The experience of a live game at the Shark Tank is on a different level for Steve Nakagawa, who said he’s been a fan since the team was founded in 1991. The Saratoga resident watched the games like everyone else.
That is, until 1999, when he lost his vision.
“I get the excitement from the crowd noise,” explained Nakagawa. “When I first came I was able to see a little bit, but not anymore. So now it’s just the excitement of being here and the energy in the building. Even with my headphones on I can feel the building rumbling.”
And the HP Pavilion rumbled plenty Thursday night as the San Jose Sharks went from leading, to losing, to clenching a solid victory in the third period with a final score of 5-3 against the Phoenix Coyotes. The boys in teal now have a 3-0 record this shortened season. Even so, there were some fans who said they haven’t completely shaken off the frustration that built up during the NHL lockout.
“Being a long-term hockey fan it’s nice that they’re back,” started Stu Slamowitz of Saratoga. “On the other hand, it’s kind of frustrating that we’re sometimes, at least how I think about it, the ATMs for the NHL.”
His wife, Debbie agreed.
“We paid, the businesses in San Jose, the employees that have to work here in the arena, they all took the brunt of it and for what?" she said. "It’s millionaires and billionaires. So, it’s going to take a little bit to get me back but I guess with all the fans here, I think we’re probably in the minority.”
The majority of fans NBC Bay Area spoke with said there was nothing that could keep them away from the Tank, especially after such a long wait.
“There was a lot of animosity at first,” said Larry Schwerin, also of Saratoga. “But obviously, we walked into the Tank tonight and you’re seeing a huge crowd, lots of kids, lots of excited people.”
Some of them were eager just to “rub shoulders” with the players during practice before the puck hit the ice. Dozens of them, mostly kids, lined up along the Plexiglas waiting for their favorite players to warm-up in front of them. Season ticketholder Jennifer Hultgren, San Jose, said that’s her son’s favorite tradition.
“They will skate out and stretch. Each person has a set spot where they stretch. Joe Thornton’s probably right there at the blue line. They stretch, do warm-up drills.” Her 10-year-old son, Will, called it his special spot – and for good reason. “They give you pucks and Dany Heatley when he was here, he’d always wink.” Will said he now has a collection of pucks given to him by Sharks players over the years.
Some of the ladies are looking for a different kind of action. 27-year-old Sarah Kobzanets isn’t shy about what she’s most excited to see. “Well, some of them do butterfly stretches. Some of them, you know, stretch their glutes. It’s nice. It’s a nice angle!”
And nice business for the surrounding downtown businesses that were once running dry during the NHL lockout. On Twitter, Bradford Speers wrote, “The NHL is lucky they showed up. The Brit is packed. Great to see fans and the @SanJoseSharks home. Great win!”
There’s no doubt the fans are excited – it was a home opener sellout crowd. But many, including Nakagawa, are pinning their hopes up high. With the way their Sharks are playing, they are confident 2013 could finally be THE year.
“I want to see the Sharks win the Stanley Cup and I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I hope they do it soon!”