30 Sharks: Jody Shelley on the Enforcer’s Role, His Favorite Jumbo Story
In 2008, the San Jose Sharks, as skilled as they were, were in need of some toughness. They got that, and then some, in Jody Shelley.
Coming off a 51-26-5 season in 2006-07, the San Jose Sharks looked to have everything they needed to win a Stanley Cup. On paper, at least. Despite their success, though, the Sharks were missing something. While the team had plenty of big players who could dish out a hit — Joe Thornton and Douglas Murray come to mind — the Sharks needed someone who could start a rally by dishing out a hit and dropping the gloves. Enter: Jody Shelley.
In January 2008, the Sharks acquired Shelley from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a sixth-round pick, going on to help his new club in the toughness department in the two-plus years he was on the West Coast.
In this installment of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, I speak with Jody Shelley, who shares his feelings on being traded to Sharks, his role with the club, and what San Jose means to him all these years later.
Being traded is part-and-parcel to the life of a professional athlete. However, the commonality of it doesn’t necessarily make being moved any easier.
When the San Jose Sharks came calling in January 2008, Shelley was met with mixed emotions. While he was looking forward to a new chapter in San Jose, it was difficult to part with the Blue Jackets, the only NHL franchise he played for at that point.
“At the moment, I was shocked when I got traded from Columbus,” Shelley admitted. “I didn’t expect it. I was sad because it was all I knew up to that point.”
After speaking with San Jose’s general manager, though, Shelley’s sadness turned to excitement.
“I immediately talked to Doug Wilson and immediately realized that I was part of a special team in San Jose,” the former enforcer beamed. “I remember flying out there and meeting the team — [head coach] Ron Wilson and everyone involved, trainers, everyone — and I was now part of a winning organization.
“I was still a big fan of the Blue Jackets because they were my original team, but it was so exciting to learn a different way of doing things and be part of such a prestigious team and a team with such high expectations with some superstars of the game. So, it was bittersweet. Initially, it was sad but it immediately turned to genuine excitement.”
While the role had been diminished in recent years, the enforcer role was still a prevalent ingredient in a team’s recipe for success, if you will. For Jody Shelley, he embraced this role, which is more detailed than some may think.
“You know, I had an important role there just because in the West, getting to the playoffs, and battling some of those bigger teams, my role was to bring that element not only to the ice but to the locker room,” explained the Thompson, Manitoba, native. “As an enforcer, sometimes you have limited ice time but your role is just as big because there are big personalities, there are big people, there are high expectations during a long season, so it’s important to have someone with a different voice. Not a coach but a peer to lean on, to call people out, or to bring something different.”
“So, first of all, my role was on the ice to battle for momentum, to make sure that no one was going to take advantage of any of our guys. But, then being in the locker room and being a good teammate, was a big part of my role to me. As you get older in your career, you create value wherever you can, and for me, interacting, helping, and sometimes not always going along with what’s thought in the locker room or trying to tell different players that they’re wrong or do the exact right thing — holding people accountable is what I’m trying to say, as a leader and as an enforcer. It was a big part of my job and something I thought I brought to the Sharks.”
Shelley’s maiden season in San Jose also marked his first trip to the NHL’s postseason. But, after celebrating a hard-fought seven-game series victory against Calgary, Shelley and the Sharks would fall victim to the Dallas Stars in the second round, losing in six games. Yet, while the end result was less than ideal, Shelley couldn’t help but reflect on his team’s efforts, including a highlight-reel save from netminder Evgeni Nabokov that pushed the opposing Stars to leave nothing on the proverbial table against the Sharks.
“Nabby is a warrior,” Shelley said about arguably the greatest save in San Jose Sharks history. “He was so focused going in the games and so locked in and competitive. It’s a shame we didn’t win that game. After that big save, I just remember being stunned and impressed, but not surprised.”
Wilson & McLellan
Starting out with an expansion team, getting to know coaches may have been more difficult for Jody Shelley in the early part of his NHL career. With the Blue Jackets, the former tough guy played under four different head coaches — Dave King, Doug MacLean, Gerard Gallant, and Ken Hitchcock. Yet, Shelley is grateful for the coaches that he has had — at any level — but that went especially for his time in San Jose where he played first under Ron Wilson and then Todd McLellan.
“I’ve been lucky,” Shelley fondly reflected. “I’ve had a lot of great coaches but I really enjoyed Ron Wilson. He was a guy that was liked but also demanded a lot. But, when he moved on, I really enjoyed Todd [McLellan] because he was a no-nonsense guy. He also got to know us and cared about us, which was nice, too. So, those two guys were awesome in their own way but I thought that Todd was brought in to be a little more assertive. He did a really nice job of bringing some fire there and trying to hold more guys accountable in certain areas. He was a guy that really helped me understand that it’s important as a coach to get to know your players and you could see his effort there every day to get to know us and to try to get the most out of us.”
Speaking of McLellan, the head coach’s son, Cale, showed love for his father’s new team by regularly sporting a Sharks jersey. As for which player’s name and number he wore, it was none other than No. 45 and Jody Shelley.
“Yeah, that’s awesome that Cale used to wear my jersey,” an amused but honored Shelley said. “Obviously, a very impressive kid, even at a young age. Intelligent.”
Reflections of Jumbo Joe
Like so many former Sharks who had suited up for the franchise over the last decade-and-a-half, most, if not all, would have been remiss if they didn’t include a story involving the club’s longtime leader, Joe Thornton. For Shelley, his favorite involved his father and Thornton’s thoughtfulness.
“So many great Joe Thornton stories but my favorite happened as a result of an interaction that he had with my dad on the father’s trip,” Shelley began. “My dad invited the boys out to his house in Edmonton when we did the Western Canadian swing. Joe told my dad, Ned, that we would be there. So, sure enough, we got to Edmonton on a cold March evening and Joe asked, ‘Are we going to Ned and Doreen‘s?’
“I said, ‘Yes, 6 o’clock in the lobby.’
“So, I go down in the lobby, not knowing who is going to go and there was Claude Lemieux, Jeremy Roenick, Rob Blake, Joe Thornton, Ryane Clowe, and Douglas Murry. My dad and brother were there in separate vehicles and we went out to my parents’ house, which is 30 minutes away. My dad knocked the snow off the barbecue, had a few beers in the snowbank to keep them cool and we had a nice little evening.
“A good night my parents and family will never forget. But, it’s the thoughtfulness of Joe Thornton and the energy that he brings to the team that is infectious and appreciated every day we were around him. He didn’t forget that my dad asked him to come out two months earlier for a barbecue. He included anyone that wanted to go and we just had a nice, relaxing evening. He’s the best.”
A Wonderful Time
This writer cannot help but think that if Tony Bennett drove 50 miles south on the US-101 N, he would have sung how he left his heart in San Jose, instead. Heck, that would have been a song that so many former Sharks would have on their playlists, Jody Shelley included.
For some players, being traded for a sixth-round draft choice may not spell promise for their future with their new team. That may have been the case for Jody Shelley in early 2008 but his tenure in San Jose was a very successful one.
For the former Halifax Moosehead, his contributions went a long way, helping the San Jose Sharks to 108-, 117-, and 113-point seasons in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively, although he was traded to the New York Rangers late in the latter season.
Overall, Jody Shelley cherished his tenure in San Jose — a time he continues to think fondly of.
“Well, it was a special time in my life,” he emphasized. “My son, Owen, was born there out in Los Gatos, at the Good Samaritan Hospital there. It was an important time in my career because we had a team that should have won the Stanley Cup.
“So, looking back, it was a special locker room that I was a part of, a special group of people. I’m sure a lot of them felt disappointed that we couldn’t [win the Stanley Cup] but I was amazed at the fans, the organization, the South Bay area, how we were treated by that organization. The people in that community were second-to-none.
“I look back and I’m proud not only to be part of the San Jose Sharks but part of that community. It really is something that makes me proud to be able to say that. So, I think that my whole family is proud to say that we were a part of that organization.”
He may have plenty of fond memories of his time with the Sharks, but one memory in particular stood out for the Shelley family, making their arrival to the Bay Area that much easier.
“The way they treated us — I mean, Rosemary Tebaldi, she’s still in the office there, she sent my wife flowers on the first day we got traded and that, to me, seems like a small thing but it was massive,” Shelley beamed. “So, we were very proud to have been a part of the Sharks family and thrilled to be a part of it.”
One of the few players to compete at both the major-junior level and in the Canadian University ranks (for Halifax’s Dalhousie University), there’s no doubt that the undrafted Jody Shelley has an undying passion for the game of hockey.
In his 12-year NHL career, which also included three seasons in Philadelphia, the 6-foot-3 winger played in 137 games for the San Jose Sharks over three seasons. During that stretch, he collected 285 penalty minutes, dished out a whopping 249 hits, and scored three goals and 11 assists.
After retiring in 2013, Shelley returned to Columbus where he worked in the Blue Jackets’ front office. He now works with the Blue Jackets as a broadcaster while also being an ambassador for the club’s alumni association.
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