One of the better defensive forwards in the club’s recent history, Andrew Desjardins reflects on his career with the San Jose Sharks.
Some players have the privilege of becoming immediate stars and going right to the top. This was not the case for Andrew Desjardins, who had to scratch and claw his way to the San Jose Sharks, establishing himself as a reliable defensive forward/grinder.
Beginning his pro career in, of all places, Laredo, Texas, which sits on the Mexican border, Desjardins’s work was cut out for him from the beginning.
Climbing the Ladder
After spending the 2007-08 season in the CHL where he scored 59 points in 64 points, the native of Sudbury, Ont., found his way into the East Coast Hockey League the following season. To kick off the 2008-09 campaign, Desjardins played five games in the ECHL before being promoted to the AHL, where he suited up for the San Jose-affiliated Worcester Sharks.
The former Shark recalls this period and how he went from the CHL to the NHL’s doorstep in Worcester.
“Basically, I had a good season in the CHL and I was discovered by an East Coast [League] coach, Brad Church, of the Phoenix Roadrunners, so I decided to sign with them,” Desjardins explained. “At the time, I had Kyle Dubas as an agent. Then, when I got to [the ECHL], I got an AHL tryout before being sent [back down]. From the AHL tryout, I got an AHL-ECHL two-way deal and that’s pretty much the story.”
En route to averaging 13 goals and just over 32 points in his three seasons in Worcester, Desjardins did make a name for himself as part of a uniquely-named line.
“That was solely on [Worcester head coach] Roy Sommer,” an amused Desjardins noted. “He came up with that and I have to give him full credit for that.”
Towards the end of his third season in Worcester (2010-11), Desjardins was called up to the big club, scoring a goal and two assists in 17 games.
The San Jose Sharks’ brass was impressed enough with the center to have him begin the next season in San Jose. Desjardins would go on to play three full seasons for the Sharks, helping the club find plenty of success.
“It was a great time in San Jose,” the former Soo Greyhound reflected. “I learned a lot there and owed everything in hockey to — [the Sharks were] my first NHL team, it was a big learning experience all around. I was taught lots of things. It’s hard to break it all down into one specific kind of thing, but all [the Sharks coaching staff] were great and great coaches to be around.”
The Coaching Staff
“You learned pretty quickly how to be a professional and how to come to the rink prepared and just the day-to-day things that you come to expect out of your players,” Desjardins elaborated. “They expected a lot and it made you a better person and a better player.”
These lessons would help mold him into a Stanley Cup winner.
“In San Jose, I really learned a lot about myself as a player. I got better there as a shutdown or a defensive player and I had a good spot to develop and to be prepared for the run and what would happen in Chicago,” Desjardins recalled. “We had lots of good teams in San Jose and I learned a lot from the guys as well. I think all of it combined helped me out and helped me strive to help me play my best hockey I ever had [in 2014-15].”
After playing in 56 games for the Sharks in 2014-15, Desjardins was traded to Chicago in March 2015. Just a few months later, he would help the Blackhawks win their third Stanley Cup in six years.
The number is a lot more common in collegiate and professional football, but it is the rarest of rare to see an athlete in any other sport sporting No. 69. This is especially for hockey — and specifically, the NHL — as Mel Angelstad is the only player in league history to don the number when he played two games for the Washington Capitals in 2004.
On Jan. 3, 2011, however, Angelstand would have some company when Andrew Desjardins made his NHL debut, donning controversial digits
It has universally become a humorous, not to mention sexually enticing, number. It is most likely due to the latter that many sports leagues and teams avoided assigning No. 69 to their players. Desjardins was one of the rare exceptions but his reasons for wearing the number aren’t as humorous as some may think.
“I actually didn’t pick that number,” admitted the former San Jose Sharks player. “It was given to me as a camp number. I eventually made [the Sharks] but as a young guy, I wasn’t able to change numbers and I played a few years with that number. Then, when I was able to change numbers, I changed it to 10.”
The 2014 Collapse
Probably the lowest point for Desjardins during his time in San Jose came during the opening round of the 2014 playoffs.
The defeat marked just the fourth time in NHL history where a team lost a series after winning the first three games.
Desjardins was just one of a locker room full of Sharks who did not want to be a part of that type of history.
“It was pretty tough,” the former Shark said matter-of-factly. “That loss to L.A. was pretty tough on everybody. It wasn’t something we thought was going to happen.”
Unfortunately for the Sharks, the loss festered and carried over into the next season where the club wound up missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
“We had a great team that year (in 2013-14),” Desjardins said. “But, it was a pretty head-down season after that.”
Northern California’s First NHL Outdoor Game
One particular highlight from the 2014-15 season for the San Jose Sharks came in February.
As part of the NHL’s Stadium Series, the Sharks had been chosen to play the league’s first outdoor game in Northern California.
The scene was the brand-new, state-of-the-art Levi’s Stadium in nearby Santa Clara. While it is home to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, Levi’s Stadium was, on the evening of Feb. 21, the home of professional hockey where the Sharks hosted the Kings.
The game and the experience remain special to Desjardins, who admitted that he recently watched the game.
“As far as the outdoor game goes, I was actually just watching the highlights of the game [a few weeks ago] and I was telling some of the guys over here in Germany (where he now plays) about that outdoor game in Levi’s Stadium and how amazing it was and how special it was to be part of such a cool venue and a cool experience,” an excited Desjardins explained. “So, it was obviously a really great time.”
A Close-Knit Family
While it has been six years since he played for the organization, Andrew Desjardins continues to have great memories of his time in San Jose but also keeps in touch with many of his former teammates.
“Probably some of my favourite moments were obviously scoring my first NHL goal. That’s always special,” the former NHLer remembered. “Also, meeting a lot of great people there, a lot of people I still — not keep in contact all the time but, once in a while, talking to some of them and develop some good relationships with people. I’ve been in touch with Jumbo (Joe Thornton) a bit, I actually see James Sheppard all the time. We’ve spent some time together and we hang out. He’s over here in Germany as well. A few other guys, too, I talk to during [the pandemic] and everything else. So, I just developed a lot of great relationships in San Jose.”
Of course, Desjardins cannot — and will not — forget the road he took to get to the NHL. As mentioned, making his way from the Laredo to the ECHL to the AHL in less than a year is, in itself, a remarkable climb. Of course, while getting to the NHL took a bit more time, the former San Jose Sharks forward kept his eye on the prize, so to speak, and ultimately earned his spot with the big club.
Through his quest, I asked the 34-year-old which quality was most noteworthy in his ascension to San Jose.
“I think the most important quality for me [getting to the NHL] was perseverance and being a hard worker, putting your nose to the grindstone and going after the dream,” Desjardins stressed.
In addition to his defensive prowess, Andrew Desjardins was a physical presence as well during his tenure with the Sharks. He may not have looked like the most intimidating figure at 6-foot-0, 196 pounds but the Sudbury native nonetheless made his mark physically, collecting 374 hits in 272 regular-season games for the Sharks. He also registered 153 blocked shots over that stretch while establishing an impressive giveaway-to-takeaway ratio with 94 to 78.
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