A goalie, a fashion icon and a man from Kazakhstan walk into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right?
If you substitute a red carpet for the bar, this actually happened at the San Jose Sharks’ home arena on Tuesday. Except the “red carpet” was dyed teal—in honor of the Sharks’ predominant team color—but the goalie, fashion icon and man from Kazakhstan were all the same person.
Evgeni Nabokov, the affable former Sharks goalie (inset above), made quite an entrance at the team’s 25th anniversary alumni reunion celebration at the SAP Center in San Jose. With over a dozen former players from the team’s early years in attendance as well as the current squad and a few thousand season ticket holders, the 40-year-old retired goalie arrived looking as if he came right out of a slapstick comedy about a Russian mobster.
Or as longtime Shark and former teammate Patrick Marleau put it: “Beetlejuice!”
Nabokov’s Beetlejuice fashion statement even impressed the equally colorful Brent Burns, who decided to leave his fake teeth at home and complement his tuxedo with a toothless grin.
Burns' grin and Nabokov’s wardrobe aside, the special guests included notable former Sharks such as Owen Nolan, Igor Larionov and Mike Ricci, as well as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Following the special “Teal Carpet” ceremony, the event shifted into the arena’s main bowl, where several entertaining stories from the team’s formative years were shared with a large audience.
Longtime team broadcaster Dan Rusanowsky relayed one tale involving the eccentric Al Iafrate that threatened to upstage Nabokov’s grand entrance as the highlight of the night.
As Rusanowsky detailed, during his tenure with the Sharks, Iafrate had a chain smoking habit that was as notorious as his slap shot. “The Wild Thing”, as Iafrate was called, was even known to smoke as many as two cigarettes at the same time time, occasionally during intermissions.
This normally went without major incident back in the smoker-friendly 1990s until a night that the Sharks visited the Dallas Stars at Reunion Arena late in the decade. According to the story, Iafrate used a blowtorch, normally reserved for curving stick blades, to light his cigarette that night. Unbeknownst to Iafrate, who probably wouldn’t have cared much either way, a handful of fans witnessed this scene through a doorway in close proximity to where the dressing rooms at Reunion Arena opened into a fans-only area.
And Iafrate wasn’t wearing any clothes.
SI VAULT: Al Iafrate, the NHL’s Wild Thing
According to Rusanowsky, a female arena security guard immediately approached a naked Iafrate, irate over what she had just witnessed.
“There’s no smoking anywhere in the building!” is how Rusanowsky recalled the response of the security guard, who seemed indifferent that a 240-pound NHL defenseman brandishing a blowtorch had just been seen in his birthday suit by some paying fans. The cigarette was all that mattered to her.
During a grand night in which the Sharks celebrated their history, a goalie’s threads and a defenseman’s lack of them stole the show.