It’s hard to believe that for the first several years of his career, San Jose Sharks legend Patrick Marleau seemed uncomfortable in front of the media or having any attention heaped his way.
If the Feb. 23-25 festivities surrounding Marleau proved one thing, it was this: Marleau has grown into his role as a de facto ambassador for the Sharks franchise, the city of San Jose and area youth hockey in general.
Marleau became the first Sharks player to have his jersey retired when his No. 12 was lifted into the SAP Center rafters during a ceremony before the Feb. 25 game against the Chicago Blackhawks. It capped a whirlwind of events that started Feb. 23 when the city of San Jose and Mayor Matt Mahan recognized Marleau in a special ceremony at San Jose City Hall Rotunda.
Mahan proclaimed Feb. 25 as Patrick Marleau Day in San Jose which included a flag-raising ceremony alongside Marleau and Sharks President Jonathan Becher. The following day, Marleau played in the Sharks Legend Game, and the day after was the retirement ceremony in which dozens of current and former coaches and teammates along with his family and friends sat at ice level to take part in the celebration.
The spotlight squarely on Marleau, the 43-year-old Saratoga resident was stately, humble and gracious as ever as he was feted over the past week. In his speech at City Hall Rotunda, Marleau touched on a variety of topics, reflecting on everything from the time he arrived in San Jose as a 17-year-old to his favorite playing memories and his family.
“It’s the greatest honor to be able to be the first one up there [jersey hanging in the rafters],” Marleau said at City Hall Rotunda. “No one else is going to have that honor so I don’t take that lightly. I’m very appreciative of the Sharks organization, the fans, the city. I’m truly humbled by that great honor.”
Drafted second overall by the Sharks in 1997, Marleau ranks first all-time in NHL regular-season games played (1,779), including in that span a consecutive games streak of 910 that is the fifth longest in league history.
Marleau, who missed just 31 games over a 23-year career that also included short stints with Toronto and Pittsburgh at the end of his career, is the Sharks all-time leader in nearly every offensive category, including goals (522) and points (1,111).
His 109 game-winning goals rank seventh best in NHL history. Marleau said he had a tremendous support system and mentioned former teammate Kelly Hrudey as instrumental to his career. The 1997-1998 season was Hrudey’s final season as a pro and Marleau’s first.
Hrudey and his family were gracious enough to invite Marleau to live with them for his rookie season, and the two still keep in contact today.
“I probably didn’t realize it at the time, but now that I have a family and bringing someone else in to live with us, my career probably wouldn’t have ended up the way it was if I didn’t have Kelly in my first year,” Marleau said. “I learned so much from him about the business of hockey and was just trying to soak it all in. To have somebody like that for you that first year is pretty remarkable.”
Born in remote Aneroid, Saskatchewan (population 50), Marleau ascended to eventually cement his place in NHL history. Marleau has come full circle as he now coaches some of his sons on their club hockey teams.
“It’s been fun to be around them and watch them play hockey and watch them start to fall in love with it the way I did,” he said.
Though his on-ice achievements are noteworthy, Becher and Mahan said it’s Marleau’s ongoing work in the community that truly makes him a special figure.
Mahan said Marleau has served as an inspiration because he is “always willing to give back to the community” through his work in the Sharks Foundation, the franchise’s charity and philanthropic arm. Since its inception in 1994, the Sharks Foundation has given more than $18.2 billion back to Bay Area organizations through its annual Community Assist Grant Program and season-long Giving Campaign, per NHL.com.
“Known for his athleticism on the ice, he [Marleau] has also been an approachable and community-oriented star,” Mahan said. “Always willing to pose for [photos] for an adoring fan of our community when in need. He’s inspired generations of San Joseans, not just because of his speed and skill, but because of his heart.”
The loving relationship and appreciation goes both ways.
“I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been to be able to come to a place like San Jose where this community has embraced the Sharks franchise and myself with open arms,” he said. “I met my wife Christina here, all [four of our] boys were born and raised here. … Although I was born in Canada, San Jose has been and will always be home for me and my family.”