By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun
Wednesday, January 5, 2000
As a member of the San Jose Sharks, Vincent Damphousse swims with the fishes, but he's no longer living the fishbowl existence he had in Montreal and Toronto
If Vincent Damphousse threw a used Kleenex over his shoulder in Montreal, it would set in motion two very different sequences of events.
A) Some wide-eyed kid in a Habs jersey would run up behind him, grab the tissue and treasure it forever. Within 30 minutes it would be hanging on his wall next to Shayne Corson's discarded bottle cap.
B) The media horde would catch wind of it within minutes and roast him alive for littering. In French and English. Reporters would be lined up six deep around his locker stall. The editorial cartoon would show him throwing garbage on Howie Morenz's grave.
And Damphousse wouldn't bat an eyelash at either fanatic display. He's used to being in the spotlight of a fishbowl, having spent his whole career moving from one hockey hotbed to another.
He broke in with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1986, had a cup of coffee with the Edmonton Oilers in 1991 and played seven seasons under the watchful eye of the Montreal Forum ghosts.
Three cities with 41 Stanley Cups between them.
Then he goes to the nine-year-old San Jose Sharks. A team with no history or tradition to speak of. A team that's never won anything. In a city where Damphousse could knock over a grocery store and none of the clerks could pick him out of a police lineup. And it turns out to be a marriage made in heaven.
"It was a good change for me,'' said the veteran centre, as the Sharks wrapped up their practice at Skyreach Centre yesterday. "It's a totally different situation. I liked my years in Montreal and Toronto. It's fun to be recognized and acknowledged wherever you go. But at the same time it's nice to have your privacy and in San Jose that's what you get.
ENJOYS WEATHER AND LIFESTYLE
"The games are sold out every night. But once you leave the rink, you don't get recognized on the street. Most of the people don't know the players by their face. I can have a life like I never had before in the NHL. I enjoy the weather there and the lifestyle. It's been fun so far.''
It's been a perfect fit. Damphousse brought the Sharks a dose of leadership, experience and talent. The Sharks, in turn, rejuvenated his 32-year-old spirit.
"I knew the fit was good for me when I came here. I wanted to go to a team that had confidence in me and would put me in key situations. I felt I still could perform. I needed a team that would give me that chance again and I felt that was San Jose.''
He still has a soft spot for Montreal, but it just wasn't meant to be.
"It was kind of disappointing to leave. I liked it there, it was my home, but it came to a point where they had to trade me or sign me.''
The Habs didn't want to sign him, or didn't want to compete with the kind of offers Damphousse would get as an unrestricted free agent. So rather than let him walk away for nothing in the summer, they traded him to San Jose for a couple of draft picks.
HAD TO BE CONVINCED
The Sharks had him for the final 13 games of the season and the playoffs. After that, they had to convince him to stay.
Turned out it wasn't that hard.
One month before he became unrestricted, Damphousse signed for four years and an option. He liked the Sharks and where they were heading.
"I liked their willingness to put a good team on the ice right away,'' he said. "I didn't want to wait for three or four years before the team was a winner. I wanted them to make moves to have a team that can win right away, and they told me that's what they wanted to do also.''
The money and the length of the contract were also what he wanted "so there was no reason for me to wait until summer.''
Damphousse and the team are both reaping the benefits. He's 14th in NHL scoring with 37 points and is on pace for his best season in four years.
The Sharks, meanwhile, are running neck and neck with the likes of Phoenix and Dallas in the tough Pacific Division. A young, fast, entertaining team, they are a refreshing change from the boring, choking style adopted by so many teams in today's watered-down NHL.
"It's been a new start for me,'' he said. "I enjoy the challenge on this team. They haven't won much since they moved to San Jose. But right now we're on the upswing and I want to be part of that.''
Who wouldn't? If you're going to play somewhere, it might as well be in a warm climate, on a quick young team that's going nowhere but up.
"It's just a bunch of young guys with a lot of talent, working hard, and it's really encouraging,'' said Owen Nolan, who thinks the Sharks are close to being a contender.
"I don't know if this is the season, but we're not far. We've got a young team. We have to learn to win in different situations, but we're not far away.''