I have been to a number of NHL arenas over the years: St. Petersburg Times Forum (before the renovation), the Bridgestone Arena (Nashville Predators), PNC Arena (Carolina Hurricanes), Verizon Center (Washington Capitals), Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia Flyers), and Rogers Arena (Vancouver Canucks) - just to name the current arenas that still have NHL teams playing there. I've also been to the Meadowlands, the Hartford Mall, and Philips Arena in Atlanta, which no longer have NHL teams playing there. And a number of AHL arenas, as well as WHL arenas.
But last Thursday I was at the SAP Center - formerly HP Pavilion - located just outside of downtown San Jose. Most of the signs within the city have been changed to reflect the name change, but many of the signs along the freeways have not. So if you're a bit confused by the name change, don't worry too much about it since so is the California Department of Transportation.
The game started at 7:30 pm local time, but I got there around 6:20 pm. Parking was easy to find, and I ended up putting my car two rows from the walk-up to an arena entrance. Of course, it cost an arm and a leg to park there - $25 - but that's not unusually high in many metropolitan areas that I've seen.
Surprisingly, the doors were open and quite a number of people were wandering around inside. Typically, most arenas open their doors one hour before the game is supposed to start, but that wasn't the case in San Jose. I never got around to asking when the doors had opened, however, but I would guess that it was probably at 6 pm.
I've been in downtown having dinner with friends on game nights for the Sharks, so I knew what to expect of the crowd. Everyone wears black or teal - mostly jerseys, but not entirely so. For some reason, the white away Sharks jersey just isn't that popular. So a white jersey in the crowd, like the white alternate Syracuse Crunch jersey I was wearing, really stands out.
One of the first things I saw when I was inside was a family wearing Tampa Bay Lightning jerseys in the sea of black and teal. And they weren't the only ones. There were a fair number of Lightning jerseys wandering around, especially considering that this is the west coast. They were mostly St. Louis and Stamkos jerseys, but still.
The arena itself was bright and airy. The concourse was open to the top of the building, and the public spaces had lots of room for everyone. There was a great variety of food available. It was very welcoming. And the arena staff were incredibly friendly and helpful as well.
The seating portion of the arena was arranged very much like any other. About the only real differences were the lighting and the volume; it was very bright, and most of the materials used were light-colored, so it felt more like being in an empty greenhouse than in a multipurpose building. And the music wasn't overwhelmingly loud, for once, which is a nice change from just about anywhere else.
The San Jose fans didn't seem to mind visiting fans being there. They weren't exactly friendly, but they definitely weren't hostile, either. "Tolerant" is perhaps the best way to describe it. Of course, their team won the game handily, so they could afford to be gracious by the end of things, too.
What was a bit disappointing for me was that most of the Lightning fans in the building didn't recognize the Syracuse Crunch jersey I was wearing. I realize that it was an alternate jersey - white with orange shoulders and orange stripes on the sleeves and around the bottom - but the "SYR" on the front should have been sort of a give away, right? I was hoping for better, but that's life, I guess.
I did have one Sharks fan stop me and say something about it. He was originally from Syracuse, though, and thought I had lived there. So he was going on about how he wants to retire there to me. I just nodded my head and made agreeing noises and we parted ways.
I met one of the Internet's first hockey bloggers on the while I was there, Mike Chen. He later ran the From the Rink blog for SB Nation after James Mirtle had to leave it. He currently writes a few times a month for the Fear the Fin SB Nation San Jose Sharks blog. We talked hockey, of course, which was fun.
I also met Raw Charge community member MTBoltsFan - as well as his wife and a couple of their kids. They were hanging out with a number of Lightning fans around the visiting team entrance right before warmups. They're very nice people and I was happy to finally meet them as well.
Once the 5-1 loss by the Lightning was over at 10:01 pm (according to the official scoresheet), I was in my car by 10:04, and home by 10: 14. So getting out of the arena and then the parking lot was pretty painless. And it helps that I live about two miles from the arena and the city streets were fairly empty.
So if you're ever in San Jose when the Lightning are playing, I totally recommend the Shark Tank experience.