How do you do it? How do you sum up the most incredible 8 months known to any Sharks fan? Its an impossible task…but here I am, attempting to take a swing at it.
Incredible. That’s what it was…that’s the best word to describe a season that began…well, incredibly, and only got better…Both for the team and for myself. It was an unforgettable year…a year that in retrospect, blows me away, and it was a year that made me far richer (in all ways but monetary) than any other hockey fan.
First…a walk down memory lane…and a look back at the various accomplishments that made us proud to be called Sharks fans.
Finishing off as the best team in the league, earning the Pacific Division title, the Western Conference title, and then the President’s Trophy…wow. Talk about pride. The Sharks were finally getting it. They were finally paying the fans back…all the loyalty, all the devotion, and the Sharks were giving back.
The 08-09 season began with a buzz that this was going to be a magical year. From training camp, to the preseason glimpses of new talent and young prospects, to the Opening Night street rally against the Ducks…everyone knew it, everyone felt it…this was going to be a big year. BIG.
From the initial puck drop, the energy just never ended. With new additions to the team like Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich, the “new” Sharks were on a tear! At the beginning it seemed as though they almost forgot how to lose…and the energy was infectious. The fans loved the new boys in teal and the boys knew it. Dan Boyle let it be known that he belonged here, and that San Jose was indeed his new home. A few games into the new season and it felt like he’d been here forever. Dan Boyle HAS made himself at home, and the score sheet proves it…but it can be witnessed when you watch him play and when you hear him speak about his team. He is the epitome of a defenseman, and the true embodiment of what it means to be a hockey player. The energy he has brought to the blue line AND to the team is undeniable, and the difference was evident from the get go.
With two great games at the start of the season against the Flyers, the “playoff feel” started early for San Jose. Now here were two teams that were amazing together in the same arena…and they didn’t disappoint when it came to matters of good hockey. This back to back, home and home series against Philly kicked off our season with a little pep in our steps…and anyone who was there (on either the San Jose or Philadelphia side) would attest to it, the matchup was pure energy.
The beginning of the new season also saw a streak continuing. The Sharks left the 07-08 season undefeated at home (in regulation) since Valentines day of 2008 and kept it up into the new season. I think most of us actually even lost count when it got into the twenties…but we finally wound up losing our first regulation game at home to Calgary on January 15th. Just one month shy of making it one complete year being undefeated in regulation at home. We knew it meant nothing. We knew it was a silly stat…but it kept our hearts pounding. It kept our hopes building and it kept our faith strong. Maybe, just maybe this was the year.
As if we didn’t have enough to be proud of, Sharks fans were introduced to a few more guys who would soon make an impact. Guys like Jamie McGinn, Brad Staubitz, Derek Joslin, Tom Cavanaugh and Lukas Kaspar made their respective debuts on NHL ice as they were called up from the Sharks AHL Affiliate in Worcester, MA. We got to know a little bit about these guys and the fans adopted them right away. With moments like Jamie McGinn scoring his first NHL goal against the Detroit Red Wings and Brad Staubitz’s unforgettable annihilation of Jordin Tootoo, these guys didn’t just fill roster spots, they made the league stand up and take notice, the Sharks depth was a force.
Two of the most highly touted games of the season bookended the All Star Week. First, the January 17th game against Detroit at the Shark Tank. It was a game that saw the two best teams in the Western Conference duking it out. The Sharks played 60 minutes of their very best that night and wound up with the win…the Tank was absolutely cranking that night, and the atmosphere was that of a playoff game…but by far the most highly anticipated game of the Sharks regular season came on February 10th against the number one team in the East, the Boston Bruins. It truly was a battle of East vs West and in the end the West prevailed after an outrageous third period effort from the Sharks…and wow, wasn’t it a great feeling to shut Boston fans up for once?
Going into the All Star Weekend at the end of January, the Sharks had four guys in Montreal for the festivities: Thornton, Marleau and Boyle in the All Star Game and Setoguchi in the Young Guns competition. Not to mention the Worcester Sharks hosted the AHL All Star Game during the same weekend and had both Captain Ryan Vesce and defenseman Derek Joslin representing the Sharks there as well.
It felt good sitting on top of the world…scratch that…It felt amazing.
We had a championship caliber team in San Jose…and everyone knew it. The fans had big plans for their Sharks. Apparently bigger plans than they had for themselves.
If there was ever any question of the dedication Sharks’ fans have for their team, this season dispelled that doubt. The Sharks’ fans have continued to amaze me and blow my mind…simply for the fact that regular season games -games against teams like the Blues or the Coyotes - are sold out time and time again…(not to mention playoff games…Game 5 tickets sold out in 3 minutes) The folks who show up at the door of HP Pavilion are fans of the highest caliber…fans who are first and foremost a Sharks fan, and everything else comes after. Their devotion to this team is real…and it was tested this year.
We knew playing the 8th seeded Ducks wouldn’t be easy…but if anyone could take the challenge, it was the Sharks. Heck, even Don Cherry thought so.
A few minor hiccups at the beginning of the series and slowly those megawatt smiles that Shark fans are so famous form began to fade a bit…and faith started to waiver. Who was this team? What are they doing? Where is the team we have been watching for the past 7 months? Then, at the Game 4 mark, hearts were beginning to break…simply because we knew this team was capable of so much better – they were capable of being The Best, if only there was a way to TELL them so…
There was. Game 5. HP Pavilion…Any disillusionment we felt was checked at the door. What kind of fan just forgets the joy that this team brought us through the past 7 months? What kind of real fans lose sight of their teams’ accomplishments? And in looking back, those were some amazing accomplishments! What kind of real fan allows themselves or others to kick their team when they’re down? The rejuvenated spirit in the Shark Tank on April 25th was incredible. It was electric. The love that poured forth from the stands, onto the ice was almost visible. We weren’t going to let this team go down without a fight. The fans, the seventh man, made up for the never-say-die attitude that was lacking on the ice…and the Sharks kept themselves alive for one more day…and the Shark Tank was transformed into the center of the universe for one night. Its moments like that, that keep us believing.
Unfortunately for everyone…this just wasn’t the year.
And that was it, the Sharks amazingly incredible year came to an abrupt and brutal end…much too soon for anyone’s liking…but almost like when anything beloved comes to an end, you immediately start looking back, and recollecting about the “good ol’ times”.
Despite not reaching the Cup, this past season definitely WAS a “good ol’ time”…and to me, couldn’t be anything further from a failure. Last season was the season that I got to know hockey…this season I got to know the Sharks…and getting to know this team inevitably means becoming a fan. The Teal and White Game kicking off the preseason, being lucky enough to attend numerous practices, having the opportunity to root for them at my very first away game (at the Bell Centre mind you), getting to know the Worcester Sharks and having the time of my life at the 2009 AHL All Star Game in Worcester…these were just some of the things that have made this a year to remember…but the best part of the season really has nothing to do with the team.
Whoever said Hockey “is just a sport”, or “it’s just a game” truly has never been a fan. Hockey is a sport…but it’s more than just that. Hockey is a lifestyle. It’s its own little world…and it has a funny way of uniting those who fall in love with it. This past season I have made and fostered friendships that go far beyond “game buddies”. I have the best support system I’ve ever had in my life and coincidentally enough, 98% of that system was a direct result of our common love of “the game”. Maybe its because we’re all the same shade of crazy, maybe it’s because no one else will listen to us complain, but I know its more than that. Hockey fans AREN’T like other fans. Hockey fans possess the very things any great hockey team does…passion, character, spirit, intensity and heart…and it spills over into everything they do, and everyone they touch…and truly this has been the greatest joy of my season.
Writing a season closer is probably the toughest thing any fan has to do. Its like writing a eulogy for your closest friend. How do you do them justice? I guess you can only write what you feel. I know that this Sharks team is as much defined by their fans as we are defined by loving them. That’s what keeps our community so tight. That’s what brings us back next season…bright eyed, bushy tailed and optimistic.
So really, I owe a thank you. I do. I owe a huge thank you to Evgeni Nabokov, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Milan Michalek, Torrey Mitchell, Dan Boyle and the entire Sharks organization. Why am I thanking them, right? They should be thanking me!
No…I’m thanking them for doing what I knew they would…amazing me this year. They have both individually and collectively blown my mind in ways I didn’t think it could be. They have brought me joy during times when I thought no joy existed…and they have proven to me that yes, hockey is MUCH more than a game. For that, yeah…I thank them. There is no pride like that of a hockey fan…I might not have known what that meant two years ago…but I do now.
July 1st will come faster than we expect…part of the roster that I have grown to love will most likely be gone…but the memories won’t be…and new ones will be created…and we can only look forward from here. The great thing about sports is that you’re allowed to start over. You’re allowed to wipe the slate clean and start anew…and while many tears trickled down the cheeks of Sharks fans everywhere last night, that new beginning is waiting for us.
So I’ll take some time, reflect on what a miraculous year it was…but I won’t pack all my teal stuff away… I plan on wearing it with pride as often as possible…and when someone stops me to ask “Dude what happened to the Sharks, man?” I’ll resist the urge to dropkick them…and instead, I will sickeningly brag about how great they are until they walk away.
Ahh, a day in the life of a Sharks fan.