We all filtered back into the locker room, not really nervous per se, but a little excited I guess. All of us kind of stood in awe at the cool authentic Sharks jerseys that we had received (me too, even though I had seen them earlier). Someone pointed out that the jersey had a fight strap on it.
We looked, and sure enough at the back of the jersey on the bottom was a strap that was supposed to slip through a loop in your girdle, and then snapped back up. Hence, the fight strap. We had gotten beat pretty hard in the 3 on 3 scrimmage in the morning, so people on our team just didn’t want to lose. I still had the “this is damn cool” feeling while I was putting on my gear (which had dried a little bit so it wasn’t too wet and definitely wasn’t cold). At around 1:10, we realized it was time to go, so we headed out of the locker room. Since we were going through the sharks head, we had to walk all the way around the arena with our plastic skateguards on (what sucked is that if we were considered “late”, they let those people just skate across the rink. Oh well), where we waited for the game to start. Everyone (of course) was taller than me as I tried to look around at the seats to see if I saw anyone I knew. I managed to glimpse Brett, but couldn’t see Bryan, Brian, or Debbie. There didn’t look to be a lot of people there which was ok, I just thought it was cool that there was at least 1 person I knew. Leif said Sharkie was on the ice in a refs uniform, but I couldn’t see that.
Around 1:20, the quiet music playing in the arena stopped, and they started the loud music, announcing the game was about to begin, and we skated through the Shark. We dropped our stuff off on the bench, then skated around for a quick warmup. There weren’t any pucks, so we all just skated. The refs finally blew their whistle, and each team hit their bench. It was pretty much a pickup game. There were no set lines – the only thing we determined was which door the offense would go out, and which door the defense would go out (and we switched every period when the goalies changed sides). I think the entire game I never really played with the same people twice. I played with Leif only a few times, and played with the alums several times.
I noticed Bryan, and Brian and his wife in the audience snapping pictures away. The final total for photos came to something like Bryan: 403, and Brian: 926, so I now have a ton of photos of the game.
The one main thing I noticed about the game, and honestly I didn’t think about until afterwards, was how fast everything was. I’m not just talking about time-wise because I was having fun, I’m talking about everything about the game. It was a much faster game than I was used to. You virtually had very little time to do anything with the puck when you got it, and everyone was skating much faster. I had a few problems since I can’t skate as fast as everyone – I wanted to, but I have short legs, but I think overall I did ok. I only got a couple of crappy shots off, and Leif had a few really good ones but neither of us scored. They did read my name for an assist once...when I was on the bench, and I figured out that David Maley was wearing the same number as I was, so they meant him, but read me.
The one thing I did manage to capitalize on, was my good passing. I really really like setting up the other players, and for some reason passing has always been one of my strong suits. Once I realized I should just concentrate on that, instead of skating up a lot, I did, and it worked. I passed several times to Jeff Norton, Gary Suter, and other people on our time. Several of them had clear shots to the goal after my pass, but of course no one scored. :) Norton was particularly good at calling for the pass. He’d yell “here” and all I had to do was glance up quickly to see where his stick was and let the pass go.
I went up against several of the alumni too, which was really weird. For the most part they were definitely playing down to our level (well not to mine, but down to the level of some of the better people there who weren’t ex-NHL players), but every once in awhile they’d surge, and not go all-out, but they’d kick it up a notch.
One time Bernie Nicholls was behind the net, and I was the closest to him, so I figured even though I didn’t want to, I’d have to go and challenge him just to make him to something. So I start skating back there, and he starts moving the puck extremely fast back and forth. At that point I realized I was really screwed, and I was right. :) One fast-ass move around me was all it took.
I did get some good stuff in though besides the passing. I came up behind Jeff Odgers once and managed to lift his stick from behind and take the puck away.
Another time I came out from the bench and had to play center and take the faceoff....against Jamie Baker (or Bernie Nicholls, one of the two). Before the ref dropped the puck he said, “don’t worry, I’ll hold his stick for you,” and grabbed the stick so I could get a clean faceoff.
The only penalties that were called were against the alumns. Ron Stern got like 3 penalties. :)
The game was 3 20 minute periods of run time, which I thought at the beginning wasn’t going to be too much, but with the speed of the game, and the size of the rink, all of us were taking extremely short shifts (longest was a minute, most were like 45 seconds, some were 30), and that timeframe was definitely fine. I was completely exhausted by the end. There were a few times when the refs called out, “only alumni on the ice,” and they stopped the clock so the alumni could play against each other for a few minutes. At those times, the game went up about 20 notches as they really could go all out. The only non-alums out there were the goalies, who must have loved it since they got to stop the shots of ex-NHL players.
We ended up losing 10-9, but it was extremely close the entire game. We’d be up, then they’d tie it, then they’d be up, and we’d tie it. I’m glad the teams were pretty evenly matched – apparently last time they did the fantasy camp the final score of the game was 12-4. It honestly didn’t matter though that we lost, all of us had a ton of fun. Everyone shook hands after the game, then we all lined up for our respective team photographs, and one big group photo.
As we walked off the ice, Bryan, Brian, and Brett were able to come down to the edge of the stands and we could all talk for a few minutes. For Brian this was especially cool since he’s a big Sharks fan, and could appreciate and enjoy the alumni playing. For the other 2, they said they had fun watching the game, even though they’re not horrendously big hockey fans. I was extremely appreciative that they showed up at all honestly, and I felt really good that they did.
The guy from Shark Byte was there asking people to do postgame interviews, so I did one. :)
Going back into the locker room, I felt pretty good. I felt I did the best I could under the circumstances. All the skating-type stuff was done, all that was left was a reception at Tres Gringos, a Mexican place in San Jose, and the actual Sharks vs. Coyotes game. We all showered and changed, talking about how cool it was to play with the alumni, and asked the alumni if they thought it was cool to play on the alumni lines. Each of them really enjoyed it since several live outside the area, and weren’t able to get back as often as they wished. Jeff Norton started being funny complaining about how the ice wasn’t smoothed over between periods like he’s used to. We all laughed and said, “welcome to the real world, this is how normal people have to play.”
Even though the reception wasn’t supposed to start until 4:30, and it was 3:30, we all decided to head over anyways. Apparently there was some miscommunication, and they had no idea we were coming, but said they’d be ready “in about 10 minutes”, so we went next door to the San Jose Bar and Grill to hang out. We found a few people from our team – someone had started a bar tab (not sure who, someone from the fantasy camp), so Leif and I both ordered a beer. I swear, there’s nothing like an ice cold Corona after a hockey game (ok, maybe a large ice-filled glass of water). We mingled with everyone for awhile, people kept going over to check to see if the Tres Gringos was ready (which it wasn’t). At one point we got in a conversation with Jeff Odgers, one of the alumni. This guy still leads the team in most penalty minutes (1001), and you can seriously see all the scars on his face. I asked him how many fights he’d gotten in in his whole NHL career, and he said he wasn’t sure, but something over 210.
The funny thing about all these alums is that so many of them are coaching their kid’s ice teams. I guess I’m not surprised about that. A lot of them flew in just for this event. Odgers for example is living in Canada somewhere (Saskachuan I think). It’s a tiny town where he’s living and he lives on a farm.
The Mexican place opened for us, so we all wandered over, ordered some margaritas and some food. The guy in charge of the community foundation events for the Sharks was there and he ordered a bunch of appetizers for everyone and some beer. We were really hungry though, so the table Leif and I sat at all ordered burritos and quesadillas as well. Leif, the man who said beforehand he wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t want to, turned to me and said, “let’s make sure to do this again next year.”
People mingled around for awhile, and at about 6:15, we decided to drive back to the HP Pavilion so we could get our good parking spots – we all had parking passes for the day to park in the main lot, and we didn’t want it to fill up before the game. Leif and I wandered around the Pavilion a bit, we got a good picture of me and Sharkie, and then we finally decided to head up to the penthouse terrace suite which had been reserved for use by all the fantasy camp participants. In order to get up there we had to take an elevator and walk around quite a bit. There was round tables with bar stools set up, food, beer, soda, water, and of course you could see the ice. We were in the corner behind the away team net, as far up as you could get. It honestly wasn’t horrible, but not as good as our seats. :)
By that point, everyone was pretty tired from the whole day, so people just kind of grabbed some food and sat down to watch the game. In addition to having the terrace suite, we also had the 2 rows of seats directly below us. Honestly, you didn’t need to take the elevator up there once you knew what section the suite was in, since you could just walk all the way down to the section entrance. I did that between periods when I went to say hi to Brian. His seats of course were all the way across from where we were sitting, so I couldn’t talk long, but that was ok. He said he had a lot of fun watching our game, and is glad he was able to make it.
The game was an extremely good game. Phoenix is always one of those teams that the Sharks has trouble beating, and this day was no exception.. The Sharks weren’t shooting well or playing well, and going into the 3rd period it looked bleak as they were down 3 goals. Somehow though they managed to pull it together to tie the game, and at least get 1 point in the standings, forcing the game into overtime. Alas, it wasn’t to be. the Sharks lost the game with 6 seconds left on a Coyote power play.
At that point I was so completely exhausted I was ready to go home, and didn’t care who won the game or not. I hadn’t taken my contacts out for some reason so the entire game my left eye was bugging me (even eyedrops weren’t helping), and I was ready to go to sleep.
Leif and I drove home that night, barely managed to take our wet, stinky hockey gear out of the car, and crashed hard, sleeping for 12 hours.
This event was simply amazing, there’s no other way to describe it. It’s now a week later since I first started writing this, and I’ve calmed down and life is back to normal. Going back to work on Monday was very difficult. I felt like I had just gone on the absolute best vacation of my life, and now had go back to the real world where I was just “me.” However even though for the first few days I was feeling like that, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. The thing that I most learned from that day was that yes, I *can* play with the big boys. :)