Ranking the 5 Most Colorful Players in San Jose Sharks History
The San Jose Sharks have had many colorful characters wear teal since they entered the NHL in 1991. These players left their mark either on or off the ice by being a little different or having a big and unique personality.
In compiling a list like this, the length of time a player stayed with the Sharks has to be taken into account, as does the player's influence with the Sharks organization and the fans. Memorable moments, a different style and a player who changed the way the game is played or looked at all count for something here.
Keep in mind that a "colorful" player need not necessarily be an outstanding hockey player, although if two players are roughly tied on this list, the better player was given the higher ranking.
One of the toughest aspects of putting together a list like this is to limit it to the final five candidates. Feel free to comment on any Sharks player you feel belongs on this list or if you feel a player already included deserves to be ranked higher or lower. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.
5. Tomas Hertl
Sure, he's only played 37 games in a Sharks uniform so far, but Tomas Hertl has already made his mark on the franchise.
Hertl made his debut with San Jose at the age of 19. The Prague native barely spoke English, but he clearly knew what he was doing on the ice.
Anybody who watched Hertl's four-goal performance last October 8 against the New York Rangers saw the rookie's talent. His fourth and final goal was featured prominently on non-hockey sports shows and hockey highlight programs alike.
Best of all, Hertl had an aw-shucks attitude about the whole thing. He seemed to think his outstanding between-the-legs goal was no big deal, yet he also seemed to be enjoying himself on the ice.
While Hertl angered some old-timers in the hockey world with his showmanship, he drew many more fans to him with his exciting and brash style of play.
Injuries cut short his rookie campaign, but he has a bright future and should climb higher on this list the longer he plays in San Jose.
4. Al Iafrate
Al Iafrate spent two seasons with the Sharks in the late 1990s. Iafrate was one of the most colorful players in NHL history for his high-flying style on the ice and his independent thinking off it.
Iafrate had great size. He played at 6'3" and 220 pounds and had an explosive burst on his skates. He topped the 20-goal mark three times in his NHL career, which is impressive for a defenseman.
He earned the nickname "Wild Thing" for his flashy style of play and for his love of motorcycles.
Iafrate set a record during the 1993 skill competition during All-Star Weekend by shooting a puck 105.2 mph. That record stood for more than a decade-and-a-half.
Although Iafrate was only 30 when he joined the Sharks and injures slowed him down on the ice, he remained a colorful player during his time in San Jose.
3. Mike Ricci
Mike Ricci spent seven seasons with the Sharks and quickly became a fan favorite.
The Scarborough, Ontario, native became the ideal third-line center, winning key faceoffs, killing penalties and shutting down opposing team's top scoring forwards.
Ricci was capable of scoring the odd goal himself. Twice he scored 20 or more goals in a season with San Jose and once he added 19.
Ricci's work ethic and blue-collar style endeared him to Bay Area hockey fans. His long hair also made him stand out from the crowd.
He was a steady force for the Sharks on the ice and a very popular and colorful player off it.
2. Owen Nolan
Owen Nolan was a gifted goal scorer and a tough power forward. He also served as captain during his eight seasons with the Sharks.
While he had several great moments in teal, he also provided one of the most colorful moments in NHL All-Star Game history.
Nolan joined the Sharks early in the 1995-96 season. His most productive campaign came in 1999-00 when he scored 44 goals, the second highest total in the league.
Nolan also scored some clutch goals for the Sharks, including eight tallies in 10 playoff games in 2000.
As a power forward, he played a physical style. Five times during his tenure in San Jose, he topped 100 penalty minutes in a season.
His most famous moment, however, came during the 1997 All-Star Game. Nolan scored a hat trick in the game and famously "called" his third goal. He skated in on a breakaway, pointed at the top corner of the goal and then snapped the puck past goalie Dominik Hasek.
It was a memorable moment for an All-Star who was not afraid to be colorful on the national stage.
Link Gaetz was like a comet that flashed brightly across the sky before disappearing forever. He played in just 48 games for the Sharks back in 1991-92, but he certainly made his mark.
Gaetz was an enforcer. He scored six goals and 12 points with San Jose while compiling 326 penalty minutes (that's an average of 6.8 penalty minutes per game). At 6'3" and 240 pounds, he was an intimidating force on the ice who never backed down from an opponent. His toughness and size earned him the nickname "The Missing Link."
How tough was Gaetz? Former NHL enforcer Nick Fotiu, who tried to mentor Gaetz while he was still playing, told Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News, "He was the scariest hockey player there ever was. People talk about Gordie Howe being mean. But Link? He intimidated everybody, including his coaches."
But Sharks fans, who didn't see their team win too many games back in their early days, loved watching Gaetz drop the gloves.
Writer Valerie Wood, who wrote a novel in 2002 called Enforcer that was based on a player who resembled Gaetz, told Bryant Urstadt of ESPN the Magazine why. "He was so good-looking," Wood said. "Tall, blond, handsome. He had this mystique. He was exciting. Every shift you kept an eye on him, waiting to see what might happen."
Although Gaetz was only 24 when he played for the Sharks, he would never play another NHL game again after 1992. Several off-ice incidents derailed his career including a car accident that left him in a semi-comatose state for more than a week (Gaetz was a passenger). He later also was arrested for driving under the influence that same summer.
Gaetz wandered around the minor leagues after that, but no NHL team ever took a chance on the troubled enforcer.
In hindsight, Gaetz realized what caused his problems. "I think it boiled down to drinking," Gaetz admitted to Emmons. "Whenever I got drunk, I got into trouble. But now I'm clean and sober. It's been hard, but when your life gets worse and worse, the only thing left for you to do is quit."
The Missing Link didn't play in the NHL long, but anybody who saw him drop the gloves won't soon forget him and wonder what might have been.