“Bring me those LA Kings’ fans!” the burly San Jose Airport TSA security officer yelled out to the deliberate snap of his rubber glove. He wore a villainous smile as my friend Marc and I, with jerseys donned in full glory, made our way through the security check point toward the imminent full body scan. Only twelve hours before, we celebrated a 4-0 victory that tied our first round playoff series 1-1, with game three at Staples Center on Tuesday. “Don’t be bitter” I retorted with a smile to the big guy. “That’s what we’re best at here in San Jose” his mustache turned upward with a growing villainous simper. A few minutes later, we were face to face. We knew he was bluffing and while we dodged the airport cavity search, we still relished the ass kicking our boys handed the San Jose Sharks at the HP Pavilion.
“Beat LA” they chanted.
Beat by LA our boys answered.
Saturday started with a walk into the LAX terminal toward our gate. Before we sat down… “hey, that’s Luc,” I told Marc. Our heroic hockey hall of fame left wing enjoyed a shoe shine while chatting on the phone. Marc and I sat down, I broke out the i-pad to read, Marc put music in his ear and after a couple of minutes, Luc Robitaille strolled up to us and chatted for 10 minutes about different topics. That wasn’t the last of Luc. He was on our flight so I told Marc I wanted to get a GO KING GO chant started right at takeoff. We did and guess who we ran into again while getting a cab to our hotel after arrival in San Jose? Luc. We shared the cab ride, chatted some more, I picked up the fare (no way I was letting Robitaille pay) and we all sauntered into the beautiful Fairmont Hotel.
I know what you’re thinking…”Hey, Scribe, what the hell? What did you and Luc talk about? In fairness to Luc this wasn’t some formal interview so out of respect for him, I’ll keep our discussion between us. Perhaps soon, I can get that interview with him. After all, when we checked into the hotel, he gave me his business card with a “call or email me if you ever need anything.” That’s an invitation for a future chat in my book.
The pre-game plan was akin to the game and post game itinerary. Beer. We intended to hit the bars, one after the other, until game time. In LA, this may be a monumental task with only 6 hours to spare prior to game time. San Jose is not LA. It is akin to Burbank, quiet and conservative, and even then, the bars and restaurants concentrate in about a 2 to 3 mile radius of the arena, most of which cluster within half a mile of each other.
One bar after another, jerseys in full display, we found the people polite and respectful. There were jeers, boos and the occasional insults but we are damn talented at giving it so most exchanges were quick and ended in an amused mutual smirk. When the bartenders got into the act and tried to ignore us, I sought revenge by bribing waitresses, from whom we got the drinks, to scream GO KINGS in the bar. Everyone has a price. Surprisingly, we learned that San Jose is also a soccer town. Their team, the ominously named Earthquakes, attract a respectable following in bars and there was more round ball on the flat screens than puck before game time.
6 pm rolled around. We returned to the hotel room, splashed some water on our face, got our second wind and hailed a cab to the arena. No soccer anymore boys and girls. Sharks fans were walking by droves into HP, a steel and aluminum building that is significantly smaller than Staples Center and, on the inside, resembles a big gymnasium than a hockey arena. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not ugly. Quite the contrary, we enjoyed it. The low roof, vertical walls and compact feel accentuates the noise much like the Fabulous Forum did in its hockey heyday.
We sat in section 116, row 10, seats 9 and 10, above the glass and close enough to be heard. Yes, their fans are loud although if you lock a group of Ducks’ fans in a closet and feed in some gas, their screams will resonate as well. The point? The arena has much to do with the noise factor.
Sharks’ fans are intense. They love their team. With a small town feel did come small town comments. One group of twenty something men, not particularly adept at insults, kept at it with purple…yes, the color. “Purple is for girls.” “Only chicks wear purple” and comments that left Marc and I more annoyed than amused. When one of them finally directed the color discoordinated comment to me, I shot back “my grandmother wears teal…” That, as they say, was the end of that.
Another fan, Sean, sat behind us. This very drunk and slurred speech twenty something vacillated between camaraderie to good-natured, albeit sometimes incoherent insults. That climaxed with…
Sean: “Yeah, well, you guys suck! Suck! How many times have you made it out of the Western Conference?”
Marc (very matter of fact): “Just once”
Sean (feeling empowered): “That’s right. Once. How many times have we made it?”
Marc (no inflection in his voice): “You haven’t”
Sean (confused): “Right…wait, yes we have.”
Marc (turns around): “San Jose made it to the Cup finals?”
Sean (looking at his friend): “Uh…no…”
Sean’s friend to Sean: “Dude. Shut up already.”
I kid Sean. He was fun. He was drunk. We liked him, especially when he threw up his hands in the third period and surrendered.
The best feature of this arena? Those in the lower bowl had their own club house. Imagine the Staples Center’ Premiere Section food (arguably better) and bars for everyone in the 100 sections. That was sheer awesome with a side of awesome sauce.
The worst or, better written, the ugliest? No, not the women. Their women were, on average, fairly good-looking to the occasional hot. Their shark. Their mascot. “Sharkie.” This absurd thing entered the arena with a shark head and a tight neon green spandex body suit. Think Vancouver Green Men. I am not kidding.
Marc and I stood up in near shock. I imagined our own Bailey controlling his silent roaring laugher at the sight.
The game. That, you already know. You may not know this though. Those boos that you heard on television (at least I hope you did) in the third period were in direct response to Marc and I relentlessly screaming GO KINGS GO. By the third round of boos (we may have gotten what sounded like half the arena booing us by this point), we did get the few obscene indications (read: finger), one of which I returned with a taunting wink and kiss gesture to a particularly large mammal of the very opposite sex. By then, I had too many beers in me to consider whether she may take that the wrong way and interpret taunting as flirting. Life is for the adventurous.
The post game carried the momentum forward. Chatting with fellow Kings’ fans at the club house arena. Meeting a larger group at the Britannia Arms (Owen Nolan’s bar) after the game and celebrating our dominating 4-0 victory. A shout out to our new friends, Liz, Nathalie and Ellen. Poor Nathalie didn’t have a voice to save her life but what she lacked in lungs, she made up for in spirited enthusiasm about the Kings.
It is one game. We all know this. We have home ice and it is now the best of five. Perhaps it was my inebriated state that caused me to tell a disbelieving Sharks’ fan, “tonight, we broke your heart. In the next few games, we will break your spirit and before you can say what the fuck happened, it will have already happened.” GO KINGS!