On the evening of October 2nd, a slew of hockey-starved fans piled into the North Rink at San Jose’s Logitech Ice Center to catch the home opener for San Jose State University’s ice hockey club against Cal Berkeley, many of them donning their team’s colors: blue, gold…and teal.
With the NHL on hiatus until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement can be reached between the owners and players, members of the San Jose Sharks have migrated to other regions in search of a hockey season - and many of their fans have followed suit.
From the Tank to the Tech, Team Teal supporters have temporarily switched allegiance to the Spartans or other nearby American Collegiate Hockey Association clubs.
It’s not AHL, ECHL or even NCAA caliber, but Bay Area college hockey clubs can still provide the hard hits, end-to-end rushes, quick dekes and huge goals that make for exciting hockey - there just happens to be more turnovers and lost edges. And some might argue the numerous mistakes provide more entertainment than the cleaner contests of professional squads.
Saturday’s sold-out crowd of more than 800 students, parents and deprived hockey fans were not to be disappointed as they witnessed both teams battle hard against the boards and in front of the net - exchanging fisticuffs and goals.
The San Jose Spartans would topple the Berkeley Golden Bears 3-2, as right wing Sean Scarbrough posted the winning tally with 10:13 left to play in the second stanza.
A scoreless third period provided many close calls at both ends of the ice as the Spartans sought insurance to cushion their one-goal lead and the Bears pushed for the equalizer.
In the end, after the final horn sounded, both teams skated out to center ice to exchange handshakes. And in an act of appreciation that may have surprised a few spectators more familiar with NHL customs, the Spartans rushed toward the glass with sticks held high, waving to the hoards of people slowly working their way down from the stands.
The crowd reciprocated the gesture with loud cheers and applause as the players then skated off the ice and toward the locker rooms, a few likely already having dismissed that night’s victory in mental preparation for next Saturday’s game vs. UC Davis.
And in less then two weeks, Cal Berkeley will have home ice advantage as they seek to avenge their loss against the Spartans on October 14th, a day that may prove bitter-sweet for some hockey fans.
October 13th would have been the day many had planned to witness the Sharks highly anticipated first game of the 2004-2005 season against the Vancouver Canucks. It would also have been a night for Team Teal fans to celebrate the raising of a second Pacific Division Champions banner to join its lone 2001-2002 predecessor in the rafters.
The lockout loss will have truly hit home the next time the two college clubs meet in Berkeley. The ACHA simply can’t fill the void left by the only professional hockey team in the Bay Area, despite the on-ice action, roaring crowds, wacky mascots and blaring music.
The only way that hunger will be satiated is if Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman resume negotiations to institute a more practical and profitable way of running the NHL. That way, they can attempt to salvage the second half of the NHL season as was the case a decade earlier. And the Sharks can carry over the momentum from their 104-point campaign and try for another (however much shorter) magical run for the Stanley Cup. Until then, in stark contrast to the money issues hindering the NHL season, college hockey club members must pay to play the game they love and continue to exhibit large amounts of heart and grit whether it’s in front of a small group of family and friends or a sold-out crowd comprised of NHL fans seeking their hockey fix. Hopefully, whenever the lockout ends, the Spartans and their ACHA rivals will continue to garner support from scores of fans sporting their team’s colors…and teal.
San Jose Spartans home opener
By A. Sheldon