Adopted Anchor for the Offense
Canadiens' refugee looks to spearhead the Sharks' attack
Gary Swan, Chronicle Staff Writer Thursday, September 30, 1999
If a guy ever had life in a stranglehold, it figured to be Montreal Canadiens captain Vincent Damphousse. Well-spoken in French and English, the heartthrob of St. Catherines Street, possessing a great talent for hockey and playing for his hometown Habs.
So how did he wind up in San Jose?
Good luck, Damphousse insists.
Montreal was threatening to devour one of its own when Damphousse was traded to the Sharks just before the trading deadline in March. Stuck with a team that was a shadow of its former self, and in a system where he couldn't reach his scoring potential, it was time for a change, the 31-year-old center said.
Now he's the leader of the Sharks' offense, back doing the things he did in his heydays in Montreal and Toronto.
The weight of the Shark offense -- next to worst in scoring last season -- is on his shoulders. He wouldn't want it any other way.
``It's been on me since I started my career, so I don't expect anything different,'' he said. ``It's up to me to go back to the way I'm capable of playing offensively. I played a different role back in Montreal the last couple of years, but I've always been able to produce.''
Damphousse wasted no time making himself useful in San Jose after the trade. He had seven goals and six assists in 12 regular-season games, sparked the power play and played well in the playoffs. It was Damphousse who scored two breakaway goals against Colorado when the Avalanche were shorthanded in the third period of the fourth game to key the improbable Shark win that tied that series.
His scoring had dropped off dramatically before the Sharks landed him. After averaging 30 goals and better than 50 assists per season in his first 10 NHL years, he averaged 18.5 and 35 the past two. He was struggling with the Habs last season with 12 goals and 24 assists in 65 games.
But his role, he said, had changed as the Canadiens asked him to play more defense and lined him up on larger centers.
``I accepted it,'' he said. ``That's what they wanted from me over there. But coming over here I showed that I still have the hands, still have the speed. And sometimes a change will do you good. It's like starting all over again. And I feel like I can do it for a long time.''
The Sharks think so too or they wouldn't have given him a four-year contract in June that makes him the team's highest-paid player at an average of .65 million a year.
Coach Darryl Sutter concedes that Damphousse may have lost a little speed.
``Who hasn't between 21 and 31?,'' Sutter said. ``But we're a pretty fast team and he fits in with us real good.''
Damphousse has scored 30 or more goals five times during his 13-year NHL career and reached 40 once.
``I think he's a great playmaker,'' Sutter said. ``I also think he's underrated defensively. He can play a lot of minutes. He stays healthy. He's played in a thousand games, and he's only 31 years old.''
Sutter calls Damphousse the central figure on the team among the older group of players.
``Besides what you think he can do individually, it's what he can do to make the other guys better,'' Sutter said. ``The people around him last year began to understand that. We saw what he could do in the stretch run. We got him at an important time when it was borderline which way we were going to go, and he made a huge difference.''
With the Montreal role reversal of the last few years, observers says he's become more of a two-way center while still playing strong in the corners.
``Once you begin to check some big guys on the other team you learn to position yourself better,'' he said.
He thinks the Sharks have a solid shot of advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs this year.
``The key to it is positioning,'' he said. ``You don't want to play the top team right off the bat in the first round. (The Sharks) were always playing Detroit and Colorado.''
Off the ice, he's still adjusting to Silicon Valley.
``You don't get recognized outside the ice. That's been different for me,'' he said. ``I don't want to say that's nicer or worse. I think the best way to describe it is just different. In Canada, it didn't bother me to be recognized and it was flattering. At the same time it's nice to be doing your own thing and to have your privacy.''
But he wouldn't cringe should that change.