As some of you may know, I am a huge hockey fan. You may have seen me around campus with a San Jose Sharks beanie or jersey on because that’s what most of my apparel consists of. Hockey is interesting to me because of the history and tradition that is connected with it. Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a centennial celebration of the National Hockey League at the SAP Center, home of the Sharks.
The year 2017 marks the NHL’s 100th year of existence. To celebrate this event, the NHL organized Centennial Fan Arenas in NHL cities in both the United States and Canada. The tour lasts from January through December.
The San Jose Sharks are the first NHL team to participate in this touring tribute. Our local celebration was a favorite for hockey fans and also a great way to introduce hockey to those who don’t know much about the game and its history. The celebration included responsive games and multiple free giveaways with appearances from Sharkie, the Sharks mascot, and the team’s cheerleaders.
The main attraction was a 53-foot museum truck with an innovative interior featuring more than 1,000 square feet of interactive digital displays, videos, historical memorabilia and unique photo opportunities. A high-tech feature of the tour was the Clear The Ice Zamboni VR Experience. This never-before-seen VR experience allowed fans to compete against each other in a race to resurface the ice. Fans could also take a seat in a mini-Zamboni ice resurfacer, feel cool air on their skin and rumble in their seats as they attempted to make a perfect sheet of ice — in virtual reality. All fans were allowed to race, were timed and shared on a leaderboard for everyone to see.
The most memorable feature of the event was the appearance of the Stanley Cup: one of the oldest and most revered trophies in professionals sports. The trophy was displayed at the Centennial Fan Arena where visitors took photos with it. Standing next to the cup, seeing the names of all the players and teams who won it, had a profound effect on me. The greatest players ever to play the game had raised this same trophy.
According to the Quanth Hockey website, which provides hockey statistics on NHL records and locations of every player’s birth cities and states. It shows that relative to other sports in the area, hockey is not as popular a sport in California, based on the number of players drafted into the NHL from the state. Hockey fans are primarily located on the East Coast and throughout Canada because of their snowy winters.
On the other hand, because of the success of the Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, fans around the world are starting to recognize the hockey fandom in California and the passion that many Californians feel about the game and their teams. Because of these teams, younger hockey players from California will have certain players they look up to and could eventually make it to NHL themselves.
Last year, the Sharks went on their best run in franchise history, with their fans behind them the whole way, and after making it to the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, were within reach of the cup. The Sharks were ultimately stopped short of their dream by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated them in six games in the best-of-seven series. Winning the trophy continues to be on the Sharks’ mind and winning it in the 100th anniversary of the NHL would be a very memorable one.
The SAP event was an example of the potential of hockey in California. Ambassadors of the sport are reaching out to Californians by teaching them about the tradition and history of the game. This interest will not change overnight, and tomorrow most Californians won’t be worried about the next hockey game they will attend; however, this historic event is a sign that hockey in California is trending upward.