Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sharks 25th anniversary season has different outlook

SAN JOSE – The first time the San Jose Sharks stepped and skated onto home ice for their inaugural National Hockey League game – on October 5, 1991 – the occasion was marked by Peter Gabriel’s 1986 hit “Big Time.”
Twenty five years later, for the franchise’s 2015 season home-opening game in the SAP Arena, I was quickly reminded how big time the Sharks have become.
I covered the Sharks’ very first NHL regular season game, which was staged 45 miles to the north in Daly City in the amply named Cow Palace. The antiquated Cow Palace, which this month once again hosts the Grand National Rodeo, was the Sharks’ temporary home/shed for the first two years while the current San Jose Arena was being built. The Sharks’ dressing room in those years was upstairs, hence they had to walk down a long and steep flight of wooden stairs to enter the rink. It was their Led Zeppelin stairway to a hell of a start.
The Cow Palace, which on the outside looks like a cross between an aircraft hangar and a pot roast, seated about 11,000 fans for hockey in a lower bowl circling almost all the ice.  I sat in the middle of that mass in the main press box for the Sharks’ inaugural game. My sightline was from the blueline, about 30 rows off the ice, and I saw a spectacular crowd-pleasing pre-game laser show that adorned the ice and was played out to the sound track from “Jaws” before an unspectacular 5-2 loss to the Canucks.
Twenty five years later, my sightline was from a satellite in outer space. Well, almost. My press box seat was in the rafters. Seriously. I was eye-level with the spotlights on the catwalk above the ice and the upperdeck, a literal 16-step ladder to the roof top. To get to my “He Missed The Tag!” nosebleed seat, I had to walk from the main press box on a slightly arched narrow walkway (with metal railings, thank God) that hovers over the Dickie Dunn-like milky white ice to the other side of the rink.
I haven’t seen the movie The Walk, but it sort of felt like cautiously crossing from one World Trade Center tower to the other and I’m scared of heights. If there was an earthquake, a sharp jolt forward might have landed me on the end of the Sharks bench. Let’s put it this way: I was so high up that if I had fallen from my seat, I would have died from old age before I hit.
All kidding aside, I felt fortunate to have my seat because the Sharks are big time. Twenty five years ago their unique teal-colored jersey led the NHL in merchandise sales and today it is still tops the league. Until last year, the Sharks had made the NHL playoffs for 10 consecutive non-strike years and the only professional sports team in the San Francisco Bay Area with such a consistent run of success is the 49ers of Jed York’s Uncle Eddie.
Yes, the Sharks have never won a Stanley Cup, yet their fans faithfully continue to pack the 17,000-seat arena on a regular basis and the memories in this building are much fonder and grander than the stinking cow pie Cow Palace days. The most remarkable thing I saw in that big time barn was watching Link Gaetz, the Hansons’ lost brother, score a goal and get a five-minute fighting penalty on the same play.
These Sharks are rough and tough, too, but with higher expectations, led by general manager Doug Wilson, who was the Sharks’ first team captain and All-Star, and a new coach, Peter DeBoer.  Twenty five years ago, the Sharks were just happy to be in the big time. They have bigger plans now and all you have to do is watch and listen.
For their 25th home opener, the Sharks stepped and skated onto the ice to the music of Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy” and 36-year-old former first-round draft pick Patrick Marleau, erasing the memories of the Pat Falloon Era, scored both goals in a victory over the Ducks.
It was a “Big Time” win.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home