Sunday, May 8, 2016

Leave it to Patrick Marleau to come up big in the playoffs

By Larry Wigge

The San Jose Sharks needed Patrick Marleau. They needed him to step up and give the team some life in the series against the Nashville Predators.

San Jose coach Peter DeBoer asked Marleau to move up to the second line with Logan Couture and Joonas Doskoi be picked them up.

Marleau started the scoring with a terrific short side drive and at the end of the second period put an exclamation point with a pass to Joe Pavelski for his second goal, ending a 5-1 Sharks victory and a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference quarterfinal series.

"I thought it was Patty's best game of the series, and that line was excellent all night," DeBoer said. "Some changes work ... and tonight that change worked."

The goal by Marleau was his third of the playoffs, giving him 62 -- it is second only to Jaromir Jagr's 65 among active players. But the pass he made to Pavelski from behind the net was simply too good.

"He spotted me and gave it to me at just the right time," said Pavelski. "It was off his stick and on mine."

Marleau still love playoff hockey.

"I love playoff hockey, when it's all geared toward your team winning," he told me. "I'd like to think that's when I'm at my best."

Marleau is 36, but could probably play, if he wants to, until 40 or in his 40s, he still got the great speed.

"I wish I could skate like him," said Couture. "He's just so explosive. He'll outskate a lot of defensemen, outside speed. Wins a lot of puck races."

So often, it's been Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau over the years. Thornton, who was the first player picked in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, by Boston, while Marleau was No. 2. It stayed that way until November 30, 2003, when Thornton was traded to San Jose and Marleau was there at the airport to great Joe.

Marleau, you see, is the quiet star, not like so many of the others over the years.

"You can look for someone who has a loud voice and big persona. But players look for someone who is a quiet leader, someone who knows the right thing to say ... and when to say it," explained Thornton. "Patty plays hard EVERY DAY -- at practice and in the games.

"He's an example for all of us to follow. You want someone who symbolizes that work ethic."

Marleau was in the moment in Patrick Marleau has really grown up since he left Aneroid, Saskatchewan (population 56), that tiny farming community in Western Canada as a 17-year-old to pursue a professional hockey career in 1997.

He's accumulated more that 1,000 points and much, much more over the years.

"It's funny, but I remember watching this kid with so much potential, so many skills, as a junior player," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said, breaking out in a wide smile. "We were sold on his character and the type of person he was, but the total package is what we drafted."

There may not be any more 30-plus goal seasons like the seven the 6-2, 220-pound forward produced in his first 18 seasons. This season, the 6-2, 220-pound forward had 25 goals. But ...

"This guy is one of the best players in the last 10 or 15 years," said DeBoer. "He's in great shape. I think last year was a bit of an aberration. He's come out with a lot of other guys to prove that."

"Marleau is big, strong and fast. Give him a step and he's gone," Predators defenseman Shea Weber told me.

In the moment ...

You can predict certain things from watching a 17-year-old player. But the intangibles that translate into a leader normally can be traced back to a player's upbringing. For Patrick Marleau, that's being brought up by Denis and Jeanette, his parents, whose farm in tiny Aneroid concentrates on cattle, grain and wheat.

"I'll never forget those days when we would come home from school, get our chores done and then go out to the dugout, shovel off the snow and play hockey until it got dark," Marleau said. "School, chores and then hockey. That's what my dad always reminded my brother, Richard, and me."

It was a culture that breeds hard work and solid citizens.

There’s a post office, a general store that serves gas, a grain elevator and Shaw's hotel, which has seven guest rooms in Aneroid. But there's no stop light and the nearest high school was more than an hour away in Swift Current.

"I'll never forget where I came from. Never," Marleau said recently. "I remember when I left for San Jose hearing my dad say, 'Son, never forget your roots.' "

Marleau paused and kind of hinted that Aneroid will always be a part of him. Like learning to skate in the dugout -- where the cattle would go for water. When the water would freeze over, Patrick and Richard Marleau had some really competitive games of one-on-on. They also became good friends with the caretaker of the local skating rink.

"We called him Tony Zamboni," Marleau recalled. "We were always knocking at his door. I think he would wait for us sometimes, then would let us in."

Sort of like Patrick Marleau's own little Field of Dreams story -- at the dugout and the their own little skating rink in town.

"I was small until I was 15-16, something like 5-9, 5-10," Marleau recalled. "Then I had a spurt, when I was 16 and grew to 6-0, 6-1. I felt bigger and stronger and more confident."

Now, Patrick is one of the most difficult players in the NHL to game plan because of his size and speed.

Never once has Patrick Marleau lost that little boy’s desire. He'll never forget that shoveling the snow off the dugout so he and his brother could skate after school. He'll never forget getting personal access to the town rink thanks to Tony Zamboni.

Marleau may still have little boys’ dreams of scoring the winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but he's all grown up now.

Hard work is something Patrick Marleau is not allergic to. And that drive and competitiveness all started back on that 1,600 acre farm in Aneroid, Saskatchewan.

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