In 1991, the National Hockey League returned to the Bay Area.
It had been nearly 15 years since the NHL had a presence in the area and many hockey fans were anxious for a return.
The San Jose Sharks provided that relief. What quickly developed was a strong and faithful following from a Northern California fan base. As the team grew, moving from the early days at the Cow Palace to HP Pavilion at San Jose, more and more fans jumped on board for what has been a very strong 20 years of existence.
One of those fanatics waiting for the NHL to return to the Bay Area was Jim Walsh.
Walsh has been a Bay Area resident since the days of the California Golden Seals and understood that hockey wouldn’t stay away for long.
“I was one of the people very much waiting for hockey to come back,” Walsh said. “The NHL was back and that’s pretty much all I needed.”
Walsh became a season ticket holder in the first year. He has been to all but 11 home games and travelled to nearly 140 road games. His files on his computer date back to rival those of a team’s public relations staff, documenting dates and scores of every game Walsh has attended.
Walsh shows a passion and thirst for the game that represents many members of a strong Sharks fan base.
“One of the reasons I joined the Hammerheads [the Sharks booster club] back in 1994 was to find some other hockey fans to be with. I got really tired of explaining icing to everybody I met. Now, after a game, I’ll grab some groceries at the local store. When I head through the checkout lane, there will be people having discussions on whether or not the defensive pairings were set up right. One thing I’ve found, especially when you talk to people from Canada, is that they’re astounded by the knowledge of the fans here.”
Some season ticket holders have taken their dedication to the team to another level by following them on the road.
Ana Aguilar, along with her roommate Deborah Carlotti, has traveled to see the Sharks play in every NHL arena. Back in 2001-03, the pair set a goal to see the Sharks play in every NHL building. Over nearly a decade, they’ve visited 32 NHL arenas, including new and old venues with a couple of franchises. The two also went to Stockholm, Sweden to see the Sharks face the Blue Jackets in the season opener.
“We were in Atlanta when the Sharks turned things around in 2003,” said Aguilar, recapping her travels over the years. “We were in Buffalo for [Joe] Thornton’s first game as a Shark. We were in Colorado for [Coach Ron] Wilson’s 1,000th game and [Scott] Hannan’s 500th game.”
Aguilar and her roommate will often follow the team, flying in-and-out of a single city on the east coast, but renting a car and driving to each of the games during the road trip and sometimes sharing some of the adversity of playing in a team’s building. The two were booed during a game in Atlanta for catching a puck that shot out of play, but they welcomed the jeers, knowing the boos came because the two were proudly representing their team by wearing teal.
“When we do our traveling, we’ll always get comments joking, ‘I didn’t know it was cold enough to have ice in San Jose,’” Aguilar said. “But you can go anywhere now and people know where San Jose is. People know about the Sharks and where they’re located.”
Aguilar and Walsh represent a fan base that has grown significantly over the past 20 seasons. Their commitment isn’t lost on the organization they’ve come to follow.
“The passion, dedication and support of our fans has become well known around the NHL and beyond and this dedication is specifically evident with our great season ticket holders,” Executive Vice President of Business Operations Malcolm Bordelon said. “Their enthusiasm and fervor during our entire existence has clearly put San Jose on the map as a hockey town and a major league city. We appreciate their commitment to supporting our players, our franchise and our partners over the years and are looking forward to the day when they’re rewarded with the Stanley Cup.”
And exactly how would that reward be received among the Sharks faithful?
“That,” Walsh said, “would be a dream.”
It is still amazing that the Sharks are in their 20th year and fans like these have been a big part of the overall success.