A WELCOME ADDITION
The Sharks have been a perfect fit for Vincent Damphousse; the trick now will be getting him to stick around
Tony Cooper, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday, April 16, 1999
Vincent Damphousse is finding out playing for the Sharks isn't the same as being a Montreal Canadien.
He reported to San Jose Arena for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and the guard refused to let him into the building, unconvinced that he was a member of the Sharks. In Montreal, even the most obscure fourth-line scrub is mobbed by autograph hounds and assorted fans anywhere and everywhere.
``In Montreal, everyone is recognized,'' Damphousse said. ``It's a totally different atmosphere. I don't mind being recognized, it's flattering. But sometimes it's nice to go out and do your own thing and not have people watching you.''
So when Damphousse took advantage of a couple of days off this week, he enjoyed himself without interruptions. One day saw him trek down to Pebble Beach to check out the links -- he's a golf fanatic -- another found him in San Francisco, doing the requisite tourist stuff.
``I usually don't have a chance to see the sites,'' he said. ``We tried to visit as much as we can.''
The Sharks certainly hope Damphousse is taking note of all this, the ability to walk around in peace, work on his putting all year round and wearing shorts and no socks in mid-April. Try doing that in Montreal, Toronto or Ottawa. San Jose wants to use every advantage it has to ensure Damphousse sticks around for a few years, rather than bailing out of town when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
When the Sharks acquired Damphousse from Montreal on the March 23 trade-deadline day, they weren't outwardly concerned with the prospect he would be a ``rent-a- player'' for a few weeks. All they wanted was someone to inject some quick life into an offense that was nearly the worst in the league.
In 10 games with the Sharks, it is clear that Damphousse fits, and that keeping him around would be a wise move. He has seven goals and five assists, breaking in with a pair of goals at Toronto in his San Jose debut on March 24. Damphousse was initially teamed with Jeff Friesen and Joe Murphy, an old linemate during their days with Edmonton, and they clicked immediately.
``Obviously, he's been a great player in the league for a lot of years,'' Friesen said. ``He scores goals and plays defense -- it's an honor to play with him, a chance of a lifetime to play with him.''
Said right wing Ron Stern: ``It's an ideal situation. A good fit for both sides. It's what we needed and what he needed.''
Damphousse, 31, isn't saying much about his future, adopting a wait-and-see philosophy.
``I feel really good (in San Jose),'' said Damphousse, a center in his 13th NHL season. ``Because it's late in the year, all the games are important. You don't have time to get this boring, middle-of-the-season stretch. It's easy to keep going.
``After a couple of games, I was over it, especially the way I started. Things weren't going too good in Montreal. Maybe this is what I needed to get my career back on track.''
To be sure, his career was on the skids with the Canadiens. As a Montreal native, it was a dream come true for Damphousse to not only play for the Habs, but to be team captain. However, the modern Canadiens are no longer the Flying Frenchmen, but a below-average bunch that won't make the playoffs this season.
Unfortunately for Damphousse, all the ingredients were in place for him to become the poster boy of the Montreal ills: He's a French player, he was the team captain and he was doing next-to-nothing on the ice. They love their hockey heroes -- especially the French ones -- in Montreal, but when the fans come down on you, it's a no-holds-barred process. In 65 games with Montreal, he had only 36 points.
``Everything was negative around the team,'' Damphousse said. ``Being captain, I had to deal with that, and it was on my mind all the time. If you don't play good, they know right away and get on you. But it works both ways in Montreal. It was difficult to leave the way I did. That's business today.''
The circumstances which saw Damphousse join the Sharks for draft picks and future considerations were strange. Damphousse boarded a Montreal team flight for Edmonton, amid rumors he was gone. General manager Rejean Houle told him he'd been traded before the plane landed, so Damphousse flew back to Montreal on the chartered plane -- by himself. He then joined the Sharks in Toronto and was immediately tossed into the lineup despite getting little sleep.
``He's given us stability at (center),'' Sharks coach Darryl Sutter said. ``He's obviously given us a major contributor at the position.''
Damphousse, who has scored at least 30 goals three times and hit the 40 mark once, is now skating with Friesen and Owen Nolan at the wings. With Murphy teamed with Alexander Korolyuk and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks have two dangerous scoring lines. This wouldn't be possible without Damphousse.
``As much as he's complemented us, we've complemented him,'' Murphy said. ``The team has needed a center all year. He has brought leadership and play-making skill.''
So couldn't the lowly Canadiens use this guy? Houle told Damphousse before the trade that the Canadiens would be interested in re-signing him this summer. The Sharks know he will be a hot commodity, and they may have to ignore their reluctance to offer huge contracts.
``He's given a wonderful jump to the team,'' Sharks president Greg Jamison said. ``We haven't even gotten to the point (of worrying about keeping him). . . . Hopefully, it will take care of itself.''
Said Friesen: ``I hope he stays. It's his decision. He's played a lot of years and deserves the right to go where he wants.''
So far, so good, though things could change when offers from other teams start rolling in.
``We'll see how I like the team and I like the city,'' Damphousse said. ``And how the team likes me. If I like the city, I just might stay there.''
If he does, that San Jose Arena guard just might recognize him before long.