For those of you that follow the sport of soccer, or football as it’s known throughout the world, you’ve no doubt noticed opposing players swapping jerseys after matches. This practice began back in the 1930s following France’s upset of England in a “friendly” match. The French asked the English for their jerseys as souvenirs, and the tradition was born. Many years later after a World Cup game in the 1960s, the great Pele offered up his shirt following a game to a defender that had marked him particularly well. He handed it to him saying, “Take this. You were in it all afternoon so you might as well have it.”
If the same jersey swapping tradition was observed in hockey, and the spirit of Pele’s complement to his opponent five decades ago played a role in who was deserving of one, San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic would have certainly skated off the ice on Tuesday with one with the name of SEDIN sewn on the back…possibly even two.
Daniel Sedin could have handed it to him as he exited the penalty box where he watched Patrick Marleau end the series with a power play goal 13:18 into overtime. It was his fourth of the playoffs so far.
In a very workman-like, quiet and unassuming manner, Vlasic played a major role in the Sharks opening round victory over the favored Vancouver Canucks, who came into the first round matchup wearing their Northwest Division crown and sitting in the Western Conference third-seed position. He did so by anchoring a defense that kept the Sedin twins very quiet in the series themselves. How quiet, you ask…so well that pictures of the twins could soon be emblazoned on the side of milk cartons in and around the Vancouver area. They were simply missing in the series against the Sharks, scoring nary a single goal between them.
San Jose coach Todd McClellan employed his 6-1, 205 lb. blueliner heavily when the Sedin twins saw action. In the case of Henrik Sedin, Vlasic was on the ice around 80% of the time he was. In game three of the series alone, he was there to greet brother Henrik for 13 of the 15 minutes he logged at even-strength. Vlasic’s efforts helped the Sharks keep the Sedins and Canucks in a pickle all series long.
McClellan strategy to deploy his top defenseman against Vancouver’s biggest threats should come as little surprise, of course. It was used during the three games the two teams played during the regular season in which Daniel and Henrik Sedin netted a grand total of two points. Not surprisingly, San Jose won all three of those matchups, two in regulation and one in OT.
Vlasic, who was the Sharks 35th overall pick in the 2005 draft, doesn’t get a lot of press. He’s not flashy, just shows up for work on a consistent basis, isn’t prone to injury and goes about his duties in a very solid fashion. He averaged 20:49 TOI/G in the regular season, which was second to Dan Boyle’s 22:47, but doesn’t spend a lot of time in the sin-bin. This is because he’s almost always in position, rarely caught behind the play, and thus he has no need to clutch, grab, hold or hook.
As stated above, Marc-Edouard Vlasic isn’t not going to make the highlights of ESPN or NHL Network many times, but he’s just the type of defenseman a team needs for a deep Stanley Cup Playoff run. For confirmation of this, just as Daniel and Henrik Sedin…who should have left their respective No. 22 and No. 33 jerseys behind in San Jose for him, seeing he was practically inside of them for the past week.