An experience to remember: My night behind the scenes with the San Jose Sharks
by Grant Raffel
Published March 4, 2013
Having attended and watched my share of Sharks hockey games over the years, I was eager for the opportunity to experience a game from a different perspective. Thanks to the San Jose Sharks Organization, I was able to do just that during last week’s High School Sports Writer’s Night.
The six other high school students and I started by being led through the large tunnels on the ground level of HP Pavilion, past the locker rooms, ice entrances and offices and to the press room for dinner. There we met each other and talked a little about ourselves and our hopes and expectations for the night. I couldn’t help but notice many people eating by our sides, from the penalty box operators to the ice scrapers, and from announcers Drew Remenda and Jamie Baker to assistant coach Jay Woodcroft. There we were, 90 minutes before game time, seeing just about everyone of importance involved with the Sharks getting fueled up for the long night ahead.
After eating, the group and I were led through the front office to our next destination. The team spirit was palpable, as each desk had at least 17 pieces of Sharks memorabilia and each employee proudly displayed Sharks banners, posters and rally towels. We reached a conference room, where we were to meet a couple people involved with the Sharks to give us a journalism and business perspective on hockey.
First came Kevin Kurz, the Sharks beat writer for CSNBayArea.com. I think all of us in the room envied his job as someone who gets to follow the team and report on it. But we soon learned that he “works his tail off” (as Remenda says so often), producing about three or four pieces of content each day. He walked us through a typical day covering the team: morning skate, followed by interviews, a few hours of work, a quick break, then off to HP Pavilion for pregame commitments, a TV appearance around 7:15 p.m., a view of the game from the press box, some interviews in the locker rooms and a recap story. All told, Kurz starts around 10:30 a.m. and leaves the arena after 11:30 p.m., with just a few hours off in between. I enjoyed learning about the dedication of a sports writer and all that goes into the words on the page.
Next was Malcolm Bordelon, Executive Vice President of Business Operations in the Sharks’ front office. His career path intrigued me, beginning with selling billboards in Texas and ending up in San Jose with a big-time job for the Sharks. Learning about the business side of the Sharks operation was compelling. Bordelon touched on ticket prices, revenue streams (primarily season tickets and sponsorships) and the live arena experience. The last was most thought-provoking to me as a journalist. With the at-home experience getting better and better thanks to HD TVs and the internet, how can professional sports teams enhance the quality of a night at their arenas or stadiums? Bordelon believes that for a sport like hockey, seeing it live is still best and that some technologies, such as smartphones, can get in the way of watching the game. Nevertheless, he is still looking for that magical innovation that would upgrade the fan experience.
“We’re looking at some new technologies,” Bordelon said. “But when you’re at a game, you can’t look down. You’ll miss the whole game. There’s a real struggle with finding out something that is a viable digital activity, interface, whatever you want to call it. I continue to see solutions that are looking for a problem.”
After concluding our pleasant chat with Bordelon, we embarked for the press box, with a few stops along the way, including the ice level Zamboni entrance. Entering the press box, I felt starstruck, similar to how movie fans must feel in Hollywood. I walked past the Sharks broadcasters, ran into former Shark Mike Ricci, who now works as a development coach with the team, and even came across right-winger Ryan Clowe, who was watching from the press box due to his suspension. We made our way across the catwalk to our seats on one of the platforms in the corner of the arena, well above the ice and fans.
From there we watched as the Sharks got out to a lead, gave it back, and won in a shootout over the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2. Even at the highest point in the arena, I did not feel far removed from the action and could identify players without too much difficulty. Watching from a bird’s-eye view almost on top of the action let me see the plays develop and gave a unique panorama of HP Pavilion.
When center Patrick Marleau finished off the game by scoring the deciding goal in the shootout, we made our way back down to ice level, this time outside of the Sharks’ locker room. There we awaited our interviews with center James Sheppard and left-winger TJ Galiardi, who had assisted and scored the Sharks’ second goal of the game, respectively. I was struck by their humility and patience as they answered questions from us amateur journalists. I asked Galiardi if he felt he felt he had anything to prove playing against the team that traded him and the player (Jamie McGinn) it traded him for. He gave a thoughtful response.
“Yeah, you always want to out-do the guy you got traded for,” Galiardi said. “Thus far it hasn’t gone the way I’d wanted it to, but it’s a marathon not a sprint.”
Galirdi summed up one of the night’s lessons with that last bit: the life of a professional journalist is a long grind with many checkpoints along the way. But hard work pays off in the end.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the night was between the two interviews. Having scored against his former team, Galiardi was in high demand with the professional media in the closed locker room. That left us standing outside the door waiting for a few minutes. But those few minutes were the opposite of dull. We watched as the door kept opening, hoping to see our interview subject but instead seeing Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Douglas Murray, Dan Boyle, Thomas Greiss and Marc-Edouard Vlasic file out.
The night was a great success, from seeing parts of HP Pavilion I didn’t know existed to rubbing shoulders with players and other personnel. While the game was exciting and surely did not disappoint, other parts of the experience were at least as enjoyable, especially talking with Kurz, Bordelon, Sheppard and Galiardi. I would like to thank the Sharks organization for putting on this contest each year and giving high school journalists like me an opportunity to experience a professional sports event. It gave me a new perspective about what goes on beyond the manicured ice of HP Pavilion each night to put on a Sharks game and a better picture of what it’s like to be a professional sports journalist.