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When the Sharks and Maple Leafs battled on Oct. 30, it was much more than just another early season contest. It marked the return of Patrick Marleau, providing one of the most poignant and powerful moments in Sharks history.
Marleau had been at the core of the team for 19 years, delivering countless thrills with his speed and skill. He played a total of 1,493 games in teal, racking up 508 goals and 1,082 points. And playoffs drove those numbers higher.
The Sharks selected Marleau, then 17, as the second overall pick (right after the Bruins nabbed Joe Thornton) in the 1997 Entry Draft. Marleau was raised on the family farm just outside the tiny town of Aneroid, in Saskatchewan. But the bright lights of the NHL didn’t faze him.
Though even as a teen, he was electrifying on the ice, he was unassuming, soft-spoken and polite, never displaying any sign of ego. Even after decades of stardom, Marleau remained as humble and genuine as ever.
He played key roles in the Sharks greatest achievements, including Western Conference Finals appearances in 2004, 2010 and 2011, as well as the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.
On Oct. 30, Marleau played his first game at SAP Center wearing another jersey — that of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom he signed as a free agent in July. At the time of that decision, Marleau cited several factors, including his belief in Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. With Babcock, he had won Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014.
“He’s got a great track record,” Marleau said upon signing a three-year pact with the Leafs. “That’s part of the lure of going to Toronto and playing for him. I am going to be pushed. And I look forward to the challenge.”
Joining a roster that includes such ascendant superstars as Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri also appealed to Marleau. He said, “They have great young guys, a group that wants to get better every day. To be a part of that, to feed off that, to help them get to another level, helped me in making this decision.”
Having just passed the 1,500-game mark, Marleau, 38, hopes that he will finally fulfill his dream of hoisting the Cup. With Babcock (who won with the Red Wings in 2008) and these Young Guns, it’s very possible. Marleau is already viewed as something of a national treasure in his homeland. If he helps the Leafs capture their first Stanley Cup championship since 1967, he will undoubtedly be embraced by Canadians as a true hockey god.
Marleau, who holds almost every offensive record in Sharks franchise history, remains a beloved figure amongst Sharks fans. When he came back, as his wife Christina and four sons looked on, a video tribute played on the San Jose SAP Center message board. The crowd, standing, cheered loud and long, chanting “Patty! Patty! Patty!” Marleau was visibly moved.
After the game, which the Sharks won, Marleau said, “It was extremely special, to get an ovation like that and see all the signs and everything. It was just really humbling at the same time. It was great to see. It was something special, something I’m always going to remember. They showed me great support through my time here and then, especially tonight, was really special. It was extremely special to be honored like that by the Sharks and the organization and the fans. I’ll never forget it.”
Auston Matthews said of Marleau, “Obviously he’s a new teammate, he’s only been here for a couple months, but he’s made a huge impact on all of us, as a player and as a guy off the ice.”
Coach Babcock said, “It was obviously really special for him. He’s earned the right to have that ceremony by being such a good human being, by playing so hard and by doing such great things for so long here. So he should take it all in and enjoy it, because not many people get to experience something like that in their lifetime. I thought it was moving to say the least.”
His former teammates had kind words, as well. Joe Thornton said, “It was really great. I had a tear in my eye. You spend so much time with him, he’s like a brother.”
And Marc-Edouard Vlasic said, “He’s Mr. Shark. He always will be.”
Despite the result on the scoreboard, for Patrick Marleau, it was definitely a night to remember. It won’t be his last at the arena in San Jose. Surely there will be a night in the future, after he has finally hung up the skates, when his Sharks jersey, number 12, is lifted to the rafters.