It may have been brief, but Jimmy Waite’s tenure with the San Jose Sharks was nonetheless special.
After being drafted eighth overall by the club in 1987, Jimmy Waite would be with the Chicago Blackhawks for a decade. His career in the Windy City, though, spanned two tenures. In between, the native of Sherbrooke, Quebec, was a member of a San Jose Sharks team coming off two dismal seasons.
Traded to San Jose in June 1993 for original Shark Neil Wilkinson, Waite was brought in with hopes of being part of a team turnaround. The former top prospect was set to share the goaltending duties with up-and-comer Arturs Irbe, but it would be the latter who would go on to celebrate a breakout year in 1993-94, limiting Waite’s playing time to just 15 games. Still, for the former Chicoutimi Sagueneen, his brief time in San Jose was nonetheless special.
In this installment of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, I speak with Jimmy Waite, who discusses his career with the Sharks, his relationship with Arturs Irbe, and the friendships he made in the Bay Area.
Making the Most of It
Having been traded from Chicago and learning from one of the best netminders in the game at that time, Jimmy Waite had hopes of being the number-one man in goal for the San Jose Sharks. It didn’t quite work out that way, however, as his partner in goal, Arturs Irbe would use the 1993-94 campaign to come into his own as a starter.
Waite was initially disappointed to spend the majority of his time in San Jose on the bench, but he quickly came to make the best of the situation.
“Coming from Chicago, I was playing with Eddie Belfour, [who was] an All-Star,” Waite began. “So I thought I was coming to a Sharks team [where] maybe I would have had more chances or a bigger role, or more ice time, but it didn’t turn out that way. Arturs Irbe really had a career year, a heck of a year, and he deserved every bit of playing time that he had. So, I was relegated to a backup role.”
The diminished role did not sour Waite, however. Instead, the netminder embraced his role not only as a veteran but as a cheerleader, if you will, helping his club to their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
That wasn’t all the Sharks accomplished, though.
“I didn’t play much that season but I just remember us doing something really special by beating Detroit in the first round,” Waite continued. “They were the big favorite to win the Cup that year.”
Jimmy and Arty
Depending on the situation, some goaltending tandems reach a conflict when one has more playing time than the other. This was not the case in San Jose between Waite and Irbe.
While he may have been initially disappointed, Waite didn’t harbor any hard feelings for his partner in crime. In fact, Irbe was so friendly that it was near-impossible to dislike the guy.
“We actually got along really nicely,” the former Blackhawk reflected. “Even though he played most of the games, I tried to be a good support to him, and Arturs is such a nice guy that it’s hard not to get along with him.”
Additionally, the veteran netminder, whether then or today, had no reservations in giving Irbe the credit he deserved. In fact, he was very happy for him.
“[In 1993-94], he had such a great year,” Waite added. “He had an All-Star year. He played 74 games and was spectacular the whole year. So, I really got along with him. We were actually roommates at times, and I was also a roommate with Gaetan Duchesne at times, but overall, Irbe’s such a nice guy and we got along just fine.”
A Lasting Bond
For Jimmy Waite, his career in San Jose was a matter of quality over quantity. He may not have been with the Sharks for a long time, but his memories with the franchise have lasted a lifetime and will continue to.
“Well, just the unity that team had was great,” Waite noted. “As the year went along, we became a really tight group, very close to each other. We all appreciated each other a lot.”
The 1993-94 season may have been a special time for the San Jose Sharks as a whole but it was just as special for Waite on a personal level. In fact, whenever he sees one of his former Sharks teammates, they can’t help but reflect on the wonderful time they had on the West Coast.
“When you see the guys that belonged to that team over the years, we’re always happy to see each other and we always talk about that season,” Waite beamed. “We talk about that first-round win against Detroit — we even had a little parade in San Jose for doing well in the playoffs — and obviously, that big Jamie Baker goal comes to mind in Detroit. So, it was a close team.”
Of all of his teammates, though, there is one in particular whom the veteran netminder had a unique connection with and someone he misses dearly.
“Sadly, we lost Gaetan Duchesne 13 years ago when he passed away,” Waite said. “We were the only two French-Canadians on that team and it was really a big shock for me to learn about his passing. That group was a special group, for sure.”
In 15 games for the Sharks, Jimmy Waite went 3-7-0 with a 4.30 goals-against average. He even had a couple of appearances in the 1994 playoffs. The veteran netminder would return to Chicago in early 1995 for a fourth-round draft pick, suit up for the Phoenix Coyotes, and even make a few AHL stops before moving to Germany in 2001. There, Waite would enjoy nine successful seasons before retiring in 2010.
Not long after he retired as a player, Jimmy Waite became a goaltending coach, first for his former junior team, the aforementioned Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL, and then with the Blackhawks, a position he has held since 2014.
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