Mike Ricci

Joel Ward hopes to become Sharks coach after announcing NHL retirement

Joel Ward hopes to become Sharks coach after announcing NHL retirement

Outside of Barclay Goodrow and Joonas Donskoi, Joel Ward arguably is responsible for the biggest goals in Sharks franchise history. Whereas Donskoi's earned San Jose its first-ever win in a Stanley Cup final game, Ward got the team there to begin with.

His two goals in Game 6 of the 2015-16 Western Conference final extended what was an early Sharks lead into a three-goal cushion, the second of which proved to be the game-winner and series-clincher in a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues. A team that had time and again suffered disheartening postseason exits finally, at last, sat atop the Western Conference.

Sadly, the Sharks couldn't check off the last box on their playoff list -- one that still remains unchecked today. Donskoi provided the overtime heroics in Game 3 of the Final, but San Jose ultimately was vanquished by the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. 

That was the first of three seasons Ward spent with the Sharks, as he became a fan favorite due to his gritty style and penchant for the clutch. He last appeared in 52 games with San Jose during the 2017-18 season, and the 11-year veteran officially announced his retirement from the NHL on Monday.

"I loved it," Ward said of his career on a conference call with reporters Monday. "The game treated me so well, and I'm at peace with everything. I got to play a few hockey games, which was great, more than I could even imagine I'd be playing. It feels great to have it out there and everybody knows."

Ward totaled 133 goals and 171 assists across 726 career regular-season games, and he added another 22 goals and 30 helpers in 83 playoff contests. After going undrafted, he broke into the NHL with the Minnesota Wild before playing for the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and, finally, the Sharks.

San Jose -- where he still resides -- holds a special place in his heart and although his playing days are over, he still might have a role within the franchise ... as a coach.

"I've had some talks with the Sharks kind of briefly, going back and forth a few times," Ward said. "We've chatted about some different areas. I've kind of shared that I'd like to hopefully get on the ice at some point with them, if it can work out. It's been on and off chats with the Sharks. If things did work out, yeah, it would be great to stay here. We've got to wait and see what's going to happen after [the season pause]."

Ward admitted that he knew he was "pretty much done" playing for quite some time, but the official retirement announcement was meant to let others know that he is looking for work in the league, and is serious about it. He played with and for a number of all-time greats and brings a vast array of experience to the table, and now he wants to pass that on to the next generation of NHL players.

"I've had such great teachers, coaches, I think I've learned so much over the years that it would be a shame to keep it to myself," Ward explained. "I've gone through a lot of teams with different philosophies and everything. I played in all different aspects of the game. I've been fortunate to play on some top lines a couple of times and on the bottom. I've been fortunate to be around a lot of great hockey people."

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Bob Boughner remains the Sharks' interim coach for the time being, though general manager Doug Wilson recently said he has the "upper hand" to have that interim tag removed and remain behind San Jose's bench. Boughner promoted multiple former Sharks' fan favorites -- Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov -- to coaching positions upon taking over for Peter DeBoer.

Perhaps he adds another in Ward.

Mike Ricci opens up about his first month as Sharks assistant coach

Mike Ricci opens up about his first month as Sharks assistant coach

It’s not just a safe assumption. It’s entirely accurate that Mike Ricci, as a hockey player, never thought he’d become a coach.

“Not back then for sure,” Ricci said recently. “Not even maybe two and a half weeks ago.”

The former Sharks forward was caught off guard by being named as an assistant on interim head coach Bob Boughner’s staff in mid-December.

“It was like boom, told to come to a meeting,” Ricci recalled.  

But there was no reservation in accepting the position.

“When a friend asks, and a boss asks, you’ve got to do it,” said Ricci. “Just going in and trying to do whatever I can to help this team win.”

All of this is a total change of scenery for Ricci – who after 1,099 NHL games as a player -- still hasn’t acclimated to his brand new perch behind the bench.

“If I’m going to be honest, I really haven’t had time to think about it,” Ricci admitted.  

The move was so fresh, and came with so much transition, Sharks equipment manager Mike Aldrich even had to double check that regular game duties would include a presence behind the players.  To which Ricci responded: “I think so…?”

As if the Sharks' need to turn things around wasn’t pressing enough, there’s also the challenge of Ricci learning the ropes of being an assistant coach for the very first time.

“You’ve got to find what makes everybody click,” Ricci said after less than a month of experiences. “Some guys like to see it. Some guys like to hear it. Some guys like it drawn on a board.”

One thing benefitting Ricci, goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov, and associate coach Roy Sommer is their familiarity and unquestioned dedication to the franchise. Each have been sporting teal for more than a decade, in one capacity or another.

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Ricci said there’s already a built-in level of trust when the coaching staff has to be critical of players, in trying to reverse the team’s struggles.

“I try to be myself, more than anything. It doesn’t matter how much I know, it matters how much I can get to a player.”

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff

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AP

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff

SAN JOSE -- No, the days of the player-coach hybrid aren't making a comeback. Although, if you're Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, it might feel that way.

With the introduction of Bob Boughner as San Jose's interim head coach, the organization brought in staff that includes former Sharks Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov -- two players who were on the roster back when the now 40-year-olds hadn't reached their veteran status yet.

"It will be interesting to see them on the bench," Marleau said. "But they're very professional and they'll do a great job."

Marleau played with both Ricci and Nabokov in the early 2000s, while Thornton only logged time with Nabokov after coming to San Jose from the Boston Bruins in 2005. While it has been some time since either newly-appointed assistant coach has rocked a teal sweater, Ricci and Nabokov have stayed with the organization in different capacities over the last few years. Having that closeness and a high level of familiarity is something that can benefit the team as they go through a midseason coaching change.

"I know what they've been through and I know a lot about them, so it's easy to communicate with them," Marleau said.

Thornton agreed with his teammate's assessment.

"They've been here for a long time now," Thornton said. "To have them on the bench now is going to be fun."

Both Ricci and Nabokov have spent the last several seasons working on the development side of the Sharks' organization and have worked closely with players on the AHL Barracuda -- a team that has been coached by Roy Sommer up until he, too, was recently named assistant coach under Boughner. In his introductory press conference on Thursday, Boughner outlined how he believes his new coaching staff might function.

"We met last night as a staff and this morning and we still need to work through some things," Boughner admitted. "But Mike Ricci and Roy are going to be on the bench with me. Roy's going to move to the defensive side and run some power play. Ricci was a great penalty killer his whole career and I think we're going to be able to enjoy some of his expertise. I'll be running the forwards and obviously Nabby will (oversee) the goalies. There are still some job responsibilities we'll have to sort out in the next few days. But for now, I think those guys are excited. It was a big day for them as well."

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As far as reuniting Ricci and Nabokov with their former teammates, Boughner thinks working closely with Thornton and Marleau will benefit the entire roster as the Sharks try to, yet again, turn their season around after a tough stretch of losses.

"I think you can see, even in the morning, there's that report there," Boughner said of watching the reunion during morning skate. "There's deep respect. There's a lot of familiarity with those guys and I think that's going to help. Ricci and Roy have seen these young guys all the way up. I think there's great chemistry that we're going to have there."