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Dan's View from Center Ice - 6/21/2012

by Dan Rusanowsky / San Jose Sharks

So, the Stanley Cup Champion has been decided, the Awards Show has just ended in Las Vegas, the draft and free agency are coming up, and baseball, soccer, and motor racing seasons are in full swing. What’s a hockey fan to do when he has a few minutes of free time from armchair GM’ing?

As they say in Quebec, “Mesdames et Messieurs, le calendrier est arrivé.”

It’s an annual rite of passage that has traditionally occurred in July. But on the second day of summer, the 2012-13 National Hockey League schedule has arrived, and all across the continent, fans, executives, players, coaches, and broadcasters are all in full analysis mode.

First things first: the season is scheduled to start on October 12th, which is nearly a week later than this past campaign. It begins with a quick foray into Southern California, but into Orange County and Duck Hockey. There are only eight games in October, which is a lower number than usual, but that includes a marquee Opening Night against the New York Rangers on October 15th at HP Pavilion. That’s very exciting.


What we do as broadcasters is look at the road schedule first, because we want to understand just how the travel schedule is going to play out when we are away from our families. Like most fans, we also look at the so-called “important dates:” the schedule around holidays, birthdays, family events, and the like. The NHL has always been a civilized League, so that means there is no hockey around Christmas Day, but even with a Boxing Day game, it’s always close by if we happen to be traveling on the road.

The usual first inspections take us to late October and mid February, because that’s when the Sharks are traditionally road warriors. On the hockey side, these longer trips can often be pivotal in how a season proceeds. This past season, a nine-game February road trip proved to be one of the most grueling in Sharks history. It began with a back-to-back set of games in St. Louis and Washington, continued with another back-to-back set at Tampa Bay and Carolina, and finished up with a back-to-back in Nashville and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Since it’s SAP Open tennis time at HP Pavilion again in February, Sharks Hockey will again venture out on a lengthy trip over 12 days, but this time, there will only be one back-to-back set of games, and in the middle of the trip: at New Jersey on Monday, April 18th, and in Montreal on Tuesday, April 19th. That’s a much more palatable travel arrangement for the players.

Another feature is a huge, nine-game homestand from February 26th to March 14th. Yes, that means that the season will have a little more travel than we’ve seen in prior years, but they’re all reasonable trips, which should make the Sharks a less road-weary club heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

I always find it interesting to see which Eastern Conference teams are on the schedule twice. The current NHL configuration allows for three teams to have this privilege, and this season, it’s Buffalo, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. That means that Sharks fans will get the chance to see the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup finalist at HP Pavilion, along with the Cup champion. Bonus!

Of course, you have to circle a few of the dates on the calendar beyond Opening Night and holiday time, so let’s go through a few of them:
  • Friday, Oct. 12th: The season begins at Anaheim, where the Sharks always get the best from the Ducks.

  • Monday, Oct. 15th: Opening Night against the Eastern Conference Finalists, the New York Rangers.

  • Thursday, Nov. 1st: The first encounter with the St. Louis Blues since the playoffs, and it’s a home game!

  • Friday, Nov. 23rd: The first game against the defending Stanley Cup champions, on the road on the day after Thanksgiving, in Los Angeles.

  • Tuesday-Thursday, Nov. 27-29: The Sharks begin a long trip with successive games in Washington and in Pittsburgh against Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Make sure that you tune in to KFOX 98.5/102.1 FM on your drive home from work!

  • Thursday, Dec. 6th: A 6-game road trip ends with an important game in Philadelphia, and then, a long overnight flight back to San Jose.

  • Tuesday, Dec. 18th: It’s always fun to visit Canada, and the team’s first trip north of the border will be on this date in Vancouver.

  • Thursday, Dec. 20th: Finally, 31 games into the season, Sharks fans will be able to see their team face the Kings at HP Pavilion.

  • Tuesday, March 5th: After the grueling road schedule of January and February (14 of 20 games), the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town for an always-entertaining game, but this time, without Ron Wilson and Rob Zettler behind the bench.

  • Sunday, April 7th: The home schedule concludes with a big game against Dallas. A lot could be at stake in this one, just like this past season.

  • Saturday, April 13th: Only 3 games in the last week, but they’re all on the road, and it concludes in the desert against last year’s Western Conference finalists. Two questions: what will the temperature be in Phoenix, and how huge will this game be when it comes to the standings?
Now, everyone has a few complaints about the schedule. In my own case, it’s too bad that for the THIRD CONSECUTIVE YEAR, the Sharks will play in Chicago -- one of the great cities in North America -- on the second night of back-to-back games, this time with Detroit as the site of Game One. They’ll also play in Montreal, another one of those great destinations, on the second night of back-to-back games with Ottawa as the site of Game One.

While it’s undoubtedly disappointing to not have a night off in these communities, I can tell you that there are wonderful dining opportunities in both Detroit and in Ottawa, so I guess we’ll just have to plan for visits to Montreal and Chicago in the postseason, right?

The most exciting part of the release of the schedule is that it puts a face on the upcoming season. I can’t wait to get it going already!

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