Ex-Shark Nabokov emotional in return to Tank

Ex-Shark Nabokov emotional in return to Tank
December 10, 2013, 1:45 pm
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A ninth round draft pick of the Sharks in 1994, Evgeni Nabakov spent 10 seasons with the Sharks. (USATSI)

Programming note: Islanders-Sharks coverage gets underway Tuesday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet California

SAN JOSE – It was the question Evgeni Nabokov didn’t want to hear, and a couple seconds later, it was easy to see why.

The former Sharks goaltender is back in his old home as a member of the New York Islanders. It’s the first time he’s been in the building wearing the colors of another organization, and although he won’t play on Tuesday night, his voice quivered when he was asked to recall the memories of being with the Sharks for 10 seasons.

“Oh, boy. I hoped nobody would ask me that question,” Nabokov said, his eyes quickly becoming glassy. “I don’t know where to start. A lot of good memories. It starts with Darryl [Sutter] and Dean [Lombardi] being here, and then Doug [Wilson]. Warren [Strelow] being around, and Wayne [Thomas]. It’s been (long pause)… A lot of good memories.”

Nabokov is currently battling a groin injury that he suffered on Nov. 16, although he indicated he is nearing a return. There was some speculation that he might dress as the backup on Tuesday night, but Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said that wouldn’t be happening.

A ninth round draft pick of the Sharks in 1994, the 38-year-old still lives in the Bay Area in the offseason and skates at Sharks Ice in the summer, and would have relished the opportunity to play against many of his old teammates. He was allowed to leave as a free agent after the 2009-10 season, spent a year in Russia, and is now in his third year with the Islanders.

“I’m sure Jumbo [Joe Thornton] or someone will say he has the ‘Sharks flu,’ or something. He loves to say that,” Nabokov joked. “But, I definitely would want to be out there and play against them.”

Earlier, Thornton said he, too, would have liked to see Nabokov on the other end of the rink on Tuesday. “It would have been nice. Nabby was a teammate for a lot of years and a good competitor, so it’s too bad he’s hurt right now.”

Nabokov described his feelings being back at SAP Center as a visitor.

“In summer time the schedule came out, you look at the schedule and you put the check mark out there, and you’re excited,” he said. “It’s a different feeling, to be honest. It’s not the same. You have some excitement but you also have a lot of good memories.”

The Sharks and Islanders won’t play again until March 14, so Nabokov could still get another chance this season to challenge his former team. 

But, that game takes place at Nassau Coliseum.

“Big difference,” Nabokov said.