Just when it looked like it was safe for the 29 other National Hockey League teams to skate, score, and pretty much pirouette at will on the frozen water of San Jose's HP Pavilion -- dun-dun ... dun-dun ... (dramatic pause) -- "Get off the ice! The Sharks are back!"After a toothless 2002-03 season that saw Team Teal sink in the standings, and more empty seats at the HP Pavilion than anyone has witnessed since that ill-conceived Whitesnake/Scorpions double bill, it really looked like the luster had worn dull on San Jose's sharkskin hockey suit. And fortunes didn't seem any better when they began the current season by promptly sinking to the bottom of the Pacific Division. But miraculous things have happened since the Sharks were harpooned 4-3 in OT by St. Louis on November 13. Since then, San Jose has chewed its way through seven consecutive opponents for a tie for first place and its first winning record in two full seasons. The Sharks have responded to second-year coach Ron Wilson's flexible coaching style. Wilson, a popular former Sharks player, has kept the players on their toes and everyone is satisfied with his mix-and-match methods. He has routinely used four sets of forwards (that's eight players) and mixed in all six defensemen to keep the penalties spread evenly and his skaters' legs fresh. Rookie goalkeeper Vesa Toskala has played spectacularly for the injured Evgeni "Wally Pipp" Nabokov, and veterans Brad Stuart, Vinnie Damphousse, Patrick Marleau, and Mike Ricci have shown they still have life in those old hockey mullets of theirs.
The Sharks continue their march back to the playoffs this week with two tough games Thursday night against Edmonton and on Saturday versus conference rivals Anaheim. For tickets, visit SJSharks.com or call 408-999-5757. -- A.J. Hayes
Appalled in Nepal?
The CIA says Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world, which may be one reason its Maoist rebels have reportedly threatened Americans and other foreigners. Tibet is likewise problematic; if you enter the territory through official channels, via Chengdu, China, you're stepping into a minefield of international friction between the Chinese and the Free Tibet faction. The peaceful little kingdom of Bhutan looks like fun, except for the Assamese Maoist separatists in the Southeast. Nobody told you trekking the Himalayas would be easy, but it's hella picturesque, as Cathy Ann Taylor of Mountain Travel Sobek explains in her free slide show, Thursday evening (7 p.m.) at El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Ave. It's bound to be safer than going there in person. Info: 510-526-7512.-- Kelly Vance
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