Jr. Sharks add NHL vet Zettler to stable of youth coaches
The wealth of knowledge the San Jose Jr. Sharks continue to add to their coaching staff just keeps growing.
Rob Zettler is the newest Jr. Sharks coach with pro experience to jump into coaching at the youth level, as the ex-NHL defenseman – who was part of the inaugural San Jose Sharks team of 1991-92 and has nearly 30 years of playing and coaching experience in the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) – has taken on a new role as bench boss of the 10U Jr. Sharks.
“It’s been humbling,” said Zettler. “Selfishly, it’s been really fun because I’m coaching my son, and it’s given me an opportunity to spend a lot of time with him and then help out the team as well. When you go back to coaching at the grassroots level, you have to teach everything, and it really makes you dig in and make sure you’re showing these kids the right way to do things.”
After retiring from the NHL in 2002, Zettler began a coaching career that lasted 14 years – as long as his playing days.
Starting as an assistant in San Jose with the Sharks in 2002-03, Zettler moved to the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant in 2008-09 before joining the Tampa Bay Lightning organization where he was named an assistant coach with Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse prior to the 2012-13 season. When Syracuse head coach Jon Cooper was promoted to Tampa Bay in March of 2013, Zettler became the head coach in Syracuse until he was let go at the end of last season.
“When you’re bouncing around as a coach or a player, it’s really hard to establish a sense of community,” said Zettler, whose wife, Shannon, is from Belmont, about halfway between San Francisco and San Jose. “This has given me an opportunity to be involved in the community and give back to the community. We always knew we wanted to get back here at some point, and the timing worked out for that to happen.”
Zettler joins a growing list of former pros that are helping grow the Jr. Sharks. From 18U AAA head coach Kyle McLaren, to 12U AAA head coach and Jr. Sharks director Curtis Brown, to 12U girls head coach Mike Rathje just to name three, the Jr. Sharks organization is awash with ex-pros.
“I dropped my son off for his first practice and I looked out on the ice and ‘Nabby’ (former Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov) is out there with the goalies,” said Zettler. “Then I look over and (former Sharks captain) Owen Nolan is working with the wingers and Curtis Brown (former Shark with 736 career NHL games) is working with the centermen.
“I was stunned. These are guys who all had great pro careers, but not only that, they are all great people who want to help. The best thing is that these guys aren’t just there to help their own kids, they are helping everyone and they want the whole program to succeed.”
There’s no doubt that hockey in the Bay Area has changed dramatically since Zettler first came west for the 1991-92 season.
“The fun part to me when I first got out here was being a part of growing something,” said Zettler. “You could see how passionate the fans were back then and how much interest they had right from the start. The challenge was finding all the people who weren’t hockey fans to begin with and get them involved in playing and watching the game.
“That’s something the Sharks and the Jr. Sharks have done a great job of, and now that I’m at the rink all the time I can really see just how much interest there is in hockey – not to mention how much talent there is – at these younger levels. It’s just great to see.”
— John B. Spigott