Is it possible – I made it to two hockey games in January? Both were birthday gifts, the first was a San Jose Sharks game with my daughter and her fiancé and the most recent, a Stockton Heat game attended as part of a birthday dinner/night out with my friend Kremer.
It was his first hockey game and as my excellent planning skills would have it, the Heat (affiliate of the Calgary Flames) were hosting none other than the San Jose Barracuda, the AHL (Triple A) affiliate of the Sharks. Add to that the prices for an up close and personal view at the Stockton Arena are considerably less expensive than a similar seat in San Jose and … well, I was in heaven. You’ve seen those people hanging over the railings as the team comes through the tunnel to get high fives from the players? Yup, that was me.
Kremer thought it was hilarious, a supposedly mature newspaper editor acting like a kid, fist bumping a bunch of hockey players. Our seats were in the fourth row from the ice, behind the visitor’s bench, so we could watch the line changes, hear some of the chatter from the coaches, and do the high five routine at the beginning and end of every period with the Barracuda.
My apologies for discussing hockey in back-to-back columns but, hey, my team isn’t in the Super Bowl, so ... oh, wait. They weren’t really even in any games this year, either. One win better than Cleveland? Not exactly a season to remember. And though the day is drawing near for pitchers and catchers to report, my eyes are still on the ice.
Since we were going to be sitting behind the Barracuda bench and I most definitely would be cheering for them, I wore my Sharks attire. That concerned Kremer a bit, not sure if we would be in danger from the hordes of Heat fans in attendance.
It all worked out, as we had nothing but Sharks/Barracuda fans in the immediate vicinity and since it was a weeknight game there wasn’t a huge crowd. We were safe.
Except from the flying pucks, as we were in an area where you had to keep your head in the game and duck at a moment’s notice. A couple came over the glass during the evening but they were a few sections away so we made it through unscathed.
We saw plenty of fights (they do that more at the minor league level, it seems) and five goals by the Barracuda, shutting out the host Stockton Heat 5-0. It was definitely fun to be that close to the ice and gave me even more appreciation for the speed and finesse that is part of the game.
I tried to explain the basic set up: the forwards, the defense, the goalie, what a power play is, what a penalty kill is, etc.
An older gentleman sitting behind us, attending with a number of family members, was enjoying the commentary and offered an occasional thought. What I liked was watching players that have been up with the NHL team out on the ice, knowing some of them are the future of the Sharks.
The minor league level is its own unique niche, whether it’s hockey or baseball, there’s nothing quite like watching the players so close to realizing their dream working hard to achieve it. And the Stockton Arena is a great place to watch a hockey game; there is no bad seat. Their Banner Island ballpark is also a tremendous venue for some baseball.
The game we attended saw a player card giveaway so I will have to keep my eye on the guy and see if he makes the jump to Calgary; maybe I should take it to another Stockton game and have him sign it, just in case it turns out to be worth something.
Excited about being four rows back and happy to introduce Kremer to the sport, I know I’ll have to go back – there are four more times this season that the Barracuda swim in to Stockton. I see a lot of hockey games in my future.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.