I must be crazy. Did I just ask Owen Nolan to fight? Surely an average hockey fan would need to be slightly askew to instigate a fight, or even a ferocious round of rock-paper-scissors, with a 5-time NHL All-Star and former Sharks captain.
Though Big Owen cracked a smile, simply said “nah” and skated away, I knew I had done the right thing. After all, the answer is always “no” until you ask. Despite being denied my theatrical donnybrook, it was the only moment all day that a member of San Jose Sharks organization said “no” to me. I was not caught in a dream, but as a fortunate participant in the 2013 “Shark for a Day” Fantasy Camp
, I WAS living a fantasy.
to see photos from the event
This annual event, sponsored by the Sharks Foundation, welcomes thirty-four hockey fans from as far away as Texas, or in my case, Virginia, to spend the day with the Sharks. Our registration fees go directly to the Sharks Foundation, which has contributed over $6 million since its inception to community based organizations.
Upon waking Saturday morning, I found myself giddy with
anticipation for a day’s worth of all things hockey. For me, this event was doubly significant. Not only would I get to spend the day fulfilling a fantasy, I would be side-by-side with my childhood friend Lou Wainer, whom I had not seen in 28 years. As children growing up in Northern Vermont, I started playing hockey at the age of three. Though Lou never played hockey, he attended my games and went on many weekend trips with my father and I. As a result, he became a life-long student of the game.
After a Facebook reconnection two years ago, we began talking hockey from across the country. The opportunity for us to participate in Fantasy Camp together is what brought me to California for this day. For me, the fantasy began before the event when I learned that I had been my best friend’s childhood hockey hero. Buoyed with this knowledge, we arrived at HP Pavilion on March 30 with ridiculous smiles on our faces.
Upon arrival we were greeted by a passel of friendly, eager and hospitable staff and were guided to our locker rooms where a bounty of Sharks apparel was awaiting us. From warm-up shirts and certified Sharks Reebok apparel to our very own authentic customized Sharks sweaters and helmets, we were immediately awed with the attention to detail and inclusivity of the event.
I could burn up my word limit by taking you through our day. I could wow you with tales of our morning skate where we were introduced to Curtis Brown, Jamie Baker, Kyle McLaren and Owen Nolan – our Sharks alums for the day. I could cover the fast paced, fluid Sharks morning skate which was a thrill to watch. Or do you want to read about the four-star buffet lunch, and the trivia I got to exchange with the erudite Sharks broadcaster, Dan Rusanowsky?
Though I could continue to play back our video session with Assistant Coach Jay Woodcroft, the candid discussion with General Manager Doug Wilson and our pre-game strength and conditioning session with Mike Potenza, I want to leave you with a desire to research the event on your own. My goal is to pique your interest.
With that said, here is what I primarily took away from the event:
First, the San Jose Sharks truly ensure that guests of their organization are given their full attention and treated like pros.
Second, this organization is inclusive, family-friendly, community driven, service oriented and committed to excellence. The strengths of every staffer, coach, manager and player are maximized.
Third, at no point during the event did I feel as though the day was moving too fast or too slow, nor did I feel like I had been in HP Pavilion for 15 hours when it concluded. It was perfectly designed for me to live my fantasy in the moment.
Last, as an East coast hockey fan, this event validated an instinct I have had for a long time as an NHL fan: the San Jose Sharks are truly the class of the West.
We concluded the day with our Fantasy Game. I was privileged to score two goals and be on the ice when Lou and I recorded assists to class act, Curtis Brown. These points were preserved in a detailed score sheet we received after the match. As I sit here now, the memories are all so vivid. The Sharks secured a shootout victory over the Coyotes that night; a karmic way to wrap up such a day.
Did I really ask Owen Nolan to fight? The answer, in my lucid recollection, is “yes.” For what good are fantasy opportunities if you don’t take full advantage of them? My childhood friend Louis Wainer is a perfect example. At the age of 37, Lou bought his first skates and bag of equipment because he could no longer stand to simply watch the game he had loved his whole life. He had to PLAY it. From Lou, I learned a lesson; it takes guts to step out onto a sheet of ice into a game with no soft surfaces and fall down again and again with the hopes of touching the puck and maybe, just maybe, putting it in the net.
Through my friend’s determination and love for the game, I learned that I was not just his hockey hero, but that he is mine. I thank the San Jose Sharks for hosting us for a memorable day where this realization could be celebrated.
Ian M. Fortier
Fantasy Camp “Team White”, #6 – Roanoke, VA
Canadiens fan by birth, a Sharks fan by choice.