When the San Jose Sharks were down, they turned to Wade Flaherty. The netminder responded by guiding the club to a shocking playoff upset.
Drafted in the ninth round of the 1988 Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, Wade Flaherty had his work cut out for him if he wanted to play in the NHL. Following the conclusion of his major-junior career, the native of Terrace, B.C., made a couple of stops on the semi-pro circuit before joining the Kansas City Blades of the International Hockey League in 1990 and ultimately, the San Jose Sharks.
In 1990-91, the Blades were an independent team coached by former NHL netminder Doug Soetaert. The following year, the team became the minor league affiliate of the expansion San Jose Sharks with a new bench boss: Future Sharks head coach Kevin Constantine.
By the end of San Jose’s inaugural 1991-92 campaign, Flaherty would have three NHL games under his belt, but wouldn’t join the Sharks again until the 1994-95 season. That was when Flaherty established himself as an NHL goaltender.
In this edition of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, I speak with former Sharks goaltender Wade Flaherty, who shares his favorite moments with the franchise, as well as his relationships with Constantine and his then-goaltending partner, Arturs Irbe.
Two Goalies, One Goal
When the Blades became affiliated with the expansion Sharks in 1991, there were changes made in Kansas City. Among the changes were in goal. While Wade Flaherty remained with the team, the club made some changes in goal, which included the addition of an undersized, but hard-working, netminder from Dynamo Riga by the name of Arturs Irbe.
Flaherty and Irbe hit it off right away. In 1992, though, the San Jose Sharks called Irbe up for good and then Flaherty a couple years later. Even in the NHL, while the competition between the two was palpable, the duo always pushed each other to be their best.
“We had a great relationship and a competitive relationship,” Flaherty remembered. “We wanted each other to play well but we also pushed each other to play well.”
The goaltending tandem’s respect for one another, however, was not limited to what happened during games.
“We were actually roommates, and as roommates, we’d have a lot of conversations about the game that we played or the game that we were about to play and we would talk about different players and such — normal goaltending talk like that,” Flaherty elaborated. “What was interesting is that we were roommates, so we did have that strong bond.”
Playing for Kevin Constantine
Before he became the San Jose Sharks’ head coach in 1993, Kevin Constantine was getting his feet wet in Kansas City. Flaherty and his teammates immediately benefitted from Constantine’s systematic, organized coaching style. In particular for Flaherty, Constantine helped the netminder establish a career-changing confidence.
“I liked Kevin,” the former netminder beamed. “The one thing about Kevin was that he played a very [systematic] game for us, and I remember a time in Kansas City, I was struggling a bit as a goaltender, it was early in the season and I just couldn’t get anything going, and he just stuck with me and kept going, kept playing me, and eventually, I turned it on which was a big turning point in my career, actually. It was in ‘92, I think, give or take, but my point is that he helped with my career in that sense because he showed the confidence as a head coach.”
For Constantine, it wasn’t just a case of sticking with his netminder. The future Sharks bench boss would do little things along the way that aided his goaltender’s confidence significantly.
“As a young goaltender, things weren’t going well, obviously, but he would put notes in my stall, ‘Be the first star tonight,’ and stuff like that,” Flaherty reflected. “So, he was a huge part of me as a young goaltender learning to navigate the early-goings of a professional career.”
Playoff Shocker in Cowtown
After playing the entire 1993-94 season in Kansas City, Flaherty would begin the 1994-95 season with the San Jose Sharks. Yet, while the season was abbreviated to 48 games due to the NHL lockout, Flaherty was nonetheless thrilled to be with the big club, sharing the duties in goal with Irbe.
Despite a less-than-stellar 19-25-4 record, the Sharks just eked into the playoffs, finishing a single point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings to make it in.
In the playoffs, the Sharks opened against the Calgary Flames, but down 3-2 in their series, Constantine made a gutsy move, calling on the backup Flaherty to replace Irbe in Games 6 and 7.
Flaherty led the Sharks to back-to-back wins to take the series, including a thrilling finish in Game 7 on May 19, 1995.
“The double-overtime Game 7 is probably my most favorite memory of my professional career,” Flaherty fondly reflected. “Any time you get to go to double-overtime in Game 7, I mean you play that in street hockey growing up.”
While rested, some would worry that any goalie in a backup role would be rusty. Especially given the elevated magnitude of a playoff game, particularly when facing elimination, a new netminder thrown into the fire, so to speak, is nothing short of an unenviable task. This was exactly the case for Flaherty in 1995. But, of all the emotions running through the netminder, being nervous was not one of them.
“Not so much nervous I would say I was excited,” Flaherty said of how he felt starting Game 6. “But that is a way I would calm myself, by saying I was extremely excited to play rather than, ‘Oh boy, I’m nervous.’”
As for Game 7 — in enemy territory in Calgary, no less — Flaherty’s memories were fresh.
“I do remember Game 7, how things were going well until late in the game when [the Flames] scored two [to tie the game],” the former netminder recollected. “I remember thinking, ‘I can’t give up another! No way! This is our game,’ and we made it to overtime.”
As the deciding game entered overtime, the goalie-turned-coach admitted that his memory is a bit more fuzzy, but recalls the most important points nonetheless.
“From there it was a bit of a blur,” Flaherty said. “I remember our D were getting fatigued, so I was just trying to control and freeze everything I could. Also, the crowd noise was crazy loud, so communication with the D was tough.”
Flaherty and company, though, to their tremendous credit, hung in there and eventually, things went their way.
“We made it through the first OT and I think we as a team settled down and regrouped in the intermission, came out, got a couple of chances, and scored on a shot I don’t think anyone saw coming,” Flaherty said of Ray Whitney’s series-winning goal.
It was a quick, surreal moment. Then, Flaherty and the Sharks realized what had just happened.
“I was in disbelief for about a second then it hit me,” Flaherty recalled. “Game 7…we just won!”
The Sharks advanced to the second round with the thrilling victory, setting up a 1994 playoff rematch with the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately for Flaherty and company, they couldn’t replicate their success against Detroit from the previous year as the Red Wings swept San Jose in four straight games.
Back to the Start
While he would go on to make stops in Long Island, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Nashville, Wade Flaherty holds a special place in his heart for San Jose, a city and a team that gave him his first crack at the NHL.
The current Winnipeg Jets’ assistant coach remembered his first days with the San Jose Sharks:
“I’ve got to go back to my first game and that would have been back during the inaugural season of the Sharks.
“And if we go back and remember, I think there was a threat of a lockout and the players ended up doing a small strike or something.
“But, long story short, the league started back up and San Jose had three games left in the season and the majority of the season I spent in Kansas City. So, they called me up for the final three games of the year with my start being in Edmonton, and then, we went to Calgary — I’m essentially going through my first three starts now — and then we came back to the Cow Palace. That was my only home game of the three, and ironically, we played the Winnipeg Jets.”
Transitioning from Player to Coach
After retiring as a player in 2009, Flaherty took a few years before entering the coaching ranks. Then, in 2011, upon the franchise’s re-location from Atlanta, the former netminder joined the Winnipeg Jets’ coaching staff, serving as the club’s goaltending coach until 2018 before becoming the team’s assistant coach.
While players becoming coaches may not be uncommon, it is nonetheless fascinating to learn why each individual takes the coaching route once their playing careers are finished.
Flaherty’s route was no exception:
“You know, I think you grow a lot and I always look back and remember different coaches — Kevin Constantine, Jim Wiley, your Doug Soetaerts, management — because you kind of change over to the coaching side of things and you look [as a coach] and say, ‘Okay, that’s what they were trying to do; this is the message that they were trying to send through,’ and you just go back and try to remember situations that you’ve had and you try to implement them into your coaching style, whether it’s through conversation or coaching style.
“So, that’s a part of it. I was young, obviously, when I was with the Sharks, but I’ve definitely gone back and thought of different ways to essentially tackle problems. So, ‘If my goalies were struggling with this, what would a coach have done with me back then?’, so I think what you’d do is you’d go back and pull past experiences — and some of those are with the Sharks and the Kansas City Blades — and you try and utilize every piece that you can use, that you can pull out from your career, to help further your young goalies or players that you’re coaching now.”
When looking at Wade Flaherty’s professional career, few can be unimpressed with the former netminder. His 19-year pro career has seen him make multiple stops in North America at different levels but for Wade Flaherty, few stops were more memorable than his time in the San Jose Sharks organization.
A successful player and now a successful coach, the former netminder has garnered a plethora of experience, and just as many memories, from his career in hockey. He was a part of one of the Sharks’ greatest moments and for that, both the franchise and Flaherty himself are extremely grateful.
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