Later today, the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle it out in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. The game marks the first time that the championship series makes it way to San Jose.
Whatever happens on the ice, one thing that’s for sure is the fans in the stands will be rocking. For the city and its residents, this is as big of a deal for them as the players. San Jose finally gets the spotlight that comes from hosting the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s time to recognize San Jose as the hockey town it is. Its civic identity is so woven into its hockey team. Maybe more so than any other American city.
San Jose is the Sharks. The Sharks are San Jose.
San Jose was a small farm town for the first half of the 20th century. From 1950 to the present, it rapidly grew from a city with fewer than 100,000 residents to more than a million. Now San Jose is the 10th-largest city in the United States.
And yet, because it grew so quickly, San Jose didn’t get any major sports franchises or the name recognition that comes with them like San Francisco and Oakland have despite being the bigger city. And this gives San Joseans a bit of a chip on their shoulders.
When the Sharks came to town, it put San Jose on the map.
The Sharks gave the city of San Jose an identity — one that really stood out. All of a sudden, people around the world were wearing the logo — including Prince William.
Teal became the color of the 90s and was copied by many other sports franchises. The original sweater was named the greatest sweater in hockey history by The Hockey News.
San Jose has responded by supporting the team as hard as possible. After two of the most miserable seasons ever, with a combined 28-129-7 record, the city literally held a parade for the 1993-94 Sharks team that upset the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs (and lost in the second round.)
SAP Center, originally known as San Jose Arena, and still known as “The Shark Tank,” is routinely lauded as one of the loudest in the NHL. A lot of this has to do with the building acoustics, but also the atmosphere created by the fans. NBCSN recently named it the third-toughest building to play in NHL history and the toughest active building.
But SAP Center isn’t the only busy rink in town. Sharks Ice at San Jose, the team’s official practice facility, is almost always active with hockey. The four-rink facility is open from 5 a.m. until 1 a.m. every day, and is home to the largest adult hockey league in North America.
It’s the official practice rink for the Sharks and AHL’s Barracuda, and the home rink for San Jose State’s ACHA D2 team — a club team that plays off campus, yet routinely outdraws the school’s NCAA baseball and sometimes the basketball teams.
“I grew up with that fanbase, and seen how it’s evolved over the years,” Patrick Marleau said to NHL Network on media day. “And now I have my oldest kids playing in the minor hockey – and minor hockey’s huge in San Jose.”
The Jr. Sharks organization has grown immensely, and has started supplying talent to college (ACHA and NCAA), Major Juniors, and even the NHL. This includes players like Alec Martinez, Viktor Tikhonov, Stefan Matteau, and the Sharks’ own Matt Tennyson.
““I know it was one of the owner’s big dreams,” Tennyson said, back when he scored his first NHL goal. “For me to be the one, that’s pretty special, and it’s something I’ll always remember.”
The Jr. Sharks don’t just develop men’s players either. The Tier II 12U girl’s team won the National Championship in 2010-11, and the organization has at least a couple NWHL players to its name: Amber Moore and Rachel Llanes. Just last season, the University of Wisconsin and Providence NCAA D1 women’s hockey teams opened their season at Sharks Ice, with former Jr. Shark Lexi Romanchuk captaining Providence’s team.
As for this playoff run, the city is as passionate as ever — though don’t tell that to any media based in San Francisco. Anywhere you go in the South Bay, there’s a good chance you’ll see a business with a “This is Sharks Territory” sign in the window, and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll find a car in the parking lot with a Sharks sticker.
San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo just may be the perfect example of how ingrained hockey has become with the city. Liccardo is quite obviously a big hockey fan. Back when he was a councilman, he dropped the puck when San Jose State hockey hosted the National Championships.
And he quotes Wayne Gretzky in city council meetings.
No joke. Last year, when discussing the future of the city’s budget, he told the council that they needed to think like Gretzky and metaphorically “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”
After 25 years of team history, the San Jose Sharks and their fans have seen their highs and lows. But finally, they take the stage as hosts for the Stanley Cup Final. And though the Sharks trail 2-0 in the series, maybe the passion of the city of San Jose is just what the players need to push them over the top.