(All photos are my own)
This season, the San Jose Sharks are the definition of inconsistency. They show glimpses of greatness and give their fans hope but then drop the ball (or lose the puck) when it really matters, leaving fans to question their abilities and even question the heart and soul of the team. To put this roller-coaster season in a nutshell: The Sharks are consistently inconsistent.
The Los Angeles Kings have had a less-than-stellar season themselves, but after two Stanley Cups in three seasons, no one can blame them. It is hard to remain in the top spot. Plus, they’ve already proved they are a championship team. But still, once you taste victory, it is always a goal to experience victory again and that will ultimately always be their goal, and any team’s goal.
The longtime Pacific Division rivals are both vying for playoff positions. Currently, Los Angeles is third in the Pacific, while San Jose sits outside the wildcard position, currently in fifth place. Not long ago, maybe 3 or 4 games ago, the Sharks were in a playoff position with the Kings looking in from about the same position the Sharks are in now. It’s funny how the tables have turned – from here on out, every game counts and anything can happen.
Outdoor Hockey in California
The two clubs met last Saturday, February 21, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara (home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers) for the wildly anticipated 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. It turned out to be the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game west of the Mississippi River. Over 70,000 Sharks and Kings fans alike showed up and took over the newly built stadium. For a bit of perspective, the Sharks’ rink at SAP Center is filled to capacity at 17,496, so 70,000 is quite a jump from 17,000.
Another topic worthy of note regarding this outdoor game is the state of hockey in the state of California. The Sharks recently made the announcement of relocating their affiliate team, currently in Worcester, Massachusetts, to San Jose starting next season. This will for sure grow the AHL fan base in California because fans will get a first look at future San Jose Sharks as the homegrown prospects move up in the ranks. And we all are familiar with the popularity of hockey in Southern California as well with the other Pacific Division rival, the Anaheim Ducks, who currently sit in the coveted first spot in the Pacific. The Ducks and Kings met in their own Stadium Series last year (where the Ducks wiped out the Kings 3-0). So, it’s safe to say that hockey has made its home in California, and selling out a football stadium for an outdoor game, the first-ever in Northern California and second in all of California, is proof that hockey is alive and well in sunny California.
Setting the Scene
This was my first time at an outdoor hockey game, and as a longtime Sharks fan, I knew I had to be a part of this historical experience, win or lose. As the sun set in the clear skies behind the western mountains and the temperature was a cool 58 degrees, the game began with so much pent up anticipation. Popularly known around the NHL as the loudest fans, Sharks fans made their presence known at an even bigger capacity with their “Let’s go Shaaaarks!” and “Beat LA!” chants to SJ Sharkie’s drum beat. (For Sharkie, it was a whole other kind of experience as well; it was more like a Where’s Waldo? puzzle to find him!) My section had a large portion of Kings fans, (I would say overall in the entire stadium there were about 70% Sharks fans and 30% Kings fans) and as the chant “Let’s go Shaaaarks” echoed around the stadium, so did the Kings’ popular chant of “Go Kings Go!” The back-and-forth yelling and cheering made for some healthy competition, and even made me smile and laugh. We are all here for one thing, outdoor hockey, and it was a great feeling of solidarity among fans, even among those rooting for the opposing team.
The first goal was by Los Angeles’ Kyle Clifford just about three minutes into play. Sharks fans were silenced until Brent Burns tied it up late in the first, revitalizing their cheers once again. The teams went into first intermission with an even scoreboard while John Fogerty graced the stage for a mini-concert with some classic CCR tunes. No scoring happened in the second, although the Sharks seemed to have a bit of life in their play and were able to get 15 shots on goal for the period, over double the amount the Kings had in that period. Melissa Etheridge graced the stage during second intermission, complete with fireworks. With the third period underway, Sharks fans and Kings fans each clung to the hope of their team prevailing. But only a few minutes in, a turnover by Sharks’ scorer Burns in the neutral zone gave Marian Gaborik the chance to net the go-ahead goal, leaving San Jose, once again, down by one. A power play midway into the third for the Sharks further heightened their sense of hope to tie this one up, but out of all three of their power plays, they were unable to capitalize. In fact, it is interesting to note that there were only 5 power plays total (the Kings had 2). With rivals such as these two teams, you might expect more physicality and even fighting, and thus more trips to the box, but you have to wonder if the experience itself of playing outdoors under those bright lights in the open air with different ice, affected the play for both teams. In the end, though, the Kings prevailed, with a score of 2-1.
Hope and the Future
I have to mention “hope” because I think, as fans of any sport, we cling to hope. As a Sharks fan, I had a ton of hope going into this game. I was pumped up for months; I bought my tickets and even bought a Stadium Series t-shirt. I was excited that the Kings would be in town to make the game that much more important, to the Sharks as division rivals, and to the fans, for the NorCal vs. SoCal aspect. And of course, most of all, I was eager to experience an outdoor hockey game in the Bay Area, my home. With this one in the books, I can definitely take away an amazing experience that I won’t soon forget.
Although it was not the outcome so many of us Sharks fans had hoped for, we have to continue to have hope that the Sharks can pull through and make it to the playoffs. Anything can happen. That is the funny thing about sports. They can make us happy, surprise us, or devastate us, all in a matter of one game. And even though the outcome of a game does not directly affect our personal lives, we still let it affect us. Like many Sharks fans, this one definitely hurt, but there is still hope.
For more pictures of the NHL Stadium Series, visit Dinur Blum’s Game Gallery here.