Generations of Hockey

I was very close to my paternal grandfather who lived only two miles away from me.  He often told me stories of how he played hockey in the Czech Republic before World War II.  He shared articles from The Hockey News and other publications about his exploits on the ice.  When I was introduced to street hockey during P.E. in Sixth Grade, I became hooked on the sport.

At the time, there were no NHL teams in our local area.  I adopted the New York Rangers as my favorite team because I enjoyed a family vacation to the city a few years earlier.   However, I could not watch the Rangers because the NHL was only broadcast on a special TV station, SportsChannel, which was not available in our area.  I was limited to waiting for clips on ESPN’s SportsCenter, reading box scores in The Monterey Herald, and watching the VHS tape my mother bought for me, Hockey’s Hardest Hitters, over and over again.  

My father told me that he heard the Bay Area was going to get a new NHL team, “the Sharks.”  My friend said that his dad told him the same thing but we both were skeptical.  What do our dads know anyway?  As it turned out, we later found out that the rumors were true!  Hockey was coming to our area!  We were going to be able to go to games and watch them on TV!  It was truly a dream come true!

I remember my parents taking me to a Sharks store in San Jose about six months before the very first Sharks game.  I was impressed with the teal color and the creative logo featuring a shark biting through a hockey stick.  I was already sold on the Rangers but I adopted the Sharks as a secondary team.  My dad also took me to a “hockey fest” at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose prior to the Sharks inaugural game.  The event featured two NHL veterans putting on a “hockey demonstration” on a portable rink that was set up inside the hotel ballroom! My parents took me to several Sharks games during the inaugural season.  

I played ice hockey informally and sporadically in middle school and high school.  My dad drove me all the way up to San Jose from Monterey so I could try the sport that I loved so much.  One winter, my dad and I even played on a frozen golf course water hazard in Oregon just so I could experience the sport.  

By the time I was a father, the Sharks had become an established franchise, making the playoffs on a regular basis and often being discussed as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup.  When my son, Jonah, was two years old, I started taking him to the Sharks practice facility in San Jose to go ice skating.  I then enrolled him in a parent/tot skating class on Wednesday evenings and I took him up there on a weekly basis.  He really enjoyed it and started moving up to higher level skating classes and eventually hockey classes.

Now, at six years old, I still take Jonah up to San Jose, once a week in the summer and twice a week in the winter.  This past season, he was put on a team with several children of Sharks star players.  The players often came to the practices and the games just like all the other parents and occasionally even skated with the kids.  

Even though the closest ice rink is 80 miles from our house, I constantly marvel at how much more accessible hockey is to Jonah than it was to me before the Sharks existence and when the Sharks were a struggling expansion franchise.  I feel grateful to the organization for sustaining hockey in Northern California.  As a result, the Sharks overtook the Rangers as my favorite hockey team.   

This past season was made even more special with the Sharks deepest playoff run in franchise history on the 25th anniversary of the team’s existence.  My wife and I took Jonah to a couple of playoff games.  However, when the Sharks reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, I felt that I had to take Jonah to a game.  

I surprised Jonah with a pair of tickets to Game 6.  I told him that we were either going to see the greatest win in Sharks history (which would force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh), or we’d see the presentation of the Stanley Cup, albeit to the wrong team.  Either way, it will be a great experience!  We enjoyed the festivities outside the arena before the game.  My wife even saw us on TV in the background of the live pre-game show.  The game turned out to be very close and exciting.  When the Sharks scored in the second period to tie the game, the building was the loudest I ever heard it.  I held Jonah close to me, gave him a kiss, and thought to myself how lucky we were to experience a Sharks Stanley Cup Final goal in person together.

Alas, the Penguins ended up being victorious.  Jonah started crying his eyes out as the Penguins celebrated their victory.  During the presentation of the Stanley Cup, some fans in front of us told Jonah not to worry: in a few years, he’ll be the one on the ice lifting the Cup for the Sharks.