As told to: Joe Pack
Drew Remenda is now a broadcaster with Sportsnet but previously worked with the San Jose Sharks as both a broadcaster and assistant coach for over 20 years. He coached Doug Wilson, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan and was part of the staff in the team’s first NHL season, 1991-92.
GAME ONE: SHARKS VS. CANUCKS – Oct. 4, 1991The great thing about coaching with George Kingston is that he was the calmest guy I ever met in my life. I didn’t know what to expect, I was 29 years old, had an Arsenio Hall-type jacket on that was the same colour as the ushers and hadn’t yet admitted that I was going bald.
We were right in that first game against Vancouver. When Craig Coxe scored the first ever goal for the Sharks, Dean Lombardi turned to me and said, “Are you kidding me? Craig Coxe is forever going to be etched in the record books?”
Dean Evason took a penalty late in the game and it was a horrible call. Vancouver scored to win it. In the dressing room after the game, I walked over to Dean — who says this is the moment that cemented our friendship — and I said, “horseshit call.”
I went back to the ice and grabbed a puck for Jeff Hackett who made 48 saves that night. He was lying down on the training room table and I put the puck on his chest and said, “Buddy, it’s the game puck, you deserve it.” He picked it up, threw it back to me and said, “I’ve seen enough pucks tonight.”
Not long after that, we played Pittsburgh and they’ve got everybody. Mario Lemieux was sporting a bad back at the time but he flew in on this road trip just to play us. We lost 8-0 and as we left the ice, we got a standing ovation from the fans. I said to George, “Well, that’s pretty nice.” He said, “Yeah, we keep playing like this, how long do you think that’s gonna last?”
Twelve days later, the Penguins crushed the Sharks again, 10-2, scoring eight goals in a period.
Doug Wilson brought us instant credibility. He was an NHL All-Star, he was at the end of his career and yet he was still Doug Wilson. He had the chance to go to a lot of different teams; Pittsburgh wanted him because he was an offensive defenceman. He could have had a shot at a Stanley Cup but he decided to come to San Jose because he wanted to give back to the game. He wanted to help grow the game in an area that didn’t have hockey; he wanted to be part of something.
He mentored Pat Falloon, did a lot of work to help Link Gaetz; he was everything you could ask for in a captain.
He was in a coma for a while in the hospital and Doug Wilson was at his bedside all the time.
I remember the first meeting we had; I’m 29 years old and I don’t know jack about jack. I think I do but I don’t. We’re sitting there with all the coaches and the training staff. We get to Link Gaetz and the GM, Jack Ferreira, said, “I’m gonna tell you right now: we’re gonna talk more about this guy than all of our other players combined.” But they believed in him, Dean Lombardi especially. He had the body of an Adonis, he had a hard shot and he could skate. He was a good hockey player. Unfortunately, the demons in his life were far more powerful.
At the end of that season, there was a short players’ strike and Link was in a car accident and was thrown through the windshield. He was in a coma for a while in the hospital and Doug Wilson was at his bedside all the time. When I talk about Link I get sad because of his potential.
Link fought Bob Probert early in the season and after the game, assistant coach Dave Lewis of the Wings comes over to me and says, “the kid’s tough.” Probert came by and said, “give him credit.”
He was very mature, at a young age, as a player. His hockey IQ was exceptionally high. You didn’t have to really coach Sully. He was the type of guy who would come to me and ask for a video to be made of his shifts.
In 1994-95, we played Calgary in the playoffs and he was playing on the Flames. He scored a hat trick in a 9-2 Flames win.
You didn’t have to really coach Sully.
I was there for almost 20 years and you can’t be in an organization for that long without developing some really great friendships. I’m proud of the fact that so many guys from that team went on to stay in coaching; Rob Zettler, Dean Evason, Mike Sullivan, Paul Fenton — now the assistant GM in Nashville. We were part of something pretty cool back then.
Even though, in those first two years, we lost 100 games quicker than anyone in the history of the NHL, those are two of the best career years of my life.
JOE PACK is a freelance writer based in Toronto and a rec-league rent-a-goalie.
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