After a sluggish start to their existence, the San Jose Sharks not only made the playoffs in their third and fourth years (1994 and 1995) but pulled off shocking opening-round upsets in both years. Things appeared to be looking up for the franchise, but the Sharks suffered a sharp decline in 1995-96, finishing 20-55-7. It was clear that changes needed to be made, and there were.
Near the conclusion of the 1995-96 campaign, the general manager duo of Chuck Grillo and Dean Lombardi were separated. Grillo was out while Lombardi stayed, beginning a crucial rebuild that saw the Sharks improve points-wise for six-straight seasons.
In addition to the club’s improvement, Lombardi signed and traded for some established veterans while shrewdly drafting a slew of untapped and somewhat unappreciated talent.
Among the latter group was a youngster from Dingolfing, Germany named Marco Sturm.
Taken 21st overall by the Sharks in 1996, the 17-year-old forward was taken in hopes of being a cornerstone to Dean Lombardi’s rebuild — and he lived up to the promise.
To kick off my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now — to celebrate the San Jose Sharks’ 30th anniversary, we’re talking to 30 former Sharks — I speak with Marco Sturm, who reflects on Lombardi as well as head coach Darryl Sutter, who helped change the culture in San Jose, as well as recounting some of his fondest memories with the franchise.
Being Enamored by… the Logo
For NHL fans and future players overseas, different teams stand out in different ways. In the early 90s, for example, the Los Angeles Kings were associated with Wayne Gretzky or the club’s silver-and-black color combination, the New York Rangers were associated with Mark Messier or Brian Leetch, and the Montreal Canadiens with being the most storied, successful franchise in NHL history. For the San Jose Sharks, they weren’t nearly established enough to be associated with much.
For Marco Sturm, though, there was something that stood out for him when thinking of Northern California’s newest team.
“I knew the Sharks because of the great logo they had — to me, it was always one of the best — and it was a new team and I didn’t know anything else,” the former winger said with a chuckle.
Sturm continued, reflecting on when he was drafted and how lucky he felt being selected by the Sharks.
“Coming from Germany, everything was kind of new for me,” Sturm noted. “But, going into the draft, getting interviewed by Dean Lombardi, who was very supportive, I knew there was a lot of interest, but then I got picked in the first round by trade to go to San Jose. It was like a dream come true and I was very excited.
“Looking back, I couldn’t even ask for a better spot to start a career like San Jose and that’s thanks to the Sharks, to Dean Lombardi, of course, and to Darryl Sutter, who gave me the opportunity right away.”
Full-Time in San Jose
While he was drafted in 1996, Sturm chose to play the next season in his native Germany for EV Landshut. By the time Sturm had moved to North America in 1997, though, the Sharks had gotten progressively better.
Fresh off drafting Patrick Marleau second overall and trading for reigning Conn Smythe winner Mike Vernon, the Sharks were ready to take the next step — and having Sturm was paramount to that success.
“I came there as a young kid and what Dean Lombardi was always big on was bringing in veterans with some young kids but also with good characters,” remembered Sturm. “For me and Patty Marleau at that time, and Jeff Friesen, it was great because we had so many older guys, so many veterans on our team over the years where we learned so much and we got better every year and even in the playoffs.”
As for what else was new in 1997-98 — aside from Marleau, Vernon, and Sturm — was a new head coach in the aforementioned Darryl Sutter.
“We changed the whole atmosphere in San Jose and you could feel it,” Sturm emphasized. “And as I said, it was a good thing with a lot of good players with a lot of good characters and it definitely helped me grow as a player, especially having a coach like Darryl Sutter.
“He taught me right away how to be a better player, how to work hard in this league, how to survive in this league, and also I became a better person, as well. So, it was great.”
The Sharks returned to the playoffs in 1998 after a two-year absence, despite finishing the campaign just under .500. Still, Sturm and company celebrated a 16-point improvement, good enough for fourth place in the Pacific.
Memories as a Shark
After helping the club improve points-wise in six-straight seasons, Marco Sturm would suffer a minor setback with the Sharks as the team missed the playoffs in 2003. Individually, though, Sturm’s 2002-03 campaign was a success, achieving a career-high 28 goals and a then career-high 48 points.
The following season, though, Sturm, despite playing only 64 games, was instrumental in leading the Sharks to their first-ever 100-point season before making their first-ever Conference Final.
As one can imagine, picking out just one or two favorite moments from a seven-plus year tenure can be difficult. Sturm, though, knew exactly what those moments were.
“Two things come to mind,” the 42-year-old began. “First of all, my first NHL goal. It will always be a big highlight in my life and my career. Sitting out the first game and then coming into the second game and I got the game-winner coming from the penalty box, that was really special, especially for a kid from Germany.
“The other thing I always kind of look back on is that the Sharks are like a family. The team, the organization, it’s like one big family and something I really enjoyed.
“With the team [the Sharks] have, or had, but the crowd and the rink, how loud it gets in there, I really enjoyed it.
“When I got traded [to Boston], it kind of helped me going into some tough buildings, especially in the playoffs, to succeed. So, for me, that was a huge factor and still at this point. Unfortunately, not right now because of COVID, but San Jose is definitely one of the toughest buildings in the league to play in, especially in the playoffs, because the team, the crowds, and the building, the Tank is definitely a special place.”
Of the six NHL teams he suited up for, Marco Sturm spent the vast majority of his career with the San Jose Sharks. In 553 games for the club, the German scored 128 and 145 assists for 273 points.
During his time in San Jose, Sturm proved to be a solid asset for a franchise during one of its most pivotal periods in their history, showcasing his sharp puck-handling skills and establishing himself as a special teams weapon with his blazing speed. In fact, it was a sad time for the Sharks when they traded the speedster to the Boston Bruins in Nov. 2005. So, even though San Jose did receive superstar Joe Thornton in the deal, parting with Marco Sturm was no less painful for those in Northern California.
In addition to his role with the Sharks and his playing career overall, Marco Sturm takes a lot of pride in being from Germany.
At the time he was drafted, Sturm’s native country was not considered even a minor threat on hockey’s international stage. That, however, has changed since Sturm’s playing days as Germany has produced a plethora of solid NHL talent like Jochen Hecht, Sturm’s future teammate Marcel Goc (more on him later), highly touted rookie Tim Stützle, and superstar Leon Draisaitl, with the latter two each being drafted third overall.
Currently, Marco Sturm is back in California where he is serving in his third season as an assistant coach for the rebuilding Los Angeles Kings.
He was a great player, had established him as a great coach and just a great man overall. Marco Sturm has prided himself on all of these areas and has no plans of slowing down any time soon.
So, as we look back on 30 years of the San Jose Sharks, we take pride in recognizing and celebrating Marco Sturm.
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