simek -- both of whom are older than Hertl -- under his wing.

"I know we've got a lot of leaders here on the team and I'm really happy Pete picked me," Hertl said on Friday, adding that he wants to continue elevating his game after a successful 2018-19 campaign. "I want to prove it, you know? I think I proved it last year but now, it can't just be one year and then I slow down. I want to push myself harder and harder and help the other young guys coming in."

"He's elevated his game and his confidence in demanding and making other people around him better," DeBoer said of Hertl. "That's grown over the four years that I've been here. He was a young kid that was coming off of a couple of really tough injuries when I first got here. His development and growth have just been off the charts."

DeBoer also mentioned that San Jose's contingent of leaders backing up Couture expands beyond the four players wearing "A"s.

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"We've got a lot of other guys, even (more) than the group who are wearing the letters," DeBoer said, "who are going to be part of our leadership group, including Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Evander Kane and other guys.

"I feel very fortunate here as a coach with what I've inherited in this organization. I think all of those guys will support Logan in his job."