A veteran on a brand-new team, Steve Bozek shares his experiences playing for the expansion Sharks and what the team meant to San Jose.
When Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, the floodgates, in turn, opened for the surge of popularity of hockey in California. It wouldn’t be too long when the NHL had not one, but two more franchises in the Golden State, with the former being located in the Bay Area: The San Jose Sharks.
Not since 1976 had the National Hockey League had a team in northern California, dating back to the hapless Oakland Seals. However, there was new hope for hockey in the Bay Area after San Jose was granted an NHL franchise to begin play in 1991.
Of course, while the new team, the Sharks, sparked plenty of excitement — especially with their flamboyant teal uniforms — the on-ice product wasn’t much to write about right away.
In a continuation of San Jose Hockey Now’s celebration of the Sharks’ 30th anniversary, “30 Sharks”, I speak with Steve Bozek, who was part of the inaugural Sharks team.
Signed by the San Jose Sharks as a free agent in August 1991, Steve Bozek was bringing 10 years of NHL experience to the new club. However, being part of the NHL’s first expansion team since 1979 made for a fairly unique experience for Bozek and other Sharks’ players and coaches.
I asked the former King how it felt walking into the Sharks’ locker room being on the same page as everyone else.
“It was very different as everything was new for management, players, and coaches,” Bozek remembered.
Being 30 at the time, Bozek was one of the elder statesmen, if you will, of the expansion Sharks.
Along with veterans Doug Wilson (the team’s first captain) and Kelly Kisio, as well as long-time coach George Kingston, Bozek was brought to San Jose with the hope that his NHL experience would help the new team achieve at least moderate success.
“It was a learning experience and I think that the veteran players were looked upon for some direction,” the Kelowna, B.C., native added. “Unfortunately, it seemed pretty chaotic and I don’t think that as a team we gelled quite as quickly as everyone expected or wanted.”
The San Jose Sharks finished their maiden season of 1991-92 with a record of 17-58-5. While this may not have been a mark to write home about it, there were a lot of special things about the Sharks’ inaugural season.
The Cow Palace
Before San Jose Arena (now the SAP Center) was open for business, the San Jose Sharks spent their first two years of existence playing in the old Cow Palace in Daly City, bordering the southern tip of San Francisco.
Unlike most NHL arenas, though, the Cow Palace was very small for professional hockey.
With a seating capacity of just over 11,000 for hockey, the Sharks averaged just under 10,900 fans in their first season.
“The fans were terrific,” Bozek reflected.
As for their home arena, the Cow Palace wasn’t exactly ideal by the NHL standards. Still, there was something special about playing in a smaller building.
“The Cow Palace — or as Dennis Hull, our TV commentator, used to call it, ‘The Palais du Boeuf’ — was certainly not up to NHL standards at the time,” admitted Bozek. “However, being a smaller, older building gave the fans a more intimate view and experience of the game.”
Making It Up Away From the Rink
And while Bozek and the San Jose Sharks didn’t garner much success on the ice, the memories off the ice definitely made up for it.
“I’m almost embarrassed to say but unfortunately, most of the memories were off ice,” Bozek noted. “We had so many characters on that initial team that we needed to corral and many times couldn’t. I specifically remember a ‘team bonding’ cruise of the Bay that turned into a karaoke extravaganza for the ages.
“On the ice, it was a struggle. However, when we did win, it was a pretty exciting event for the fans and unfortunately also for the players.”
In 58 games for the expansion Sharks, Bozek would score eight goals and eight assists in what would be his lone season with the team.
After spending the following season in Italy, Bozek retired from professional hockey. Yet, while his brief time in San Jose may not have resulted in much success on the ice, Steve Bozek’s contributions off the ice definitely helped some of the team’s younger players compete at the NHL level. With that in mind, we celebrate Steve Bozek and his contributions to the San Jose Sharks.
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