SAN JOSE -- As the 29 NHL mascots marched into the 2019 NHL Fan Fair presented by SAP on Saturday, the Stanford University marching band played its rendition of Green Day's "Welcome to Paradise."
For die-hard hockey fans, or for those just discovering the game, that's a perfect way to describe the official fan festival of the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game.
In one area of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle was signing autographs. Near the entrance was the shark head the San Jose Sharks skate through before each home game. The NHL All-Star Skills Zone had several interactive games, including one where fans were attempting to shoot a puck into a dented washing machine and dryer, just like Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby famously did growing up in Nova Scotia. The Stanley Cup was available for photos and there was also a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit featuring "The San Jose Sharks and the History of Hockey in Northern California."
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Randy Hahn, the TV voice of the San Jose Sharks said the Fan Fair is a perfect way to let all fans, even those not going to the All-Star Game, experience 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend.
"It's a fantastic traveling show [the NHL] has put together now," Hahn said. "You're touching so many fans and exposing them to the game. The fan who is here today, they still feel part of the All-Star experience and now when they watch the game on TV tonight. They've got a different feel for the game."
Hahn, who has been with the Sharks since their inaugural season in 1991-92, said perhaps the best thing about the Fan Fair is introducing the game to kids and adults who may not understand what it takes to be a hockey player.
"There are many markets like this where many people come to an event like this, who maybe have never had skates on, maybe have never had a hockey stick in their hands, and they've only seen it from afar," Hahn said. "And there's nothing like getting to touch these tools of work for our players for the average person to appreciate what's going on down there.
"I think that's one of the great things about this. Once you get used to holding the stick and shooting at Sidney Crosby's mother's washing machine, all of the sudden you get competitive and get into it, and I think that's the best thing about this, is getting kids and young people and adults as well, getting their hands on the things that our players use to do this."
The highlight of Fan Fair on Saturday was the NHL Mascot Showdown, a four-day competition featuring each NHL mascot participating in several events. On Saturday, a packed crowd of kids and adults at the Playmobil 2019 NHL All-Star Rink watched the mascots play intense games of musical chairs and broom ball.
The loudest cheers went to Sharks mascot S.J. Sharkie, while boos rained down on Los Angeles Kings mascot Bailey and Vegas Golden Knights mascot Chance. Not surprisingly, Sharkie won the Pacific Division's portion of musical chairs, taking out Chance and Bailey on his way to victory.
David Lum, a 47-year-old from San Lorenzo, California, said an event like Fan Fair could have a lasting impact on the Bay Area and the NHL.
"Because there is a new generation of fans, you're probably going to see in about 10-20 years some top hockey players from the Bay Area," Lum said. "The more they are able to get the exposure like they do with this, it's only going to get bigger and bigger here."
Chereylle Aromin, a 27-year old who lives in Livermore, California, but is originally from the Philippines, had just arrived at the Fan Fair and immediately headed to the Mascot Showdown to get a glimpse of Blades, the mascot of the Boston Bruins, her favorite team.
"This is so cool," said Aromin. "They have all the mascots."
The last day of the 2019 NHL Fan Fair will be Sunday. Hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. PT. A ticket is need for admission.