Team building in NHL hockey takes many forms.
Prior to training camp or at some point in the first few weeks of the season, it’s common for players to get together in an official capacity, such as a sponsored golf tournament, or unofficially, like when the Sharks went to Lake Tahoe a couple years ago, to hang out and/or blow off a little steam.
The Sharks’ early five-game road trip afforded them a chance to all spend time together as a group for what was really the first time away from any distractions at home, as many of them were late to camp due to the World Cup. That was a difficult trip hockey-wise, though, with five games in eight days. There wasn’t much of an opportunity to think about anything other than the next game, and to prepare accordingly. Any extra-curricular activities would have to wait.
Even when they stayed over in Detroit at the conclusion of that trip, a decision by coach Pete DeBoer that went against standard protocol, it wasn’t really a great time to let loose. “There’s not much to do in downtown Detroit,” joked Tommy Wingels.
There’s a little more going on in Scottsdale, though.
The Sharks flew to Arizona on Sunday, a day earlier than usual for a Tuesday meeting with the Coyotes, to have a team dinner and do…well, whatever comes after that. It’s an annual tradition for every NHL team to have at least one such night together to do a little carousing. With a practice day set for Monday, there’s plenty of time for them to, shall we say, recover in time for the game.
“It’s huge for guys to get together and have some team bonding a little bit,” Joel Ward said. “You get to know some guys you may not, and especially some new guys coming in.”
The Sharks’ roster isn’t much different than last season, with the only additions being Mikkel Boedker, David Schlemko and Aaron Dell.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “Guys in here know each other really well. I don’t know if we can get any closer than where we are right now. But, [when] you have some new faces, it’s always fun to have a night [with] just the 23 guys on the team.”
DeBoer, for his part, is receptive to the group making such plans. He obviously had to sign off on going to Arizona a day early, and last season he allowed the Sharks to remain in Nashville the night after a game on April 2 when they didn’t play in Minnesota until April 5. (There’s more going on at night in Nashville than there is in Detroit, too, by the way.)
“[DeBoer has] been good with that. He just says give me a heads up of when you guys want to do something, and we’ll talk about it and make plans accordingly,” Vlasic said. “He’s been great this year, last year, and for the Phoenix trip to allow us to spend some time together.”
It’s clear, too, that there’s a level of trust that’s been built between the coaching staff and the players. The Sharks beat the Bruins 5-4 on Nov. 17, 2015, following their annual dinner last season, and blanked the Wild 3-0 on April 5 after spending that extra night in Nashville.
“Guys here are smart. They’ve been around long enough,” Wingels said. “This is a fun group, but this group is here for one reason, and we know what that reason is. … The most fun we have here is playing in the playoffs. That’s what we’ll look to do.”
Ward said: “[Our group] is not just a good hockey team, but we have a lot of great people, and I think that carries a lot of weight in our locker room and on the ice.”