PITTSBURGH - From the mail room with the North Stars to assistant General Manager of the San Jose Sharks, Joe Will has every right to feel proud of the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.
As one of four originals still employed by the Sharks — three of whom hail from Minnesota — Will has seen absolutely everything since the Sharks were in a way spawned by the North Stars 25 years ago.
“This was George Gund’s vision,” Will said of the late Sharks owner who used to be chairman of the North Stars. “I wish he was here to see this, but we think he’s looking down on it right now.”
The Sharks arrived in 1991-92 after the league granted Gund a $50 million expansion franchise. In a complicated process for convoluted reasons, half the team was filled through an expansion draft, the other through a dispersal draft of castoff North Stars.
“We felt our lumps early, but we stuck with it,” Will said.
Will, 48, who grew up in Bloomington minutes from the old Met Center and Met Stadium and is a Kennedy High School graduate, was an intern with North Stars and Twins.
Will did it all, starting off by selling tickets, then moving to the mail room. Eventually, he put together the first scouting database for the North Stars using analytics in a rudimentary form.
Jack Ferreira, the first GM of the Sharks, brought Will along from the North Stars and made him scouting coordinator. Eventually, Will became director of hockey operations and now is assistant GM of the Sharks and GM of the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda.
“I found my way early and that was to administrate,” joked Will, whose wife, Brenda, used to be Herb Brooks’ and Lou Nanne’s secretary with the North Stars, then worked for the Sharks for 13 years.
The Sharks also brought Jim Goddard, who worked at Met Center for 23 years. He’s executive vice president and GM of SAP Center. Pat Funk, a former coach at St. Thomas Academy, is another original from the North Stars. He scouts for the Sharks. Will, Goddard and Funk were honored before a game in March.
While not an original, Bruce Tharaldson, a Richfield native who worked the ice at Met Center, has made the ice for the Sharks since 1993. Jack Larson, who runs Xcel Energy Center, “dragged me out here.”
“We had the choice to go to Dallas or San Jose,” Tharaldson said. “The wife and I visited both places, and it was too hot in Dallas.”
The Minnesotans talk about old times often.
“It’s a sense of pride because of the people that we’re with,” Will said. “Everybody’s fingerprints are on this. I’ve been blessed to work with great people.”
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer has a great deal of admiration for defenseman Justin Braun, who went to White Bear Lake High School.
“He’s one of those quiet guys that just shows up every day and punches in, does his job,” DeBoer said.
Braun has loved going against Sidney Crosby all series and the opponents’ top forwards all postseason with partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
“You want to shut down the best in the world,” Braun said.
Braun, by the way, had a great line on growing up playing hockey in Minnesota: “All my friends were doing it, so I just started playing hockey to have friends, pretty much.”
• Sharks defenseman Paul Martin, an Elk River native, tied Bret Hedican for sixth on the all-time playoff games played list for Minnesota-born players (108). The top five: Jamie Langenbrunner 146, Neal Broten 135, Shjon Podein 127, Joel Otto 122 and Mike Ramsey 115. Pittsburgh’s Matt Cullen played his 97th.
• Injured Sharks winger Tomas Hertl missed his third consecutive game.