SAN JOSE, Calif. — Patrick Marleau woke up in his own home in San Jose and drove to the rink to prepare for a hockey game just like he has done countless times during his stellar career.
Only this day was much different.
Marleau was the opponent in the Shark Tank for the first time in his career Monday when he returned to the arena he starred in for 19 seasons.
When he arrived for the morning skate for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he turned right to head to the visitors’ dressing room rather than his customary left turn to go to the Sharks’ room. The differences from his previous routine became even more stark when he squared off against his former teammates following an emotional pregame ceremony.
The Sharks played a video tribute to Marleau and he received a loud ovation that lasted nearly 90 seconds from the fans, who chanted “Pat-ty! Pat-ty!” Players from both teams tapped their sticks in appreciation as the spotlight shined on Marleau and he waved to the crowd.
“It was extremely special to get an ovation like that and see all the signs and everything, just really humbling,” Marleau said after Toronto lost 3-2 to San Jose. “They showed me great support through my time here. It was humbling to be honored like that by the Sharks and fans. I’ll never forget it.”
Marleau left as a free agent this summer when Toronto gave him an $18.75 million, three-year deal while San Jose was unwilling to go past two years. He has four goals and three assists in his first 11 games with the Leafs.
Marleau watched scores of teammates come and go during his two decades in San Jose and now has a greater appreciation for what that is like after changing teams for the first time in his career. His wife, Christina, and four sons who were all born during his time in San Jose also made the move but came back for this trip.
“You always knew for players changing teams and families that obviously it could be hard. But until you go through it, you don’t know how hard it is and what those guys are going through away from the rink,” he said. “Just having a taste of that you get a better respect for guys having to do that during the season.”
Marleau has watched many teammates over the years have homecomings and one that stood out was when Joe Thornton returned to Boston less than two months after being traded to San Jose. Less than six minutes into the game, Thornton was ejected for checking Hal Gill from behind.
“I’ll try not to do that,” Marleau said.
Marleau will always be remembered as a Shark, the team he joined after being drafted second overall in 1997 as a 17-year-old from a small town in Saskatchewan.
With a low-key demeanor, quiet voice and blazing speed, Marleau developed into one of the top players in the league in his 19 seasons in San Jose. Marleau left as San Jose’s career leader in games played (1,493), goals (508) and points (1,082). Only six players in NHL history have played more games for one team than Marleau did with the Sharks.
“He’s Mr. Shark. He always will be,” Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “Nobody will ever pass him. I always thought there’ll be one number retired in the organization and it’ll be No. 12.”
Marleau helped the team reach the Western Conference finals in 2004, ’10 and ’11 and then was a key part of the franchise’s only trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 when the Sharks lost in six games to Pittsburgh. The Penguins celebrated that title in the same visiting locker room at the Shark Tank that Marleau used for the first time before a game.
“He’s earned the right for this tribute,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “They didn’t just give it to him here. He earned it by being a good man and good player and doing it for a long time. So he should take it all in and enjoy it because not many guys can experience what he’s going to experience tonight.”
It wasn’t always happy times for Marleau in San Jose. He often took the blame for early playoff exits and was stripped of the captaincy following a first-round playoff exit in 2009, which came after a regular season when the Sharks won the Presidents’ Trophy.
But he was always a fan favorite, including last season when he scored 27 goals, including the 500th of his career.
“Obviously, he deserves all of the accolades he’s going to get tonight and it’s important for the organization, our players and the fans to pay tribute to his contributions here,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “They’ve been immense over the last 20 years. I think everyone’s looking forward to it. We’ll get past that and hopefully get a win.”