Leaving an unpleasant situation in St. Louis, Craig Janney’s trade to the San Jose Sharks came at an ideal time.
Following the high of not only making the playoffs in 1993-94 but eliminating the heavily-favored Detroit Red Wings, the 1994-95 San Jose Sharks were on a mission. In their eyes, no longer were they a hapless expansion team. Now, they were a force to be reckoned with — and the coming season was there to prove that they were more than a one-year wonder.
Entering a lockout-shortened season, the Sharks only had 48 games to work with. Yet, while a 19-25-4 record was nothing to write home about, it was good enough for the boys in teal as they eked into a playoff spot, finishing a single point ahead of their state rival, the Los Angeles Kings.
While there wasn’t much roster turnover from the season before, the Sharks did benefit from the play of a midseason acquisition from the St. Louis Blues.
In a trade that sent Jeff Norton and a conditional draft pick to the Gateway City, the Sharks acquired veteran Craig Janney, who wound up scoring five goals and 15 assists for his new team in 1994-95.
In a continuation of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, I speak with Craig Janney, who shares his excitement in joining the Sharks after an unpleasant situation in St. Louis. The former center also shares his thoughts on his new team’s first-round playoff upset of the Calgary Flames.
Outhouse to the Penthouse
Okay, not literally. But, it may as well have been the case for Craig Janney when he heard the news that he had been traded to San Jose.
“Well, I was very excited at the time because I was leaving a pretty bad situation with the Blues and [then-head coach Mike] Keenan and a bunch of other stuff,” Janney remembered. “And I was looking forward to it because I knew the ownership at the time. He was a big USA Hockey gentleman, so I knew him from that — the World Championships, the Olympic team — so, he had been around and I knew [San Jose was] a favorable place to play.”
Team ownership, however, was just one chip that attracted Janney to the Bay Area.
“I saw how he treated all the Russians who came over — he treated them so well — and that’s what interested me more than anything going there,” admitted the Hartford, CT, native. “To be able to play with [Igor] Larionov and [Sergei] Makarov — I mean, that’s Gretzky and Lemieux to us (American players) — such superstars.”
Sneaking In and Doing Damage (Again)
After just making the playoffs in 1994, few gave the Sharks a chance to go anywhere in the playoffs. Yet, the third-year club ousted the powerful Red Wings before taking the Toronto Maple Leafs to seven games in the second round. Like 1994, the Sharks squeaked into the postseason in 1995 and again, were given little chance to survive the opening round.
Up against the Flames, the Sharks fell behind 3-2 in their series when head coach Kevin Constantine made a gutsy move. Entering Game 6, Arturs Irbe, the Sharks’ No. 1 netminder up to that point, took a seat on the bench in favor of Wade Flaherty.
Flaherty made 30 saves in Game 6 en route to a 5-3 San Jose victory. Then, in Game 7 in Calgary, the two teams fought to a 4-4 tie until double overtime when Ray Whitney tipped a shot in front to win the series for the Sharks.
“Well, we had a great run that first year I got there,” Janney fondly reflected. “We beat Calgary in seven games, which was a huge upset, and Kevin had a lot to do with that. He played the right guys, made some great combinations, things that really worked out, and I thought he deserved a lot of that credit. Especially going with Wade Flaherty in net in Games 6 and 7. That was a real ballsy call but it paid off.”
After Calgary, the Sharks had a rematch with the Red Wings. If they were expecting more good luck, however, they were in for a rude awakening. Detroit swept San Jose in four straight before ultimately clinching their first Stanley Cup Finals berth in 29 years.
As for the Sharks, while the sweep was disheartening, the overall success of the 1994-95 campaign was noteworthy nonetheless.
Fond Memories as a Shark
In 1995-96, Janney would continue his success in San Jose.
In 71 games for the Sharks, the Boston College alum scored 13 goals and 49 assists for 62 points. Unfortunately, Janney was traded to Winnipeg during the season, where he helped a city mourn the loss of their beloved Jets before relocating to Phoenix.
In spite of the trade, though, Janney was not bitter. In fact, to this day, he has nothing but fond memories of his time in San Jose.
“Anytime you played at home there, the fans were unbelievable,” beamed the former U.S. Olympian. “Let’s be honest: I think they were some of the best fans ever. And I was really close with a lot of the Russians — Viktor Kozlov, [Andrei] Nazarov — I really helped those guys. I took them under my wing and showed them around. But, I was really close with [Jeff] Friesen, Pat Falloon, and Ray Whitney, too. We hung out a lot and played golf together and just really got along well.”
Of course, while it may not have been pertinent to the Sharks — or hockey, for that matter — this writer, a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan (don’t judge) felt the need to ask Janney, who grew up in a major city right in between Boston and New York, whether he was a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan.
“I’m a Red Sox fan,” an amused Janney emphasized. “I’m all Red Sox, all Boston teams. My best friend growing up, though, was all New York teams. Oh yeah, our town was split down the middle almost,” he concluded, chuckling.
He may have only played 98 games for the franchise but Craig Janney definitely made the most of his tenure with the San Jose Sharks, registering 82 points during that time.
A 12-year NHL veteran with 751 points in 760 points, Janney was very nearly a point-per-game player and, aside from a tough situation in St. Louis, enjoyed every moment of it.
One of the best U.S.-born players to lace up the skates in the 1990s, Craig Janney was a difference-maker on the ice. He helped the Boston Bruins reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1988 and 1990 and even reached the 100-point plateau — 106 points, to be exact — in 1992-93 with the Blues. Then, in 2016, Janney was given the ultimate honor when he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
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