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Fantasy "Shark" Gives up Flying for Ice

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
For most fans sitting in the seats at HP Pavilion, playing on the same ice used by the San Jose Sharks seems like an impossible dream.

It may be impossible, but it’s a fantasy that many Sharks fans live out each spring. Over the past five years, the Sharks have provided the opportunity to become a “Shark for a Day” at a fantasy camp.

For a $1,900 registration fee whose net proceeds benefit the Sharks Foundation, this one-day event has given fans the chance to suit up in the teal and white and play on the Sharks home ice with former Sharks and National Hockey League players.

The annual event was held on March 27, hours before the Sharks played hosts to the Vancouver Canucks. In total, 34 experienced a day in the life of a San Jose Sharks player. The full day included a morning skate, participating in a health and fitness Clinic with Sharks Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Mike Potenza, having a pregame meal, playing in a fantasy game with alumni and watching the Sharks game that night.

These lucky fans walked away with authentic Sharks jerseys and gear. But more than that, they left with memories to last a lifetime.

Each fall, sign-ups begin for the annual camp. And as soon as the registration window opens, all of the spots are filled. The actual registration process is simple, but for some, the journey to The Tank isn’t an easy one.

For Sunnyvale native Kevin Ash, the return home to the South Bay took a few unexpected turns.

“I’ve always been a Sharks fan,” Ash said. “So getting here the past week has been an emotional roller coaster.”

Ash currently is an Airman 1st Class in the United States Air Force. He has served over four years in his unit and has been deployed all over the world.

Now, Ash is finishing his service time at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. However, the distance did not prove to be a deterrent for Ash.

“Last October, I received an email saying registration was open for the fantasy camp,” Ash said. “I sent in my form and was signed up.”

It seemed easy enough and for five months, Ash’s dream to play hockey where his idols do, grew closer. The week before Ash’s flight back to the Bay Area, his Air Force unit sent him shocking news.

“Being that I’m about to be done with my military service,” Ash said, “I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to take leave and fly home.”

In Ash’s Air Force unit, an airman must be on leave in order to fly out of the local area and his unit simply wouldn’t grant that leave.

“Obviously this was quite a shocker for me,” Ash said. “All of this money spent on plane tickets and the camp itself and then my unit tells me I can't leave the area.”

As a result of his unit’s stance, Ash had to cancel his flight home and email the Sharks that he wouldn’t be able to make the camp.

In San Jose, the Sharks were preparing to take Ash’s name off of the participant list in order to make room for another registrant, but in Nebraska, Ash began to find a way back home.
Just days before the camp, he got a break.

After a little research and help from a colleague, Ash was able to find that there was no legal way his unit could make him stay.

“I made a call to the base legal office to make sure what I found was true,” Ash said. “It was and I was told there was no reason I couldn’t take leave.”

The legal office coordinated with Ash’s unit and three days before the fantasy camp, he was granted leave.

“A lot of people came together and I was able to repurchase my tickets and get home to camp,” Ash said.

Because Ash had moved so swiftly, the Sharks still had his spot open at camp, and on Saturday, he was living out his dream.

The “Shark for a Day” camp schedule had Ash and the other participants at The Tank bright and early.

One minute Ash was turning in his ice waiver forms. The next, he was sitting in the Sharks locker room next to former Sharks forward Jeff Odgers.

“That made the whole camp worth it right there,” Ash said. “I was sitting next to a legendary Shark captain and amazing hockey player.”

Ash and the others participated in a morning skate, taking instruction from Sharks alums Jamie Baker and Dave Maley.

After lunch and a tour of HP Pavilion, the participants readied for their game with a team stretch and then a trip back to the locker room.

“It had taken on a whole new look,” Ash said. “All of our gear was neatly hung and arranged for us in our lockers and the room glowed of teal. It was quite the sight to see.”

As Ash lined up to head on to the ice, he saw a familiar scene.

“I heard Metallica’s ‘Seek and Destroy’ start and before I knew it all I saw in front of me was a wall of fog inside of the famous Sharks head,” Ash said. “Words just can’t describe how awesome it felt to skate though the head and take a couple laps while the music was playing and the lights were out.”

The game itself gave Ash the chance to feel like a pro. Playing alongside Sharks alumni and taking tips from Baker, who was his coach on Team Teal, certainly was a dream come true.

“The game was very fun,” Ash said. “It really put into perspective how good and how fast the pros are when you compare them to the mere mortals that we were.”

After a quick tour of the Sharks Ice at San Jose practice facility, Ash and the others were bussed back to The Tank to watch the Sharks take on Vancouver.

Sitting in the Penthouse Plaza in HP Pavilion with a catered meal, Ash got to watch the Sharks alongside the alumni.

“It was nice having the opportunity to talk about the game with the Sharks Alumni,” Ash said. “It was very cool to get their take on plays and calls.”

And it was only fitting that the Sharks themselves would win in order to cap off the fantasy day for Ash and the other participants.

“The entire day was an incredible experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Ash said. “From the morning skate to the boys in teal winning that night, it was truly a privilege to be able to take part in the event.”

Ash returned to Nebraska on Sunday to finish up his duties with the Air Force. For Ash, there’s no doubt that it was worth giving up his wings for a day to earn his Shark fins.

FANTASY INFO
Want to participate in the 2011 "Shark for a Day fantasy Camp? Click here for more information about the event or cantact Jeff Cafuir at jcafuir@svse.net to learn more.

by Emily Wirt
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