- Editor's Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng
The rebuilding Sharks must start somewhere, so how about with the right mindset?
Over the last two seasons, a Sharks player has received a special plaque after every win. Granted, there haven’t been many those lately, with just 28 over the last 106 games.
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But the message on the license plate-like award describes exactly what the Sharks are trying to do:
Alternate captain Mario Ferraro brought that message with him from, of all places, Iowa, where he played for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers in the 2016-17 season before the Sharks drafted him. Des Moines coach Dave Allison was the originator of “Any Boys.”
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“We had the Fall Classic in Omaha,” Allison told San Jose Hockey Now in May 2021 of the league-wide event that kicks off every USHL season. “We had to get up every morning at 6 o’clock. We’d get McDonald’s. We played the early game because we’d bus back to Des Moines.”
Under those circumstances, Allison adopted the slogan that season, and Ferraro ran with it.
“Any Boys, that’s something that we, as a group, created an identity for us at the beginning of the year, to be a team that competes as hard as we can,” Ferraro said in 2021. “No matter the circumstances. We’re tired. We’ve been on the road. We had a late game. We got in late last night. It don’t matter, right? No matter the team, no matter the place, we give it 110 percent.”
That attitude worked for those Bucs, who made the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
So, how did “Any Boys” make its way to the Sharks’ locker room?
“It was just a little joke from last year,” Ferraro recently said. “And then the trainers and equipment staff made a plaque for it. So, now we hand it out to the player of the game.”
Said Sharks coach David Quinn: “It's not [just] given to the guy that gets the most points. It's about the guy that contributes to a victory in different ways.”
Most recently, that was Jacob MacDonald on Saturday, for his two goals against the New Jersey Devils, and Justin Bailey on Monday, for his clutch assist against the Washington Capitals. It’s also been Mackenzie Blackwood for his 38 saves against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 7, Tomas Hertl for his goal and assist against the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 9, Givani Smith for his goal and assist against the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 16, and Mikael Granlund for his goal against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 25.
Ferraro explained that the previous winner hands it to the new winner, and for Smith, it was a sweet moment. As San Jose’s enforcer, he has the often-thankless job of watching his teammates’ backs, and the 5-to-10-pound plaque was their way to say thanks to him.
“It's a good feeling to have the boys like that on my side,” he said.
It was an especially sweet moment for Bailey, a 28-year-old winger who fought through shoulder injuries in consecutive minor league campaigns to make it back to the NHL on Monday after sitting out last season.
“It's been a long journey,” Bailey said. “Once I start to get rolling, there's been a couple of injuries that have set me back. It's been a couple of years since I've been back here. Anytime you get the plaque or the game puck or whatever it is, it's always a nice feeling.”
Of course, it’ll take more than good intentions to pull the Sharks out of their doom spiral. But maybe, just maybe, they’re playing their way out from their disastrous 0-10-1 start – they are 6-6-1 in their last 13 games.
And in the big picture, just maybe, youngsters such as William Eklund and Fabian Zetterlund, among others, are learning the mindset that one day will help them lead the Sharks back to the playoffs, as Ferraro once led his USHL team.
“It's kind of funny, but it actually makes sense,” Ferraro said. “Any team, doesn't matter who we play, doesn't matter where we play, doesn't matter when, we got to be ready to go. That should be our identity as a team.”
And what does Allison think of his old message making the NHL?
“That is cool,” he said. “These trials and tribulations, that's where you find friendship. That's where you find guys you can trust.
“It's something really to build on with what they're going through. Anybody, anytime, anywhere. That's how we all have to look at life.”