On Sunday and again last night, I saw the Sharks play the best hockey I have seen in 20 years. It doesn’t seem like 20 years ago that my family and I would pile into the car and drive to the Cow Palace in Daly City to watch hockey. I shared seats with a good friend who had never been to a hockey game in his life, until opening night at the Cow Palace.
We went to that first game together. I had, of course, gone to many hockey games and remembered sitting in unheated ice rinks in Massachusetts and Vermont with ski clothes and after-ski boots on to stay warm. “You better dress warmly,” I warned him. I too put on a few extra layers, and wore my very warm ski jacket for opening night. I even wore gloves. Well, you can just imagine what a surprise it was to find the Cow Palace hotter than a hot house in summer.
I never lived this one down. I sweated more than the players that Opening Day game.
The Cow Palace stunk. Literally. The circular hallway leading around the arena seating was filled with smokers puffing away on their cigarettes in between periods and whenever the urge moved them to go out for a butt. I could hardly breathe. (It was before it was illegal to smoke indoors.) But, going to the games was still fun. We would frequently stop at a pizza place with the kids just off the Daly City exit before the game. However, the drive home was the real killer, and the losing record for the Sharks those first few years made it even tougher.
By the time our new Arena opened we were die-hard fans. A few friends got together, pooled our resources and wrangled the best darn Suite in the arena. It was Suite C-8, concourse level and party central. The Suite proved to be the perfect customer-appreciation spot for our company. The Sharks continued to confound us with their inability or unwillingness to shoot the puck. It drove us nuts. Our Suite members, one in particular, became renowned for bellowing at the top of his lungs: “Shoot the puck!”
It was the age of the Russians with Larionov and Makarov, the two Russian Army players more famous in Russia than in U.S. hockey circles. But they could play hockey. My son had a friend whose mom came from Russia and while I visited her one day, I asked her how to say “shoot the puck” in Russian. She told me it was (pronounced) “shy boo, shy boo!” I then asked her to type out the words for me in the Russian language. We had a giant banner made with the Russian Cyryllic words on it. We even had T-shirts made with our company names and the Russian words and a big red star emblazoned across the chest like a sash. We were the ultimate fans.
Our suite was probably best known for the Tequila shots we passed around after each goal. We called it Tequila Goal. The goals were so far and few between that we decided having a Tequila Goal before a goal might be a more fun. And we didn’t have to wait so long between shots.
The team struggled in those days too often. One suite-holder’s wife called the waiting and waiting for a goal or even a shot on goal for that matter “endless foreplay.” It was certainly endless at times.
But then something happened. Their third season, the Sharks squeaked into the 1993-94 playoffs, seeded eighth. They faced the number-one seed, Detroit. San Jose erupted in a playoff frenzy. You’d think we’d won the Stanley Cup. I even bought a teal shirt—something I had never done for any team ever before. I finally understood the meaning of being a real fan. We had parties at sports bars when they played back in Detroit, and our Suite went nuts with cheering for the home games.
The Sharks beat the Redwings in what must have been the biggest upset in pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup. The city was charged up to say the least. Our team now faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. We almost pulled off another upset but lost the final two games in Toronto. It didn’t seem too bad at the time, since we had celebrated the Detroit victory so much. I had a bet going with a fellow publisher of a weekly newspaper in Toronto. I had to send him an official Sharks jersey which I am sure he never wore.
We kept that suite for a decade or more, until pricing and policy made it not make sense anymore. I had sold my company and couldn’t justify the expense just for myself. I go to a few games every year when my sons come home for a visit and I make sure to watch most games on television. It’s not that bad with high definition flat screens. When I was growing up in Massachusetts it was tough to see a black puck on a small black and white television. Consequently, I didn’t watch many games on television.
Times sure have changed. Here we are still playing Detroit but our San Jose Sharks are looking a lot better than they did so long ago. So does that television picture. Go Sharks!