One Fan's Recollection of the Early Years of the San Jose Sharks

Michael Shackelford Correspondent IApril 16, 2009

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 25:  Torrey Mitchell #17 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after Jonathan Cheechoo #14 scored the game tying goal against the Dallas Stars during game one of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on April 25, 2008 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There has never been a better time to be a Sharks fan.  All the other pro teams in the Bay Area are living in the past.  Their fans are full of nostalgia for days gone by.  But not Sharks fans.

I have been a Sharks fan since their inception in 1991.  I remember reading an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, “So You Want to be a Hockey Fan?,” which explained such foreign terms as icing and the two-line pass. 

The Sharks' first game was a road game against Vancouver.  There was no TV or radio broadcast of the game.  I think the franchise wanted the home opener the next night—also against the Canucks—to be the opener fans remember.  But it wasn't, and I still think it was a conspiracy. 

Doug Wilson was on that first Sharks team.  Wilson gave an interview in that inaugural year, and when he was asked about the Chicago Blackhawks, he said candidly that he “hoped they won the Stanley Cup.”  Now he is our GM, and posed to help the Sharks win their first Stanley Cup.

The Sharks were horrible their first two years.  They actually were worse their second season than the first.  At one point in the season they had 17 straight losses.   

I was able to see one game at the old Cow Palace with my Dad.  It was memorable because it was the day after Brandon Lee died filming The Crow.   

The Sharks got beat by the Winnipeg Jets 9-5, but there were a lot of fights.  I remember fans throwing beer at a Jets player as he went to the locker room.  It was my first hockey game.  That's when I learned that TV did not do hockey justice.  There is so much that goes on in a hockey game that is not seen on TV.  

The Sharks third year was memorable.  They upset the Red Wings in the playoffs in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs.  That was an incredible win for the franchise.  Then we came within one game of the Conference final. 

That third season was the first at the San Jose Arena, which has since become the HP Pavilion, or simply The Shark Tank.  I went to the home opener with a friend of mine from high school.  As was customary for the Sharks during that time they lost the game to Calgary 2-1. 

I remember the men sitting in front of me sneaking in beer to the game and throwing their used chewing tobacco at fans leaving the game early.  They were egalitarian in that they targeted both men and women.

It was disgusting and crude, and I should have been appalled by their actions.  But I was a 16-year-old junior in high school, and I thought it was hilarious. 

I went to several games that season with my Dad.  We had tickets for all of the games against the LA Kings.  The two games we were able to go to were ties.  One game we could not attend because of an intense rainstorm in Santa Cruz.  Naturally the Sharks won that game 4-3. 

In theory the games against the Kings were good rivalry games, because you always wanted to “beat LA.”  It wasn't possible to hate the Kings though. 

Any sports fan had to respect Wayne Gretzky, and his trade to the Kings had sparked a lot of interest in hockey in California, which did a lot to enable San Jose to get an NHL team.  In fact I was rooting for the Kings in the 1993 playoffs as they beat the Toronto Maple Leaves to advance to the Stanley Cup.

They lost to the Canadians in five games, but the series was great for California hockey. 

On March 20, 1994, my Dad and I saw Wayne Gretzky score two goals to tie Gordie Howe for 801 career goals.  The timing of the goal was tough; the Sharks were up by a goal late in the game.  Gretzky got a standing ovation from the crowd. 

I remember commenting that it would be bittersweet if Gretzky broke the record, because the game was heading to overtime, and a goal by the Kings would have meant a Sharks loss.  In hindsight I wish he had broke the record there so I would have been able to witness it. 

I have found memories of the early years of the Sharks.  But the fact of the matter is that they were a terrible team.  The Sharks had mostly cast-offs from the rest of the NHL.  There were some colorful characters, but those first two years were simply awful. 

It’s a cliché, but in sports winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.  And winning is much more fun than losing.   

A lot has changed in the past 17 years for the Sharks.  Even though we backed into it, the President's Trophy is an awesome accomplishment, especially for those of us who have been with the Sharks from the beginning. 

So now as the Sharks begin their quest for the Stanley Cup and begin the playoffs against the Ducks in an all-California playoff series, remember this:  These are the best of times for Sharks fans.   These are our glory days.