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Marleau: ‘That’s the greatest honor, to be able to be the first one up there.’



Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Like many a great explorer, Patrick Marleau didn’t really know anything about where he was going, he just went.

“I didn’t know much about San Jose,” Marleau recalled, when the San Jose Sharks selected the teenager second-overall in the 1997 NHL Draft. “I think in my head, I had a vision of just a lot of beach, a lot of sand, a lot of palm trees.”

What Marleau discovered instead – land-locked San Jose is about an hour’s drive from the Pacific Ocean – is a home, in the city of San Jose, and now, up in the rafters of SAP Center, as the first player in San Jose Sharks history to have his jersey retired.

That honor is not lost on Marleau, who skated for the Sharks from 1997 to 2017, then again from 2019 to 2021.

“That’s the greatest honor, to be able to be the first one up there,” he admitted. “Nobody else is gonna have that honor.”

Besides Marleau, I spoke with Shane Doan and Denis Potvin, both also the first in their respective franchises to have their jerseys retired, to get a better sense of what that honor means.

But first, you have to be a pretty good player to get your jersey retired. And Marleau was more than just pretty good.

“It was one of those things that I’m like, that’s not fair. You can’t be stronger, bigger, and faster than everyone on the ice,” Doan, who played more regular season games against the Sharks than any other team over his own illustrious career, said of the 6-foot-2 Marleau. “If you designed the perfect stride, it was probably him and Scott Niedermayer were the two guys that everyone wanted to, in our era, wanted to skate like.”

Marleau retired as the NHL All-Times Games Played record holder (1,779). He’s also the San Jose Sharks franchise record holder in a myriad of categories, 1,607 games, 522 goals, and 1,111 points, chief among them.

“And yet, when he turns and you talk to him after [some highlight-reel goal], he’d have that absolutely perfect smile, kind of sheepish and aww shucks smile,” Doan laughed.

That’s a commentary on the type of person that the San Jose Sharks wanted to honor with a jersey retirement first.

The hard-working and loyal Doan, whose number was retired by the Arizona Coyotes in Feb. 2019, is certainly a reflection of that franchise, as Marleau is to the Sharks.

“Patty’s an example of being more than just a hockey player. In the community, who he is as a person, [that’s] the type of people that you want to be around,” Doan said. “Absolute constant, consummate professional hockey player that just does, not just the fancy things really well, but every part of the game. A complete player and a complete person and there isn’t anything that you kind of want [more].”

Something Doan, Potvin, and Marleau also share?

Doan was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1995 and made the move when the franchise set roots in Arizona the next season.

He’s now part of a Coyotes front office that’s trying to secure the franchise’s future in the desert with a new arena. But there’s no doubt that the Coyotes wouldn’t have got this far without a standard bearer like Doan.

Potvin was drafted first-overall in the 1973 Draft by the New York Islanders, after their inaugural season.

“The franchise really was just starting,” Potvin noted. He’d go on to win four Stanley Cups and three Norris Trophies over a 15-year career, all spent on Long Island.

So to see his name go up in the rafters in Feb. 1992 was certainly a testament to establishing something long-lasting from the ground floor up.

“Being the first-overall draft pick, being the one that goes up to the table and picks up the Stanley Cup as captain of the team, all of those moments, really all came together in that one ceremony. That’s what I really thought about, kind of a quick vision of everything that happened as an Islander, and how great it all was,” Potvin said. “That added to it quite a bit for me.”

In 1997, Marleau came to a franchise that was just entering its seventh season of existence and coming off back-to-back years out of the playoffs. Over the next two decades, the San Jose Sharks would only miss the playoffs twice, and make four Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final. From 2009 to 2014, the Sharks enjoyed a 205-game sellout streak.

“It was just surreal. Just flashes before your eyes, everything I did led up to that moment,” Marleau said after his jersey retirement. “Just all flashed before me, all that hard work finally paid off to be able to be the first to have the jersey retired in San Jose Sharks history.”

For Marleau, his jersey retirement was validation for what he and teammates established in what was a fledgling hockey city.

“When I first came here, obviously it was a newer team,” he said. “It’s grown over the years.”

“Patty was here way before me,” long-time teammate and fellow franchise standard bearer Joe Thornton, who joined the Sharks in 2005, said, “but I think we created something here that was special.”

And that might be Marleau’s crowning achievement in San Jose, more than anything. Case in point, Sharks Ice, where the team practices, which has grown from two sheets to six since it opened in 1994. It’s now the largest one-roof ice facility west of the Mississippi River.

“I get a taste of it with my boys when I’m at the rink, to see how many kids are jumping out of their cars with their hockey bags, getting ready to go on the ice,” Marleau mused about taking his four boys Landon, Brody, Jagger, and Caleb to hockey practice. “It’s a hockey town, for sure.”

And it’s Marleau, as much as any other San Jose Sharks player, who put San Jose on the hockey map.

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