Everyone’s eyes will be on the ice sizing up the San Jose Sharks’ first matchup against a familiar face – Evander Kane – but there’s another former Shark in town with the Edmonton Oilers, and he’ll be behind the bench.
Jay Woodcroft, a former Sharks’ assistant coach is the newest head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, taking the place of Dave Tippett when Tippett was released earlier this month.
Woodcroft’s introduction to the head coaching gig was prompted by anything but on-ice success; Tippett had won just seven of the last 23 games, and the Oilers’ slow spiral down the division standings was painful. The Oilers won their last game, Woodcroft’s first as a head coach, 3-1 over the New York Islanders, but the rested Sharks may prove to be a different beast.
After spending seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks as an assistant coach, Woodcroft remembers this team well. Woodcroft began his tenure with the Sharks in 2008 as part of then-head coach Todd McLellan’s staff. When McLellan was released from his duties in April 2015, Woodcroft (along with Jim Johnson and Brett Heimlich) were also fired. Just weeks later, Woodcroft joined the Oilers organization alongside McLellan in June 2015.
However, Woodcroft isn’t a stranger to facing some measure of the Sharks organization in a head coaching position. In 2018 Woodcroft was named the head coach of the Oilers’ AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors.
And despite Woodcroft having departed the San Jose Sharks organization almost seven years ago, veteran Sharks still remember Woodcroft’s presence in their midst. So much so, that Logan Couture remains in semi-regular contact with him. According to Couture, who had reached out to Woodcroft when he was with the Bakersfield Condors, Woodcroft felt that head coaching was his “true calling.”
Woodcroft looked back fondly on his time in San Jose, and everything he learned while working with the club this morning: “It was my first opportunity to be an assistant coach in the NHL, and I’m very thankful for that opportunity. I made a lot of really good friendships in the city of San Jose, and made a lot of really good player-coach relationships…And I think anytime you’re around players of that caliber you can learn…and as a young coach, I was all ears and tried to learn as much as I could, not only from our coaching staff but also from the quality of players that we had here at the time.”
Meanwhile, Couture remembered Woodcroft’s emphasis on work ethic, “A lot of early practices, and post-practice work. [He’d] have guys outside the box and working on little parts of their game…he always had the drive to learn and teach.”
Former San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski is a part of the current captain’s memories as well: “Him and Pavs would be out 30 to 35 minutes before every practice, just trying to get better.”
Pavelski himself expressed similar sentiments per a 2018 interview with The Athletic: “He’s always someone you liked to talk to. He always has something for you, trying to help you improve. That’s all you can ask for – someone you trust and someone you believe is on your side and is trying to help you out.”
Pavelski and Couture weren’t the only players from Woodcroft’s time with the Sharks who have remained in contact with him, congratulating him on his promotion.
“We had some special teams over that timeframe and players like Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle…have definitely reached out,” Woodcroft shared. “I’m thankful for them thinking of me.”
But it’s not just Woodcroft’s demeanor that makes him so memorable. From Couture’s perspective, a team working under Woodcroft isn’t too dissimilar from McLellan’s approach, given how long Woodcroft and McLellan have known each other and worked together. Those are hallmarks the San Jose Sharks will have to keep an eye on tonight.
“Good special teams, hard-working, and smart with the puck,” Couture said, “and trying to outwork the other team every night.”
San Jose Sharks (22-20-4)
The San Jose Sharks are seeing a few changes in how their lineup is structured ahead of their return from vacation after being away from the ice for 13 days.
Head coach Bob Boughner has chosen to sit Jeffrey Viel in favor of Jonah Gadjovich for their matchup versus the Oilers, saying, “He played really well against Tampa Bay…and to be honest, Gadjovich is a guy that wasn’t here with the [Evander Kane] saga. Obviously, it’s going to be an emotional game tonight, a physical game tonight. I like the fact that he has no chips in the game when it comes to relationships or friendships or anything like that.”
Lane Pederson also made an appearance on the power play in practice, largely due to his right shot, “The right shot is big, because we can run plays off that one side, and there’s always certain things you can’t do when you have five lefties. Or, it makes it tougher.”
Noting that Rudolfs Balcers is under consideration for a PP role, Boughner added: “There are other guys that we need that play heavier minutes…guys that aren’t necessarily power play guys but are going to see important minutes on the defensive side of things and penalty kill, so just trying to spread ice time out. A guy like Pederson isn’t killing a penalty, so if we can get him a few minutes on that second unit being a right shot, we think that’s the right plan.”
These are how the lines have shaken out in practice, but they are subject to change ahead of puck drop. James Reimer will get the start:
#SJSharks lines at morning skate:
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 14, 2022
Practice in the sunshine state ☀️ pic.twitter.com/GCWsa6VtbP
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) January 28, 2022
Edmonton Oilers (24-18-3)
The Oilers have won their last game but are sitting at just fifth in the Pacific Division, three points ahead of the San Jose Sharks:
It *appears* Woodcroft will go with 11F/7D again tonight in San Jose:
Hyman – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Kane – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Foegele – Nugent-Hopkins – Ryan
Benson – McLeod
Nurse – Bouchard
Lagesson – Ceci
Niemelainen, Broberg, Barrie rotating on third pair
— Tony Brar (@TonyBrarOTV) February 14, 2022
Where to Watch
Puck drop between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks is at 7:30 PM PT at the SAP Center. Watch it live on ESPN+, Sportsnet 1, and NBC Sports California. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.
Sheng’s Travel Fund
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