The 1997 San Jose Sharks-Los Angeles Kings Brawlfest: A Look Back

John PhenAnalyst IIINovember 1, 2010

Shark captain Todd Gill and LA captain Rob Blake hash out the details
Shark captain Todd Gill and LA captain Rob Blake hash out the details

The San Jose Sharks still have a lot of hockey in front of them this year, having most recently beat the Ducks 5-2 at home in a feisty game. It always seems that the intrastate matchups between the three teams in Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose seem to bring out the best and worst of the franchises.

Despite the 21 combined penalties and 12 fighting majors, this game was not even close to being the biggest Shark game as far as fights goes.

My vote for the biggest brawl in Shark history would take us back in time, to look at a February 5th match-up as the Sharks welcomed the Los Angeles Kings to the Tank.

The 80th NHL regular season of the National Hockey League would put the All-Star game in San Jose, a terrific achievement for such a young organization still trying to find its way both on the ice and off.

This game stands out in many ways in my memory, but before touching upon the game, who can forget this memorable season?

The Zamboni's still Yahoo purple and yellow, decaf coffee was still the reason our beloved team existed, and downtown San Jose was a shadow of its now-proud self. Although the Sharks were still plenty bad as far as the standings were concerned, this team had plenty of leadership, heart and determination.

The Sharks would host the All-Star game, and team leader Owen Nolan would record a hat trick, with the third and final goal being a called shot against Dominik Hasek. On October 18th the Sharks would score three short-handed tallies in a 4-1 win against the then "Mighty" Ducks of Anaheim.

The Sharks would draft promising yet troubled blueliner Andrei Zyuzin and Marco Sturm in the first round. Although this team had talent, it mostly relied on outworking the opponent in the then "dead-puck" era. Despite some promise on paper, this team largely struggled, finishing last in the then-seven-team Pacific Division.

This Kings team had just seen their cornerstone and greatest hockey player of all time moved in Wayne Gretzky. The Sharks would welcome many ex-Kings to the fold, including Tony Granato, Marty McSorley, Kelly Hrudey and Bernie Nicholls.

The Sharks (19-27-5) would welcome the Los Angeles Kings (19-28-6) to the Tank, and most of the game would be what you call a normal hockey game between two rivals.

That is, until the 10:49 mark of the 2nd period, when enforcer Matt Johnson would hit Andrei Nazarov from behind, running him into the boards. Johnson would then proceed to take his stick and try some on-the-fly facial modification on the fallen Russian. The Sharks would take notice, and all hell proceeded to break loose from there.

I recall attending this game, and despite being seated on the opposite side of the arena, mayhem does not begin to describe what transpired that night.

Owen Nolan would decimate Barry Potomski with two clean shots until eventually falling to the ice. Potomski clearly wanted no further interaction with Buster, as they would both get back up and wearily hold onto each other.

Interestingly, the Sharks would pick up Potomski a year later, and he would appear in just nine games before being sent down to the Kentucky Thoroughblades.

Dan Bylsma would attempt to hold off Iafrate, who clearly wanted Johnson instead. Bylsma would have to settle for a brief tussle with Greg Hawgood before being seperated by the officials.

Matt Johnson would actually throw linesman Andy Mckelvin to the ice before engaging Andrei Nazarov while evading Iafrate.

The Planet would finally find some prey, falling poor Mattias Norstrom of the Kings shortly after Nazarov would take Johnson down to the ice. Norstrom would not receive a fighting major during the lengthy melee.

The stat sheet for this game could probably wrap around the Tank a few times had you actually printed it out. It took the announcer a good 3 minutes of rattling off names and penalties before the roar of the crowd would die down.

You could have opened a hockey store with all the equipment left on the Zamboni end of the ice that night.

The Sharks would go on to prevail 3-2 in a whirlwind of a game, which would set a franchise record for penalty minutes in a game that would stand for another 9 years.

There are quite a few degrees of seperation for either team and the players on their roster that night. Rob Blake being the obvious choice, donning the teal and the C more than 10 years later. The horrible finish under the brief and forgettable tenure of Al Sims led directly to the drafting of Patrick Marleau with the second pick overall.

Taken with the first pick overall that year? Current Shark captain Joe Thornton.


Game Notes :
Andrei Nazarov - game misconduct and fighting
Matt Johnson - match penalty for his creative stickwork, game misconduct, fighting major.
Owen Nolan - game misconduct and fighting
Barry Potomski - game misconduct and fighting
Greg Hawgood - game misconduct and fighting
Dan Bylsma - game misconduct and fighting
Al Iafrate - instigator, misconduct and game misconduct
Mattias Norstrom - misconduct and game misconduct
Jan Vopat - misconduct
Viktor Kozlov - misconduct
Tony Granato - game misconduct, cross-checking minor