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Al Iafrate

This is an excerpt from If These Walls Could Talk: San Jose Sharks, a collaboration between two media members who have covered the team since its inaugural season in 1991–92: Dan Rusanowsky, the radio play-by-play announcer, and Ross McKeon, a reporter who has written for several newspapers, magazines and websites. 

Al Iafrate was a hulk of a defenseman who possessed one of the hardest shots the NHL has ever seen. Al came to the Sharks at the end of his career, acquired from Boston for a popular, heart-and-soul Shark, Jeff Odgers. Toronto made Iafrate the fourth overall pick in 1984, and he played 10 years for the Maple Leafs, Capitals, and Bruins before arriving in San Jose as a 30-year-old who was battling a variety of serious injuries.

If These Walls Could Talk: Sharks We liked to call him "Big Al." I swear that he always seemed out of action with one serious injury or another, and he had a unique way of expressing the graphic details of his medical chart.

According to Al, he never had any bumps or bruises, and he never "hurt" or "injured" anything. No, it was always a little more dramatic, say, "I ruptured my back," or "I shattered my knee," or "that can cause a compound fracture." He was very descriptive.

These strains, ruptures, lacerations, abrasions, and other impairments limited Iafrate to 59 games in two seasons with the Sharks before he announced his retirement at age 31. The first time I saw Iafrate was in Washington while he was in the prime of his career with the Capitals. This was in the early 1990s. Back then the workout facilities were rudimentary. Teams hadn't yet invested in state-of-the-art training rooms that accompany a practice rink today. At the old Cap Centre in Landover, Maryland, the rink had those old-fashioned exercise bikes at one end of the building. Al was riding a bike while listening to heavy-metal music, completely naked.

We were inside Reunion Arena in Dallas, when he was with the Sharks. The visiting locker room was at one end. These older buildings don't have as much security or ways to keep the players isolated from the public. And, like a number of players from that old-school hockey fraternity, Al smoked. He lit cigarettes with the blow torch used to prepare hockey sticks.

So there was Big Al, cigarette in hand, working on his sticks, totally naked, standing just outside the Sharks' locker room. The area was semi-private, but the end of the corridor opened up to a public area, and those fans walking past into the building could see where Al was standing if they glanced in that direction.

Sensing a problem, a Reunion Arena security guard rushed in Iafrate's direction, a serious, determined look on her face. "Sir!" she exclaimed sharply, as Al peered back at her with his trademark, deadpan stare. "There's no smoking in the arena!"

I guess that being naked in front of the fans was fine with this particular security guard, but smoking was absolutely out of the question.

Al Iafrate

A native of Dearborn, Michigan, Al was definitely a Detroit guy. He said that he always wanted to go hunting with Ted Nugent. He was like an earlier, rougher-around-the-edges version of Brent Burns, complete with the size, skating skill, shot, physical play, and a variety of tattoos that were always noticeable in the locker room. He had one tattoo of Crazy Horse that he described to a reporter as a "reminder that we are all on Indian land."

Dale Hunter, his former teammate with the Washington Capitals, told us on Sharks Radio once that Al "was always talking about the ozone layer." We aren't sure if he meant the offensive zone or the layer of the stratosphere that absorbs most of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth.

On the bus and on the plane, Al always took the time to stop by where the broadcasters were sitting, and not only would he talk to us about anything, he would usually say something that was entertaining. One time, he came by and said to one of the traveling P.R. guys, "You know, I was watching one of those late-night TV shows, and they were advertising this product you spray on your head to hide your bald spot. Would you think less of me if I bought that?"

Al could be a cut-up, and he could be intensely serious. Sometimes, both qualities would bubble to the surface like an active volcano. At another game in Dallas, the guys on the bench were chirping at each other. As the story goes, the Stars' Mike Modano accused Al of being lazy. Al looked back at him. Stone-faced, he replied, "Well, at least I can take a check, so shut the f--- up."

As a few players on both benches feigned laughter, Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock sauntered over from his spot behind the bench to see what was going on. Al glared at him. "What are you going to do about it, Alfred?" he blurted out.

-- Excerpted by permission from If These Walls Could Talk: San Jose Sharks by Dan Rusanowsky with Ross McKeon. Copyright (c) 2018. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Dan Rusanowsky on Twitter @DanRusanowsky. Follow Ross McKeon on Twitter @rossmckeon.