SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) If Joel Ward needed any reminder of how close the San Jose Sharks came to winning the Stanley Cup, it was right there in front of him one night this summer in his hometown of Toronto.
While Ward was out getting dinner with his girlfriend, he ran right into a Stanley Cup celebration party held by Pittsburgh defenseman Trevor Daley.
”I just happened to sneak a peek at a bar downtown and it was his,” Ward said. ”I had to go chug a beer when I got home. Let it go. But understood. Hats off to them. They won.”
The Sharks opened training camp Friday, looking to put the disappointment of that Cup final loss to the Penguins in the past and gear up for another long season that they hope ends with a trophy celebration.
”Obviously with the way last season ended we should feel good about the journey and have a little bit of a bad taste in our mouth about losing in the final and come back re-energized and ready to make that journey again,” coach Peter DeBoer said.
The Sharks were without seven key players who are taking part in the World Cup in Toronto, including captain Joe Pavelski, alternates Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, key defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns, and forwards Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker.
Pavelski and Donskoi are expected to rejoin the Sharks soon with the United States and Finland having been eliminated from the tournament, while the others may not be back until early October with the tournament possibly ending as late as Oct. 1.
They were supposed to be without an eighth player but forward Tomas Hertl pulled out because he was still recovering from a knee injury suffered in Game 2 of the final against the Penguins.
Hertl said it was hard to miss the tournament but his priority is being healthy for the NHL season.
”I think I am ready to go,” he said. ”Nothing the past two or three weeks bothers me. I can turn, I can hit, I can do whatever. I think it’s ready.”
The Sharks don’t expect those absences to play a major role because the team is in the second year of DeBoer’s system and is only making tweaks instead of wholesale changes like last season.
Also, most of the core is back with the only significant additions being Boedker and defenseman David Schlemko.
”It’s a lot easier when you know what to expect and the way he likes to run practices and what he expects out of you day in and day out,” defenseman Paul Martin said. ”I’m sure he’ll throw a couple of new things in here to keep it fresh but for the most part it makes it easier having that familiarity.”
After a slow start to the season that had the Sharks near the bottom of the Western Conference in early January last season, the team hit its stride after that as the players learned DeBoer’s system and Couture returned from an injury.
San Jose was one of the top teams in the league over the final three months and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division after missing the postseason for the first time since 2003 the previous season.
The Sharks then knocked off their nemesis, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round and won a seven-game series in the second round against Nashville before qualifying for the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history with a Game 6 win at home in the Western Conference final against St. Louis.
The run ended when San Jose met up with a faster and deeper Pittsburgh team in the Stanley Cup Final and lost to the Penguins in six games.
”You’re still mad that you lost in the finals, but you know you get another chance at it next year,” forward Patrick Marleau said. ”That’s the motivation.”
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