San Jose not the typical southern hockey market
Since I grew up learning and loving hockey in Dallas, I am someone who firmly believes that hockey is a sport that can work anywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Michigan or Mississippi, if the team is successful and marketed right the fans will come and these issues facing “hockey in the south” are forgotten.
With the possibility looming over the past year or so that the Phoenix Coyotes might move back to Canada, the argument that hockey doesn’t belong in the south rose up once more. For most, it seems as if it’s just an issue that hockey is a sport played on ice, it originated in the north on ponds and the fact that there are two teams in Florida is sacrilege. That these teams struggle with revenue and success on the ice is even more frustrating.
Yet there are a few teams that have proved that if there is some actual winning involved, and an effort to promote the sport locally, then there will be success in the region and among the fans. The Dallas Stars, until Tom Hicks’ financial misdealings derailed them, were one of the top revenue-producing teams in the NHL and were one of the most successful teams of the 2000s. In the regular season, at least. While marching to the Stanley Cup in 1999, the town became crazy with hockey fever and while the team doesn’t have the exact same success today the sport of hockey is doing extremely well in local rinks.
The San Jose Sharks are enjoying a similar story. As the Sharks move deeper into the playoffs, a spot they haven’t reached since 2004, the rest of the NHL is finally getting to see just how crazed the fans are. The Shark Tank is one of the toughest places to win at for a road team, yet you rarely hear how the Sharks have a great fan base. You hear about the Flyers and Canadiens fans, but rarely about the Sharks. Todd McLellan is ready for the stigma that San Jose is a black hole for hockey to be erased:
“Perhaps the most telling thing for me was when we acquired Dany Heatley and some of the pundits out there said he can go to California and just hide,” said head coach Todd McClellan. “That’s not what it’s like in San Jose, by any means. You can’t hide here when you play for the Sharks.
“It’s a passionate hockey community and I don’t know how I get that across to the hockey world. You can’t walk down the street, you can’t go for dinner (without being recognized). They know who you are and they expect big things from you.
If the Sharks are successful against the Blackhawks and find a way to get to the Stanley Cup finals, that is most likely going to change. More and more national audiences (and writers) will be exposed to just how passionate this town is about the team.