Joe Pavelski leads Sharks to Cup Final – USA TODAY

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The San Jose Sharks are headed to their first Stanley Cup Final after defeating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in Game 6.

PITTSBURGH — The decision to affix the “C” on Joe Pavelski’s jersey was an easy one.

It was more than a dozen years ago and it drew little notice outside the junior hockey world, unlike when Pavelski was tapped as captain of the San Jose Sharks before this season. But junior coach PK O’Handley used pretty much the same verbiage Sharks players and management have tossed around to describe what made Pavelski captan material.

“He’s a leader,” O’Handley, longtime coach and general manger of the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks, told USA TODAY Sports. “He wasn’t only our best player and an incredible athlete, but he grasped everything and did things the right way — even when he was 18 years old.”

Pavelski, 31, led the United States Hockey League franchise to the championship in 2004 as its captain. The success continued at the University of Wisconsin, where he helped the Badgers to an NCAA title in 2006. Now, he make his first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final as the Sharks face the Pittsburgh Penguins, aiming to win the franchise’s first Cup.

Pavelski has been described as a lead-by-example type of captain, so he’s not the kind of player who gets fiery and makes guarantees. Pavelski’s style woks when you’re leading the playoffs in goal scoring (13) as he entered Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Monday night.

First-year Sharks coach Peter DeBoer tapped Pavelski as captain in October. (The Sharks’ captaincy had sat vacant last season under former coach Todd McLellan, a campaign that ended without a playoff berth.) The Sharks’ two previous captains, Patrick Marleau (from 2004-09) and Joe Thornton (2010-14) remain cogs for the Sharks.

Pavelski credited Marleau and Thornton with a smooth ascension to the captaincy, the first by an American-born player in team history.

“I think the biggest thing I took out of it was be yourself and try not stray too far away from that,” Pavelski said. “I relied on the on (Marleau and Thornton) and they were a tremendous help. We need each other. When things aren’t going well, you can’t have guys go their own way.”

Thornton admitted he was upset “for maybe a day or two” when McLellan decided take away his captaincy after the 2013-14 season, one that concluded with the Sharks coughing up a 3-0 series lead to the rival Los Angeles Kings.

“You get over things quick,” Thornton said. “You’ve got to. If you know me, it wasn’t really a big deal.”

And Thornton’s review of Pavelski’s first season as captain?

“He’s vocal in the room and he’s been incredible this year,” Thornton said.

Sharks forward Logan Couture, the leading overall scorer in the playoffs through the first three rounds, added that Pavelski has been more prone to share his thoughts with the team as the season progressed.

“He’s maybe a little more vocal now,” Couture said. “You watch the guy in practice and see what a good player he is and how hard he works, so you want to do it yourself. He’s pushed other players to follow his lead.”

O’Handley, Pavelski’s junior coach, does recall one particular time that Pavelski was the most vocal. It was minutes before the third period of Game 4 of the Clark Cup, a championship that Waterloo had never secured.

“There were some special things said in that speech,” O’Handley recalled. “The players, the coaches were all impressed. He’s played on other teams since leaving here, but the stories are the same. I know they sound too good to be true.”

GALLERY: Best of conference finals


Joe Pavelski leads Sharks to Cup Final – USA TODAY

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