In our latest installment of the series of articles about the former San Jose Sharks players that shaped this club's history, we are taking a look at what one of the original "tough guys" of this club is doing today.
Before Jody Shelley and Scott Parker, there was Andrei Nazarov.
Enter this big comrade Andrei, who at 6'5 and 230 lbs, was not your typical Russian hockey player. Having started his career with Dynamo Moscow back in Russia couple of years before Evgeni Nabokov got there, he was drafted 10th overall by the Sharks (a few spots ahead of Sergei Gonchar). Just like Nabokov, Nazarov did not become an NHL regular right away and he had to spend a few seasons splitting his time between San Jose and Kansas City where he played for the Blades. Actually, Nazarov and Nabokov even look alike. But once Nazarov established himself as an NHL player, his presence was certainly felt all throughout the league.
Back in those days Nazarov's adventures in the NHL would get as much press in the Russian media as Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny's domination of the league. Nazarov played a pure Canadian game for the Sharks, and the Russians were proud to have someone in the league who did not fit the typical "Euro-soft" player stereotype. Nazarov's most memorable season was 1996/7 when he finished it with 222 PM in just 60 games, which is still to this day ranks as the 4th highest number of penalty minutes in a season by a Shark. Nazarov is ranked 5th in career penalty minutes with the Sharks - 490 minutes in just 169 games played.
Perhaps this little incident is what you still remember him by.
I am still hurting inside thinking about poor Kyle.
Following his time with the Sharks, Andrei Nazarov played with the Lightning, the Flames, the Ducks, the Bruins and the Coyotes, which is a typical route for a player with his job description. He finished his career in the Russian league, where he eventually retired from the game in 2005.
The reason why now is a good time to catch up with Nazarov is because he is now one of the more successful emerging Russian coaches in the game. As he finished his playing career, he did not spend too much time doing whatever retired Russian hockey players do in Russia (since there is no golf), and went into coaching, as he accepted the job with the KHL club Traktor Chelyabinsk. Under his management, Traktor, not the richest KHL club, made playoffs every year, and in that short time Nazarov established himself good enough reputation to be invited to join Team Russia coaching staff, following Russia's collapse in the 2010 winter Olympics. Team Russia's management has been widely criticized for not having enough presence in the NHL and not having enough contact with the Russian players playing in the league. With NHL career on his resume, Nazarov has been assigned to fill that gap, and his new official title is an assistant coach with responsibility for North America.
As Russia is preparing for the upcoming World Cup in Germany that starts in May, Nazarov is currently visiting NHL games on the east coast. He remains a head coach of Traktor, but do not be surprised if he leaves that post a year or two before the Winter Olympic games in Sochi in 2014 to concentrate on Team Russia full time. The embarrassment of the Olympic Games in Vancouver is still discussed daily in the Russian newspapers, and the stakes in Sochi are too high. The pressure for Russia to win in 2014 will be no less, if not more, than it was for Canada few weeks ago.
If you run into someone who looks like Nazarov in the future, as you are attending a game at the Tank, do not be surprised - it may actually be the former Shark Andrei Nazarov.