Well, by train from San Francisco we do.
Today we attended our first National Hockey League game, the pinnacle of the sport. In the early nineties we had followed the Medway Bears, a team in the second/third tier of UK ice hockey who played in front of around 1,000 admittedly passionate fans in a small, tired ice rink. This was a very different experience.
After yet another lazy morning we caught the no. 5 MUNI bus to Market and walked to the 4th and King Caltrain station for the 2.07pm train to San Jose. We disembarked the double decker tin can at 3.38 on another hot afternoon and collected our tickets from the box office before wandering into what we thought was downtown to find something to eat. I’m not sure that we found the real city centre, but we did stumble on what was a decent Mexican chain restaurant, La Pinata, where I had the biggest (shrimp) burrito I have ever seen in my life whilst Janet had shrimp fajitas. This was washed down with a pitcher ($30) of Top Shelf Margarita.
The area in which we ate, though only a few minutes walk from the arena, struck us as a little seedy, not least because of the shady characters dotted around the streets aiming to buy and sell tickets. There were also a surprising number of Los Angeles Kings fans around, not I hasten to add that they added to the seedy atmosphere (sic).
We entered the impressive HP Pavilion, which is reminiscent of the O2 Arena in London, around an hour before face off and explored the wonders of the Sharks Store. Janet confined herself to a t-shirt and an SJ Sharkie (the mascot) soft toy. We took our fabulous seats in the fifteenth row of the lower tier of the arena to the right of the goal.
At 7pm the San Jose Sharks emerged from the giant, smoking shark’s mouth to tumultuous applause. A win tonight would clinch their place in the end of season play offs, so expectation was high. The LA Kings. who were also in play off contention, were roundly booed as they entered the ice around thirty seconds later. Any tension was dispelled when the Sharks took a 2-0 lead in the first few minutes, a lead they held until the end of the first period, despite the Kings having the most shots.
The Kings pulled a goal back at the very end of a powerplay at the beginning of the second period, but this only inspired the Sharks to a four goal blast, several of them spectacular, in the remainder of the 20 minute spell. Aside from a fight or two the final period was an anticlimax as Sharks consolidated their position without much trouble. It was a very impressive performance by the Sharks, both offensively and defensively, although it should be noted that LA were missing two star players.
A number of things struck, but didn’t necessarily surprise, me about the experience:
1. Aside from the obligatory fights, the discipline of the players was so impressive, with far fewer offisdes, icings and penalties called than we have been used to in the UK.
2. The number of fans who were wearing either replica shirts or t-shirts, sweatshirts or jackets with Sharks colours, at least three quarters and far more than you would see even at an English football game.
3. The noise and fanaticism was intense.
4. The regular interruptions to hold competitions and provide prizes for the fans is something that UK sport could do well to follow, though the latter’s historic antipathy to stoppages in play will probably prevent that happening – either way we could learn a lot about looking after the fans from US sport.
All in all, a great experience – but I still prefer baseball! A 45 wait for the return tin can to San Francisco at 10.30pm was made bearable by the balmy conditions and high spirits of other passengers. I should add that although the train was basic and the journey not particularly comfortable, both outbound and inbound services were on time leaving and arriving at their destination.
In view of the fact that it was midnight when we came out of the Caltrain station we hailed a cab back to the apartment. The driver spent the majority of the journey on the phone to Nigeria in his native language, but turned at one point to apologise in perfectly modulated English for his rudeness! Despite his distraction he did return us to the apartment in very quick time.