Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bandwagon Time

I know hockey is the 4th of the "Big 4" pro sports. But listen to me: if you're a Bay Area sports fan, you need to get on the Sharks bandwagon right now.

This team has now scored points in 19 consecutive games. In fact, defenseman Brian Campbell has never played a game with the Sharks in which they didn't score at least one point (either by winning outright or losing in overtime). Coincidence? I think not.

Campbell, acquired at the trade deadline, is the final piece of the puzzle for a team that already has arguably the league's best player (Joe Thornton) and its best goalie (Evgeni Nabokov), as well as a remarkable supporting cast. Guys like Jeremy Roenick, who I mocked months ago as a player I thought merely wanted to hang around long enough to score his 500th career goal, have contributed in key ways.

It may seem trivial to you, but the Sharks' 3-1 win over Phoenix in their first game after locking up the Pacific Division title says volumes about this team. They could have just gone through the motions, but they came out and played hard. They scored 14 seconds into the match, aided by an assist from Ryane Clowe, who'd missed more than 50 games following major knee surgery. Who scored that first goal? Thornton, of course.

"Jumbo Joe" should be named the NHL's Most Valuable Player. He's not the league's leading scorer, and he doesn't make many highlight reels. But night in and night out, this man plays the game at both ends of the ice at a higher level than anyone else in the sport. Want ESPN thrills? Watch Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (whose team will miss the playoffs). Want to watch the best player in hockey? Number 19 of the Sharks.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are not for the meek. The Sharks will probably have to beat teams like Calgary, Anaheim, and Detroit to reach the finals. Nothing is guaranteed.

But this is a damned good team, and it's on a roll. Hop on the bandwagon now.

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