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30 Sharks: Johan Garpenlov & the Crossbar

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San Jose Sharks Johan Garpenlov
Credit: Ryan Cowley

Part of the San Jose Sharks’ first great playoff success, Johan Garpenlov reflects on the highs and low of his career in teal.

En route to their dismal finish in their inaugural season, the San Jose Sharks acquired a key veteran late in the year who would ultimately help the club make the playoffs.

In Mar. 1992, San Jose acquired Johan Garpenlov for Bob McGill and a 1992 eighth-round pick.

Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 1986, Garpenlov was a part of a promising team that had struggled mightily for two decades. Garpenlov had a promising start to his NHL career, scoring 18 goals and 40 points for the Red Wings in his rookie campaign of 1990-91. However, after just a goal and an assist in 16 games the following season, the native of Stockholm, Sweden was dealt to the expansion side.

Garpenlov made the most of his new opportunity, regaining his scoring touch in the Bay Area.

In a continuation of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, Garpenlov reminisces about his time in teal.

From Motown to the Bay

Being traded from a team on the rise like the Red Wings to the NHL’s proverbial basement-dweller in the San Jose Sharks doesn’t seem ideal. Johan Garpenlov, however, was excited for the opportunity to go to San Jose.

“I was very proud to be a part of an Original Six team and make it to NHL. My second year in Detroit was tough with not much ice time,” Garpenlov said. “For me, the trade was great. I got playing time in an offensive role with a great center, Kelly Kisio.

While his stay in Detroit may have been shorter than he would have liked, Garpenlov did not hesitate to give praise where it was due to two pivotal figures in his career.

“I have to thank [then-Detroit head coach and GM] Bryan Murray for believing in me,” the former NHLer reflected. “And [then-Detroit captain] Steve Yzerman for teaching me how to be an NHL player and how to prepare yourself to perform in the NHL.”

In San Jose, Garpenlov had an immediate impact.

After scoring 11 points in 12 games to close out the 1991-92 campaign, the former winger would follow that up with 22 goals and 66 points in 1992-93, his first full season with the Sharks. The club, however, finished the season with a dismal 11-71-2 record — but better things were on the horizon.

Constantine Takes Over

Shortly following their 24-point campaign in 1992-93, the San Jose Sharks fired head coach George Kingston, replacing him with 35-year-old Kevin Constantine, who brought to the team a new lease on life.

San Jose’s new bench boss would pay immediate dividends.

On a club led by one of Garpenlov’s childhood idols, first-year Shark Sergei Makarov, the Sharks flourished, squeaking into the playoffs with a 33-35-16 record.

“It was a great year,” the 52-year-old fondly reflected. However, if anyone thought that making the playoffs would be the highlight of that season for the Sharks, they would be in for a surprise.

The Sharks opened the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs with the inevitable task of playing the Western Conference’s top seed, Garpenlov’s former team, the Red Wings.

Overmatched on paper, the Sharks were barely given a chance to compete against the Red Wings. And nobody talked about San Jose actually pulling off the upset.

But the Sharks jumped out to a 3-2 series lead before getting blown out 7-1 in Game Six to give the Red Wings the chance to close out the series on home ice. 

Game Seven, tied score, just over six minutes to go in regulation, Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood, out of his net to play the puck, played it to San Jose’s Jamie Baker at the point. Baker fired it, Osgood couldn’t get back to the net, and San Jose suddenly had the lead. That was all the Sharks needed as they pulled off the monumental upset, eliminating the Red Wings.

“I played with my idols Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov, we made the playoffs and beat my old team, Detroit, in the first round,” Garpenlov recalled. “It was a great run with a tough ending when Toronto beat us in overtime. I had one shot that hit the crossbar in overtime.”

The Crossbar

Garpenlov is understating the moment — it wasn’t just any OT crossbar.

After toppling Detroit, the San Jose Sharks were up 3-2 again, this time against the Maple Leafs, one step away from upsetting another Western Conference power. Game Six was in Toronto on May 12, 1994, and just minutes into the first overtime, Garpenlov fired the goal that would’ve sent the third-year Sharks to the Conference Finals…off the crossbar.

Moments later, Mike Gartner sent Toronto to Game Seven, where they dispatched San Jose with relative ease 4-2.

Garpenlov hasn’t forgotten Game Six though.

Looking Back

When speaking to him, it was evident how grateful Johan Garpenlov was for his time in San Jose and for his contributions to a vastly improved Sharks team.

“For me, my time in San Jose was very important,” he beamed. “I proved that I could play in the NHL and be an important piece in a winning team.” 

When thinking about his favorite moments with the San Jose Sharks, Garpenlov immediately thought of the 1994 playoff run, which included playing with his aforementioned idols.

“My favorite memories were when we made the playoff and that run,” the former NHLer remembered. “I got to play with my idols, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov, and play in front of the best fans in the NHL. The Shark Tank was the loudest arena and that helped us a lot when we played at home.”

Following two solid seasons with the Sharks, Johan Garpenlov would be traded during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season to the Florida Panthers for a 1998 fifth-round pick. 

He noted: “I took that feeling [from the ’94 playoffs] to the Florida Panthers and got a similar role on a line with Scott Mellanby and Rob Niedermayer.”

Garpenlov became a key member of another surprising third-year franchise, helping Florida make the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. No matter that they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the Final.

“That Stanley Cup run in Florida was another great experience in my career,” the winger recalled.

Garpenlov would finish his NHL career in Atlanta and is now a Swedish Ice Hockey Federation executive.

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[…] — Remember Johan Garpenlov? The Sharks certainly do.  […]

[…] we went into the Toronto series, it took us to seven games and we were a crossbar away from winning,” Irbe noted. “So, even though our fortunes went in another direction, we were up […]

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