With 7:00 left to play in the third period Thursday night and the Sharks leading the reigning Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings 4-1, a larger-than-life image of new coach Todd McLellan appeared on the big screen above center ice, and fans at the sold-out Shark Tank began cheering.
The fans knew and appreciated what was unfolding before their eyes.
McLellan’s team held on for a 4-2 victory over his old team and coach Mike Babcock, his former mentor and boss. On this night, the student beat the mentor and the San Jose Red Wings, as some are bound to call the Sharks, beat the Detroit Red Wings.
You know what? McLellan shunned the spotlight as if it were radioactive.
We’re learning more and more about the Sharks new coach as the season moves on. This week we learned that he’d rather play goalie without a mask than accept credit for the accomplishments of those who play hockey for a living.
He’s not ego-lite. He’s ego-less. Or at least that’s the way it seems. In this era of big egos and bigger salaries, that's remarkable.
In a span of three days, the Sharks beat Pittsburgh and Detroit, the reigning conference champions. Yet when asked if it was “rewarding” for a rookie coach, he poured ice cold water all over that story line.
“Not for the coach. For the players,” McLellan said. “It’s about the players. It’s not a reward for us as a staff. They’re the ones that are sweating and beat up and bruised. They did a pretty good job tonight.”
Many of McLellan’s players said they were happy they could give their coach a win over his former team. But he relentlessly downplayed the personal accomplishment.
“It’s a win. It puts us two points ahead of the team behind us,” McLellan said. “I’m pleased. Not for myself. Everybody’s making this out (to be) about me. It’s not about me. It’s about the players. It’s nice to know that they want to play hard for the coaching staff. It’s their team. I hope that by the time we get to the end of the year that we can take a step back and they get out there and do their thing and really they don’t even need us. And that will be a sign of a championship team.”
The Sharks under McLellan are dropping plenty of hints that they just might be a championship team this year. Winning back-to-back games over Pittsburgh and Detroit certainly made an impressive early-season statement. They held the Penguins and Sidney Crosby to 11 shots. The Red Wings had scored 28 goals in their previous six games before facing the Sharks.
Granted, the Red Wings had a tough overtime loss Wednesday night at Anaheim while the Sharks rested. And Detroit started backup goalie Ty Conklin. Even so, this was an impressive win and an impressive double dip.
“I think we have respect around the league as a good team,” forward Ryan Clowe said. “I think we showed this year we’re probably ready to take the next step. “We played the runners-up. We played the Stanley Cup champs. It was a huge win for us. Not only are they Stanley Cup champs. We stole their assistant coach. It was a big night for him.”
Well, at least that’s the rumor. McLellan never admitted as much to the press or his players. And he certainly didn’t play the win-one-for-the-coach motivational card.
“He didn’t mention it at all,” Clowe said. “I think he was probably sick of hearing that. But we knew. We knew the impact. We were pleased. I’m sure he had a smile.”
Well, maybe when no one was looking.