Sharks' Underappreciated Star
Ross McKeon, Chronicle Staff Writer Sunday, November 11, 2001
Chicago -- During a recent game, a Sharks forward rose from the bench and stood poised to jump back on the ice. Center Vincent Damphousse -- remaining seated - - tapped his linemate, motioning him to quickly sit back down.
Damphousse was just as ready to change on the fly, but he didn't want to tip the opposing bench that San Jose's top line was about to start another shift.
It's like tipping your hand at poker. Show what you're going to do and the opponent is sure to send out its top defense instead of possibly someone else. Get the right matchup and it's sure to work to your advantage.
"He's really hockey smart," Sharks coach Darryl Sutter said of Damphousse. "He picks things up on the bench right away. In a lot of ways he's like a coach out there."
Since his arrival via trade with Montreal on March 23, 1999, Damphousse arguably has been the most significant pickup in franchise history.
"Vinnie's game is so underappreciated, even in San Jose," Sutter said. "Everybody looks at (Owen) Nolan, (Teemu) Selanne and (Evgeni) Nabokov, guys like that. But the things Damphousse does night in and night out don't get enough attention."
Damphousse's importance was best illustrated last season, when the native of Montreal, due to turn 34 next month, incurred the first major injury of his 15-year NHL career.
Damphousse led the team with 46 points through 43 games, and the 26-11-6 Sharks were threatening to dethrone perennial Pacific Division champion Dallas when it happened. Damphousse sustained torn ligaments in his dislocated left shoulder during an awkward fall after colliding with Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom.
Surgery followed three days later, and Damphousse's streak of appearing in all 156 regular-season and playoff games since the trade was over. He missed the next 37 before returning in the season finale to ensure appearing in the playoffs even if he wasn't 100 percent.
The Sharks fell into a second-half funk, scoring on average a half a goal less per outing and managing a 13-15-6-3 record without their alternate captain. The Stars ran away with the division again.
Fortunately for San Jose, Damphousse is back at full strength this season. And he's back to producing in impressive fashion: tops on the team in goals (nine), points (15), faceoff-winning percentage (53 percent) and tied for most game-winning goals (two).
The best Shark to date?
"Not even close. And right from Day 1," Sutter said. "You think about it, Vinny was an All-Star last year but couldn't go. Nobody talks about that."
Damphousse doesn't talk about it much, either. He'd rather look around the room and talk about the team he sees. At this point of his career, matching the 1993 Stanley Cup title he won in Montreal is what matters most.
That's why when he recently saw Selanne replace longtime linemate Nolan at right wing, Damphousse knew it was a move made to improve the team.
"Changes are not unusual in hockey," said Damphousse, who has 1,060 points in 1,149 career regular-season games and another 82 points in 111 postseason outings. "I've been fortunate to play with Owen on a regular basis for almost three years now. When you have a Selanne or Nolan on your line you cannot complain. We have the luxury of having two of the top five right wingers in the NHL right now so it's a plus for sure."
And the Sharks have one of the league's classiest pivots in the league, even if Damphousse won't admit it.
"Everybody looks at numbers, but he's good all-around and pays a price every night," Sutter said. "He does everything."