Demetri Martin has a bit about sports teams and their namesakes and it goes something like this:
I don’t watch sports as much as I used to ’cause I’m always disappointed. I’d rather see the actual animals fighting than the teams with those names. Colts versus Bears: Yeah, see some horses and bears fighting, alright! Wizards versus Heat: Fucking awesome! Magic versus Jazz: Uh, that’s a little too gay for me.
Don’t let the title of this post fool you, there are no adorable teddy bears fighting sharks. However, on Saturday night when the thunder struck first against the grizzlies, animals rained from the sky. I’m probably a bigger hockey fan than most people, but I would have paid good money to see that happen literally. Thunder versus Grizzlies!? Guess who wins that game! (Spoiler, it wasn’t the Thunder)
I came back to the ECHL on this past weekend as I had mentioned I would in December. The NHL finally returned to full swing just last week, and the outflow of talent from the minor leagues upward was painfully noticeable in this lower echelon of the professional hockey hierarchy. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my return to Stockton Arena, my seat this time being two rows closer to the ice and right on the center line for a near perfect view of the action. The sloppy, questionable action. Perhaps a week of watching the most skilled players in the world spoiled me, but the ECHL is simply not as good as I remember it. That’s not to say they’re bad players, but certainly a few notches lower than what I expect the minor leagues to employ.
Anyway, the reason I went to this particular game, as referred to above, was that it was the annual Stockton Thunder Teddy Bear Toss, where thousands of fans pack the arena, bringing along stuffed animals to be given to charity. Except, the animals aren’t so much given to charity as they are thrown to charity — tossed, if you will. As is the universal rule for Teddy Bear Tosses, When the home team scores their first goal of the game, the fur will fly. With an early power play for the Thunder on Saturday night, it was only a matter of time.
Mere moments after the puck hit the back of the Utah net, 8,026 fans took their fuzzy companions and hurled them forward, joining a growing cascade of furry friends tumbling over the boards and onto the ice. Many (probably most, actually) failed to clear the bowl, softly whacking besieged fans in their noggins. I myself picked up a couple stuffed bears at Target earlier in the afternoon. One of them was horribly not-aerodynamic and ended up arcing into the timekeeper’s bench (that, or I’m just horribly weak). The other, a cute bomb-shaped koala, flew quite satisfactorily out toward center ice. Somewhere in the fray the Utah Grizzlies disappeared into their dressing room while the Thunder, joined by tens of volunteers (and two vans and a pickup), swarmed the ice to collect their plush prizes. It wasn’t quite of the scale one would see in Canadian junior hockey, but for a minor-minor-league town out in central California, I was thoroughly amused.
It’s a shame it happened so soon, coming just 5 minutes into the first period. I actually wasn’t all that into the game itself. The Utah Grizzlies were at the bottom of their division in the standings and for the first 30 minutes they played like it, scoring only on a 5-on-3 and again on a penalty shot. The Thunder did okay, going up 2-0 before these goals went in and they reclaimed the lead early in the 3rd period. Unfortunately, with their goalie pulled, the Grizzlies tied the game and sent it to overtime, where they would be generously given another 5-on-3. It’s not often the referee will allow such a play to occur, but it happened that night and this time Stockton could not escape retribution. The fans were unhappy at the result (mostly at the refs), but it was at least entertaining; there were a lot of good hits, a few feisty scraps, and an absolute ton of people falling all over the place all the time for some reason. Minor league hockey at its finest.
Oddly, the Stockton Thunder are 0-0-2 when I’m in attendance. We certainly get our money’s worth with all of the overtime hockey we see, even if they don’t win, but I would prefer a W once in a while. (Aside: it’s probably best the game didn’t go to a shootout this time because Stockton’s goalie doesn’t know how to do them. He comes way too far out of his crease and is beaten every time. During the Bakersfield game he made zero saves in the shootout and displayed the same ineptitude during Utah’s penalty shot on Saturday)
Oh, I also had a mild migraine that afternoon that had only somewhat gone away by game time. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t into it. Don’t worry, I got better. Just in time for…
The NHL! Live in San Jose! (Finally!)
The last NHL game I had been to was also at the HP Pavilion, but it was way back in March before I started this silly little blog. It also featured my hometown Buffalo Sabres, who unfortunately won’t be coming to San Jose in this shortened season. No matter, I have a couple other teams I follow (any eagle-eyed reader would notice that) and when Sharks tickets went on sale two weeks ago, I snagged tickets to three games: two against Phoenix and one against Vancouver.
This past Sunday afternoon just happened to coincide with that Vancouver game, so, with the previous night’s ECHL hockey fresh in my mind, I took the long drive down to San Jose for my first taste of live NHL action of the year. I ended up getting to the arena 90 minutes early, expecting to meet up with people downtown, but plans changed. I didn’t care one bit though, as being wicked early has perks like cheap parking and not fighting through a crowd of opposing fans to get to my seat. In fact, I got up to my seat so early that I was basically the only person in the entire arena. Being three rows from the top of a massive arena void is an interesting feeling. It’s (relatively) quiet and peaceful, and the only entertainment to be found is the light show coming out of the Jumbotron and the ring LED boards. It was awesome.
Eventually the fans trickled in. I also got a ticket for my coworker who’s a hockey fan, though he showed up just a little late due to the aforementioned change of plans. Oh yeah, he’s also going to be my roommate starting in late March, but we’ll get to that, kids </Bob Saget>. Just like the last time I saw the Canucks in San Jose, I was heavily outnumbered by black and teal. I spotted a little blue and green peeking out of the crowd, but Sharks fans are just too numerous at HP Pavilion. What gives? (Aside: I can’t wait to see the Coyotes representation at the next game there…)
Let’s dive into the game action shall we? Sharks versus Canucks! What the hell is a Canuck anyway? I don’t know if a Canadian dude would do very well against a Shark. Definitely not in a water situation. If I saw a shark on the street I’d be like, “What? …Fuck you!” (Thanks again, Demetri!)
So, this game started off with something I’d never seen before. In fact it was so odd, Puck Daddy had a brief piece on it the morning after. Jannik Hansen cross-checked the referee while Alex Burrows and Ryane Clowe smacked each other around at center. The latter two ended up getting minors for unsportsmanlike conduct before the puck was even dropped, so the game started off 4-on-4. Not even a second had come off the clock yet and I could already tell this was going to be an interesting evening.
43 seconds in, and it’s 1-0 Sharks. The first of many facepalms of the night ensued as I sat quietly in my seat while the fans all around cheered with ecstasy. It continued on that way for most of the night. My seat was directly on the Canucks shoot-twice goal line so I was really hoping to see at least something go into the net on that side, but the chances were rare through the first 20 minutes. One notable instance saw a breakaway shot ring off the cross bar and ricochet horizontally over the goal line, appearing from my vantage point to nearly go in, though the instant replay showed it clearly far above the goal mouth. That was the first of 5 (!) goal posts the Canucks hit that game.
Vancouver certainly looked better in the second period, where they finally scored to the joy of the 5 other ‘Nucks fans in our section. The lucky breaks however would never come for them as they fell 4-1 to San Jose in a hard-fought rivalry matchup. Speaking of fights, there were three of them on Sunday, which is at least two more than any other game I’d ever been to. Ryane Clowe was on a mission all night, from the starting scrum to this fight just a few minutes later against Zack Kassian. He delivered the biggest hit of the night, a solid clean bodycheck to the delight of the crowd, but also took three more minor penalties before the end of the second. They were about to install a revolving door on the Sharks penalty box just for him, but then this happened:
You could hear the sharp crack of angry stick on glass way up where I was. All I could do was sit and laugh while Clowe threw a tantrum in the box and then another on the way to the dressing room where he would stay for the rest of the game. His display earned him 22 PIMs on top of the 13 he had already racked up in the first two periods. I also thought it funny that Scott Gomez ended up as the designated server, filling in for the ejected Clowe in the penalty box. Gomez has certainly found a role for himself on his new team, as he could also be seen serving the elbowing call that preceded this tilt between Aaron Volpatti and Douglas Murray. Neither of these two aforementioned fights went very well for Vancouver, though the linesmen broke both up before either player went down to the ice. It was not a total let down though; in the end Kevin Bieksa gave Vancouver fans something to cheer for.
Also, Patrick Marleau scored again. His record-tying multi-goal games streak came to an end, but I made sure to clap for the man at the end of the game. If he keeps that kind of production up, the Sharks are going to go far this year. Right now they’re 5-0, to the shock of many a prognosticator. Before this game, I was prepared for an exciting and close match-up between Vancouver and San Jose. It wasn’t nearly as close as it would have been if the Canucks had had an intact second line, but it was definitely eventful.
After escaping HP Pavilion last year with a perfect 2-0 record, I’m 0-1 so far this season. I blame the lockout. This 2013 NHL season is weird, but I love it.