Matt Irwin is too young to remember Larry Robinson. But he knows "big bird." Big yellow fella from Sesame Street.
"My uncle is a Montreal Canadiens fan, so he's a big Larry Robinson fan," Irwin, the 25-year-old San Jose Sharks' rookie, said before facing the Vancouver Canucks here Sunday. "I haven't had to ask for an autograph yet (for my uncle), but that might be coming up soon."
Irwin is already signing autographs for himself. The defenceman from Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island has been a revelation to the Sharks' coaching staff, which includes Robinson, known as "Big Bird" when he played and merely one of the greatest blueliners of his generation.
Robinson and Irwin are getting to know each other.
Undrafted after three Junior-A seasons with the Nanaimo Clippers, Irwin entered the University of Massachusetts as a 20-year-old freshman and played two seasons in Amherst. He earned a free-agent contract from the Sharks, then spent another 2 ½ seasons in the American Hockey League before injuries to San Jose defencemen Brent Burns and Jason Demers helped Irwin make the lineup for the start of the lockout-shortened National Hockey League season.
Until two weeks ago, Irwin's entire NHL experience was one pre-season game.
But through four games this month, the 6-2, 210-pound Irwin was averaging 22:48 of ice time and playing with Dan Boyle in the defence's top four.