Sunday, November 8, 2009

1991-92 San Jose Sharks Arturs Irbe Jersey

Today marks the six month anniversary of Third String Goalie, and it only seems fitting that we not only feature a goalie jersey today, but the rookie jersey of our favorite player, Arturs Irbe - a story we've been looking forward to telling since the day we began this blog.

Irbe, a Latvian, was originally drafted 196th overall in the 10th round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota North Stars and would go on to become an NHL All-Star.

His first professional club was Dynamo Riga of the Soviet Hockey League and he led them to a memorable run to the 1988 league finals where they eventually lost to the Soviet Central Red Army Club, as everyone did in those days, as CSKA Moscow reeled off 14 consecutive championships on a club stocked with the finest talent the power to draft players into the military could provide.

Dynamo Riga would then take part in the 1988-89 "Super Series" of exhibition games between Soviet and NHL clubs. Riga went 2-4-1 in their tour of North America including defeating the North Stars 2-1 in a game that featured Mike Modano, still playing junior hockey at the time, in a North Stars uniform for the first time ever. We suspect it was Irbe's performance in this game that attracted the attention of the North Stars, causing them to spend a late round draft pick on the Latvian later that spring.

Irbe would also be named to the Soviet National Team for the World Championships in 1989 and 1990, winning a gold medal both times with Irbe being named the Best Goalkeeper of 1990 tournament.

At this point Irbe's career was taking the normal path through the Soviet system, where the top talent would migrate toward the Central Red Army Club, who Irbe played for in the 1990 Super Series tour of North America. Once on the Soviet National Team and Red Army Club, his career would be set, as regular trips to the World Championships and the Olympics were assured for any player to have reached the level of being a member of the Red Army Club.

However, fate and politics would interfere with Irbe's career path. Latvia declared their independence from the Soviet Union on May 4, 1990 and the Soviets responded by invading Latvia in January of 1991 to prevent their leaving the Soviet Union.

Risking his career, as well as his safety, Irbe would quit the Red Army Club and return to Riga as 14 people were killed in Vilnius in neighboring Lithuania by the Soviets intending to prevent Lithuania's similar attempts to withdraw from the Soviet Union. Irbe, and thousands of others, took to the streets in protest, erecting barricades in front of government buildings and media outlets. Red Army hockey officials warned Irbe that if he did not return to the team, he would never play for it again.

Irbe did not return.

The danger of being in Riga at the time was very real, as 100 of the Black Berets of the Soviet Interior Ministry seized Latvia's Interior Ministry building, killing five people on January 21, 1991. They had already sized the main press building, attacked the police academy and shot out tires of vehicles at the barricades.

Death, or a one way trip to Siberia, was a very real possibility for Irbe who could have simply kept quiet and enjoyed life at the pinnacle of the Soviet hockey world.

Eventually Boris Yeltsin gained power in Russia and Latvia and the other Baltic States were granted their independence.

Meanwhile, the NHL rights to Irbe had transferred to the San Jose Sharks as part of a complex deal which would see then North Stars owners George and Gordon Gund granted the Sharks expansion franchise and be allowed to select 24 North Stars players to stock their roster.

With the good fortune of now having the option to come and play professionally in North America (it was only two years earlier that Alexander Mogilny had to defected in order to play in the NHL), Irbe would make the move across the Atlantic and spend the majority of the 1991-92 season playing for the Kansas City Blades of the IHL. He would make his NHL debut on this date in 1991, making 30 saves to pick up a win in his first start by defeating the Edmonton Oilers 6-2. It ended a 13 game losing streak for the Sharks who had only won once in 17 games at that point. The very next day Irbe would win his second start, 4-3 over the Islanders, for the first consecutive wins in Sharks history.

Irbe would be returned to Kansas City later that season where he would lead the Blades to the Turner Cup Championship with 12 wins in 15 playoff starts, share the James Norris Memorial Trophy with teammate Wade Flaherty and be named to the IHL All-Star Team.

During the 1992-93 season Irbe would play in 36 games for the Sharks, sharing time with Jeff Hackett and Bryan Hayward, leading the club with 7 of their meager 11 wins that season, as well as having the best goals against average of the three.

Irbe, now the clear number one goalie, would get 73 starts in the Sharks 84 games and play an NHL record 4412 minutes in 1993-94. The Sharks would improve by 22 wins and an NHL record 58 points in the standings. "Archie", as Irbe was known, was named to his first NHL All-Star Game that season, along with Sandis Ozolinsh, the first Latvians to be so honored. He would go 30-28-16 during the regular season and lead the Sharks to a stunning upset of the number one ranked Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

San Jose let the world know they were not going to be happy with just making the playoffs, surprising the Red Wings with a 5-4 win in Game 1 in Detroit. Things looked to be back to normal as the Red Wings shutout the visiting Sharks 4-0 in Game 2, and took Game 3 in San Jose 3-2.

The Sharks fought back to even the series by winning Game 4 by a 4-3 margin and Game 5 saw them push the Red Wings to the brink with a 6-4 win at home.

Back in Detroit, the Red Wings once more looked to be the dominant number one ranked team as they pounded the upstart Sharks 7-1 in a must-win game for Detroit to push the series to a seventh game. The Sharks however, would pull off the stunning upset and defeat the Red Wings in Detroit 3-2 on a late goal by Jamie Baker.

The Sharks would prove that the first round was no fluke by taking the third-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs to the full seven games in the second round before bowing out of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, Irbe would suffer a major off season injury in the summer of 1994. While at home in Riga, Irbe was doing sit-ups next to his sleeping dog, a Labrador-Newfoundland mix named Rambo. When he bumped the dog, it awoke startled and mauled Irbe, who suffered a severed artery, severe damage to the tendons and nerves in his hands and a broken finger. As a result, his play suffered the following season despite the additional recovery time afforded by the NHL lockout. His goals against rose from 2.84 to 3.26 and his save percentage dipped slightly.

Things got worse the following season, as his record in just 22 games was a dismal 4-12-4 with his goals against average ballooning to 4.59 and his save percentage down to a poor .860, which led to his being released by the Sharks.

He would recover from his injuries and sign with the Dallas Stars for one season before moving to the Vancouver Canucks the next season before finally finding a more permanent home with the Carolina Hurricanes. He would play six seasons in Carolina, including a trip to his second NHL All-Star Game in 1999 and a run to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals.

A hero in his homeland and frequent member of his national team, Irbe would be chosen as the flag bearer for Latvia at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy and was recently named as the goaltending coach of the Washington Capitals.

Today's featured jersey is a CCM 1991-92 San Jose Sharks Arturs Irbe jersey as worn during Irbe's first start in the NHL, a 6-2 victory at home over in the Edmonton Oilers.

The jersey features the NHL 75th Anniversary patch worn on all the players jerseys that season.

1991-92 NHL San Jose Sharks Arturs Irbe rookie jersey
1991-92 NHL San Jose Sharks Arturs Irbe rookie jersey
1991-92 NHL San Jose Sharks Arturs Irbe rookie jersey

First up today, rare footage of Irbe from the 1990 World Championships against the United States in a shootout. Irbe was named Best Goaltender of the tournament while winning the gold medal.

The game winning goal in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs is our next highlight, as the Sharks shocked the Red Wings by eliminating them in the first round.

Irbe then robs Wendel Clark by doing Splits That No Man Should Ever Attempt in the second round of the 1994 playoffs versus Toronto.

Here is a great profile of Irbe done during his time with the Sharks.

Finally, an outstanding profile of Irbe, which really speaks to the thoughtfulness and character of the man.

Dasherboard: On our six month anniversary, here are some stats and facts to share.

Since we started Third String Goalie we have had over 37,000 hits, visitors from 70 different countries (which completely blows our minds), published 190 posts covering jerseys from Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada in the West to Omsk, Siberia in Russia in the East and from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden in the North to Sunrise, Florida in the South, opened our online store, added our jersey locator map, had an article published in The Hockey News Greatest Jerseys of All-Time issue (how cool was that?!), acquired a pair of obscure jerseys from our wantlist, started our twitter feed, been linked to by several web sites, launched our facebook page and made new friends along the way.

As a thank you for being with us, we are going to let you know about our favorite freebie in the hockey world - The IIHF newsletter IceTimes. Published every other month, it features news, stats, photos and results from international hockey around the world, and the IIHF Annual Report, a 100 page full-color complete recap of the previous year in international hockey, published every fall. The photos alone are worth the effort to get one.

If you are a fan of international hockey, at 12 pages per issue, IceTimes has the most relevant and interesting content per page of any hockey publication around. With the Olympics coming up, it is especially worth your time. An electronic version of IceTimes can be downloaded as a .pdf file at the above link as well.

You can request to be put on the IIHF mailing list to receive IceTimes for free and request your complimentary copy of the IIHF Annual Report by emailing and be sure to include your shipping address.

Also, a reminder that you can now follow us on your My Yahoo! page and iGoogle page, twitter or facebook as well as making us one of the "blogs you follow" at using the links in the right hand column.

Also, the studio shots of the jerseys we own are all clickable links, which will take you to our webshots gallery. If you would like to see any of the photos of our jerseys or patches in their full, hi-res size, click on the link above the photo for "albums" (or just use the shortcut we just provided) and then look for the "make friends" link in the right hand side. Once your friend request is approved, you will be able to view and download our images in the hi-res size.

Thanks for reading, and remember, never, ever tuck your jersey into your pants.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the milestones and nice way to pay homage to the Little Latvian.

    My only question ... How in the heck do you find the money for all of these jerseys?


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