Unsigned free agent Patrick Rissmiller added a physical edge to the San Jose Sharks in the mid-2000s.
One of new GM Doug Wilson’s first signings, the Sharks signed the 6-foot-4, 225-pound winger in June 2003. After spending parts of two seasons between the NHL and AHL, the suburban Boston native became a regular fixture in the San Jose lineup by 2006-07.
While he may not have scored much — 18 goals and 27 assists in 180 games for the big club — Rissmiller made his presence felt in other areas for the San Jose Sharks, including being an ominous physical presence and a reliable defensive force.
In this installment of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, I speak with Patrick Rissmiller, who discusses his role with the Sharks, his relationship with the club’s then-head coach Ron Wilson, and how welcomed he felt in the San Jose locker room.
The Call to the Big Leagues
The date was November 12, 2003.
With the Sharks’ then-AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Barons, Patrick Rissmiller and his team were preparing for the latter half of their home-and-home series with the Rochester Americans when the big guy was called in to head coach Roy Sommer’s office.
The bad news: Rissmiller wouldn’t be making the trip to western New York.
The good news: He was going to Northern California instead.
“It was quite a shock, actually, being called up,” Rismiller admitted. “My first year, it was an American League deal, and then it turned into a two-way deal. I was kind of just going about my business in the American League, things had been going pretty well, and then the coach told me that I was called up. I mean, I was obviously very excited but very surprised and the first thing I did was call home after practice.”
In regards to being promoted, Rissmiller didn’t know what to expect, which turned out to be more of a blessing in disguise than anything else.
“As far as going [to San Jose], I was a little naive, which was probably helpful because I really didn’t know what to expect,” recalled the former left winger. “I was as excited as one can be. All of us hockey players dream of playing in the NHL. It was exciting, surreal, and I’m sure that day, probably a little bit of nerves. I do remember going out for warmups thinking, ‘Okay, here I am.’”
Upon his arrival, Rissmiller knew that he’d be playing limited minutes with his new team, which suited him just fine. After all, while he was naturally excited to get on the ice initially, the Holy Cross College alum admitted that when his nerves died down, it was business as usual.
“My role was playing on the fourth line but, and a lot of guys will say the same thing, that when you get out there, there’s so much build-up, but once you’re out there, all the nerves go away and you’re just ready to play,” Rissmiller explained. “My first shift was like, ‘Oh wow, this is cool,’ and then, I just kind of settled in. But, I didn’t play very much, so I spent a lot of time watching, which was fine, but, like everyone says, fun, surreal and a little nervous.”
Playing for Ron Wilson
Having taken over from Darryl Sutter in late 2002, Ron Wilson took over the head coaching duties in San Jose and had an immediate impact.
While he was unable to rebound his team from their slow start to the 2002-03 season, Wilson turned the San Jose Sharks around in the next year, his first full season with the club. After missing the playoffs in 2003, the Sharks reached their first-ever conference final thanks, in large part, to Wilson’s guidance.
As for Rissmiller, while he would only play four games for the Sharks that season, he would get to know Wilson following the 2004-05 NHL lockout, earning trust from his new bench boss.
“Ron was always very kind and good to me,” stressed the Belmont, Mass., native. “He spoke to me about my role and I knew what my role was. I knew I wasn’t going to be on the power play or getting many goals, so I was relied on for penalty kill, checking, and things like that, which was totally fine with me.
“He gave me a little bit of direction with it all and anyone who has played for Ron knows that he’s a pretty sarcastic person. I didn’t mind it. It didn’t bother me. I just knew that I had to work and do what was asked of me, and I’ll be okay.”
While he did benefit from Wilson’s coaching ways, the former Shark was quick to point out that he was given more attention from the Sharks assistant coaches.
“I know Tim Hunter and Rob Zettler, they were always good at giving me direction, where or how to improve, working on things after practice with them,” Rissmiller said. “But, Ron was good to me. I mean, [San Jose is] where I got my chance and luckily, it worked out for me.
“Ron’s a very smart person and I know he was a little ahead of his time with some of the film and tech stuff, so that was pretty interesting, too.”
Probably the most difficult aspect of Rissmiller’s time in San Jose wasn’t related to any sort of unpleasantness or misfortune. Instead, the 42-year-old had most trouble pinpointing who his favorite teammate was. Simply put, there were too many great teammates to choose just one.
“Oh, you could go right down the list,” Rissmiller said laughing. “From Jumbo [Joe Thornton] on down — Patty [Marleau], Ryane Clowe, Mike Grier — the list is endless. I don’t know if it was being in California and just being a somewhat laidback lifestyle but they were all great in the room. Everyone loved being there.”
Like many of us, entering an unfamiliar social atmosphere — whether it’s a new job, a party, anything — can be daunting to say the least. First impressions are key in these situations and for Rissmiller, his introduction to the San Jose Sharks could not have been more auspicious.
“I remember walking [into the Sharks locker room for the first time] and the first person I saw was Jumbo and he just made you feel at home,” he fondly reflected. “He set the tone right on down for all the guys, the list goes on with just how great the guys were.”
For the former winger, though, it was the unassuming nature of the locker room that made him feel at home right off the bat.
“It was pretty comforting when you got in there,” Rissmiller added. “They really made everyone feel welcome and comfortable, whether you’re a call-up or a rookie, 10 games into your career or 500, everyone was treated the same, which was very helpful and appreciated.”
While he may have been hard-pressed to pick just one teammate as his favorite, Rissmiller would have been remiss had he not shared a Joe Thornton story — one that helped ease the youngster’s arrival to San Jose.
“When I was called up [again], not too long after Joe was acquired by the Sharks [in Nov. 2005], I showed up to practice early the next day, or what I thought was early,” Rissmiller remembered. “I wanted to make sure I had time to get settled in, tape sticks, get comfortable et cetera. So, I think I am early and the first person I see when I walk in the locker room is Jumbo and he’s taping his sticks. He stops what he is doing and shakes my hand, says something [along the lines] of, ‘What’s up, bud?’
“Then, he says, ‘Hi, I’m Joe. What’s your name?’
“Now, in my head, I am thinking, “Yeah, Joe, everyone knows who you are.’
“I respond, saying, “I’m Patrick. Nice to meet you.’
“Joe being Joe says, ‘Patrick? No no no, what do they call you? What’s your nickname?’
“So, I tell him that most call me Riss or Rizzer. He says, ‘Great. Nice to meet you, Riss, and welcome.’
“Here is this future Hall of Famer, as outgoing and down-to-earth as one can be, making sure he stops to say hello and welcome me and help make me feel comfortable. It is just how Jumbo is. Down-to-earth, fun, and easygoing guy.”
While he did establish himself as a physical presence, Patrick Rissmiller could also contribute offensively when needed. In particular, the winger scored a pivotal goal to kick off the 2007 playoffs.
In Game 1 of their opening-round series against the Nashville Predators, the Sharks went back and forth with their opponents all game long.
Down 2-1 early in the second, the San Jose Sharks scored three unanswered goals to take a 4-2 lead. Late in the third, though, the Preds scored twice — with the equalizer coming with just 51 seconds remaining — to send the game to overtime.
The game remained at a standstill after one extra frame. But then, at the 8:14 of the second overtime frame, Patrick Marleau entered the offensive zone and found a streaking Rissmiller, who beat netminder Tomas Vokoun to give the Sharks a 1-0 series lead.
Rissmiller shared his memories of the game, beginning with Nashville’s late equalizer.
“As far as the double OT goal, well, I certainly remember all that led up to it,” noted the former Shark. “I had a couple of chances to clear the puck, but to avoid icing and thinking I had some time to make a pass to Mike Grier, that is what I tried to do. Unfortunately, [the Preds] kept the puck in and eventually scored.”
Few would have blamed him for being rattled, but the Holy Cross alum, with the help of his coach and teammates, shook it off and got back on track.
“But, in the playoffs, short memory is a great and necessary thing,” Rissmiller added. “But, I was definitely in the dumps after that, and I remember the coach and some players trying pick me up during intermission. So, I know I did not see a regular shift in the first OT. I think they may have tried, but I was not there mentally after the turnover. So, obviously, I sat for some time.
“The second OT, I think I had had one shift and got hit pretty hard, but that seemed to help me out. Then, I think it was only my second shift of the second OT when the goal happened.”
As for the events leading up to the goal, Rissmiller remembered it like it was yesterday.
“I remember Grier passing across the ice toward me and Patty Marleau,” he recalled. “I knew Patty was on my left, so I let the puck go to him and continued up the ice. Patty made a great pass behind their D right on my tape, and I knew I was closing in on the net, so I just tried to get the puck up and quickly. I think I may have surprised their goalie and it ended up going in between his arm and body — seven-hole I think it is. The goalie was a lefty, so that was to my advantage.”
Then, the coup de grâce.
“When I saw it go in, I was so pumped and excited that we had won,” Rissmiller beamed. “And, it was obviously a huge relief mentally to atone for my earlier mistake too: A dual sense of joy and relief and felt fortunate I was able to bail the team and myself out.”
Patrick Rissmiller would remain with the Sharks until 2008 before making stops in New York, Atlanta, and Florida. Then, after two seasons in Italy, Rissmiller would hang up his skates in 2015. He would join the New Jersey Devils as a development coach soon after — a position he still holds today.
While he had his share of highlights in his hockey career, Patrick Rissmiller would be remiss if he did not acknowledge his career with the San Jose Sharks. After all, getting his NHL start with the franchise is just one reason why the big man has a special place in his heart for the Sharks.
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