Justin Braun

Sharks' John Leonard hopes to follow in ex-roommate Mario Ferraro's footsteps

Sharks' John Leonard hopes to follow in ex-roommate Mario Ferraro's footsteps

UMass-Amherst has produced its fair share of NHL talent. Aside from longtime Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, the school's most prominent NHL alumni are defensemen, such as Colorado Avalanche phenom Cale Makar. The Sharks have found plenty of success with UMass defensemen, whether it be former blue-liners Justin Braun and Matt Irwin, or current rookie Mario Ferraro.

Ferraro, San Jose's second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, made the jump straight from college to the pros, and was arguably the brightest spot of the Sharks' season that has since been indefinitely paused due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The following year, San Jose went back to the UMass well in the 2018 draft, but this time used a sixth-round selection on forward John Leonard.

Fresh off of being the NCAA's leading goal-scorer and a Hobey Baker award finalist, Leonard officially agreed to join the Sharks franchise this past week, and he hopes to follow in his former college roommate's footsteps.

"The reason Mario was able to do that was just based off his work ethic and his drive to want to be great," Leonard said on an introductory conference call with reporters on Friday. "He's definitely someone I look up to. I was his roommate at school and we worked out together every day and trained together. His work ethic alone got him to where he is and I'm definitely going to try to do everything I can to follow that up."

Though Leonard has committed to San Jose, he has yet to officially sign, as he's waiting for clarification as to if and when the current season might resume. In the meantime, just like the rest of the NHLers currently practicing social distancing, he's doing his best to stay in shape.

Given that he used to work out with Ferraro in college, naturally, it begs the question as to whether or not Leonard has tuned into Ferraro's "quarantine" workouts that he is posting online. According to his former roommate, this is nothing new.

"Yeah, he was actually doing those at school, too," Leonard explained, "but they were a little bit more under the radar. Now they're open to the public and he loves it."

Ferraro surpassed even the wildest of expectations in his rookie season, and Leonard will certainly be challenged to do the same. If he's able to, however, it stands to reason that the former roommates might be reunited.

From the sounds of it, Leonard wouldn't mind -- though he might want to keep an eye on the pantry.

"The best thing about it is just his personality," Leonard said of rooming with Ferraro. "He's always in a good mood. He's a hilarious guy and he's just always fun to be around. Worst thing? I don't know. The guy ... he's always eating, so maybe he takes my food a little bit."

[RELATED: How COVID-19 impacts Sharks' salary cap, draft planning]

Ferraro already appears to be an important piece of the Sharks' core moving forward, and they're definitely hoping that Leonard can join him. 

If he impresses enough, he'll have his own room in no time.

Sharks' Joe Thornton joined Hall-of-Fame company with 400 career goals

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USATSI

Sharks' Joe Thornton joined Hall-of-Fame company with 400 career goals

Programming note: Watch the re-air of Joe Thornton's 400th career NHL goal tonight at 8 p.m. PT on NBC Sports California.

Joe Thornton picked a great time to notch his 400th career goal.

Back on Nov. 13, 2018, the Sharks welcomed the Nashville Predators to SAP Center, who led the NHL with 27 points at the time. At first, San Jose appeared to be more than up to the task, opening up a 3-0 lead in the first period, which easily could have been larger.

Then, it all started going south.

The Sharks were held scoreless in the second period while the Predators climbed all the way back to tie the score. Less than three minutes into the third, Nashville took its first lead of the night.

For the next 10 minutes of game action, it sure seemed like San Jose would end up kicking itself for blowing a three-goal lead. But then Joe Pavelski tied the score at 4-4 with a goal with just under seven minutes remaining. 13 seconds later, it was Thornton's turn to play the hero.

Before the Predators had a chance to catch their breath, Justin Braun found Marcus Sorensen with a stretch pass from San Jose's own defensive zone. As Sorensen broke into Nashville territory, he made a Thornton-like cross-ice pass to the former Hart Trophy winner, who promptly fired the puck into the back of the net to retake the lead.

The Sharks would hold on the rest of the way to secure the thrilling 5-4 victory over a conference rival, and while the two points surely came in handy, Thornton's 63rd career game-winning goal stood out for another reason.

It was the 400th of his career.

[RELATED: Why Couture thinks Jumbo would be bad quarantine partner]

Don't remember? Don't worry. This memorable game will be re-aired Friday at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports California.

While there have now been 99 players throughout NHL history to accumulate at least 400 goals, there are only 13 who have totaled at least 1,000 assists. By scoring the game-winner that night, Thornton became the 11th player in NHL history to accomplish both feats.

Of the 11 players included on that list, only Thornton and Jaromir Jagr have not been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Jagr called it a career in 2017-18, so it's only a matter of time until he joins the group. Thornton says he feels like he has multiple seasons left in him, but the same goes for him.

Ex-Shark Justin Braun embracing Flyers' youth after offseason trade

Ex-Shark Justin Braun embracing Flyers' youth after offseason trade

Wednesday's season-opening loss to the Vegas Golden Knights was the first time the Sharks began a campaign without defenseman Justin Braun in the lineup since Oct. 8, 2011. 

Back then, Braun still was skating with the AHL's Worcester Sharks, trying to carve out a regular role with San Jose. Eight years later, he's in the NHL, but orange and black has replaced teal following an offseason trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. 

Braun is expected to make his Flyers debut Friday in Prague against Chicago, and the 32-year-old lined up alongside 22-year-old Philly blueliner Ivan Provorov at Thursday's practice. The veteran recently told NBC Sports Philadelphia that he hopes to pass on what he absorbed during nine seasons in San Jose.

"It was a great experience," Braun said. "It kind of got me my start. Learned a lot from the guys there over the years, but excited to be in a new spot and everyone's been great so far. Looking forward to getting things going." 

Braun played at least 20 minutes per night in each of the last six seasons, and he suited up in every Sharks playoff game in San Jose's previous seven postseason runs. The Flyers have only made the playoffs in three of the last seven seasons, but Braun still thinks his playoff experience will have plenty of application in the regular season as Philly tries to get back to the postseason.

"You're in those high-pressure spots, [you know] not to panic," Braun said. "You've gotta just make the next play, you can't be flipping pucks for icings all the time. You just gotta take a deep breath. You know you're gonna be up 1-0 late in games, and you gotta shut the door and get those two points."

Braun grew into a veteran leader in San Jose, and he now will be the second-oldest skater -- and the third-oldest player overall -- on a Flyers roster brimming with players under the age of 25. The Flyers have high-scoring veterans like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek leading the way, but Philadelphia has a younger complexion than San Jose did a season ago. 

"What I like about the Flyers is a lot of youth coming in," Braun said. "You've got young energy. I've been playing with some older guys over the years. ... Obviously, the vets [like] Giroux and Voracek -- I've been watching them for years and seeing the skill they've got and the points they can put up. And just watching [goaltender] Carter Hart guy play, he's been great. He works hard every day."

Braun's possession metrics slipped over the last three years, but he still was a defenseman the Sharks relied upon at even strength and on the penalty kill, and the Sharks defense has to adjust to life without him.

[RELATED: Sharks could be out key contributors in rematch with Vegas]

In Braun's absence, longtime partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic started the 2019-20 season alongside reigning Norris Trophy finalist Brent Burns and Brenden Dillon should slide in with Erik Karlsson when the All-Star returns to the team. Dalton Prout was set to skate with rookie Mario Ferraro on San Jose's third pairing, but Karlsson's absence due to a "personal matter" Wednesday brought Tim Heed back into the lineup. 

The Sharks' new-look pairings should -- in theory, at least -- settle by the time Braun plays his first game at SAP Center as an opponent on Dec. 28. That won't make seeing Braun suit up in a new uniform any less odd for his old teammates, though.