Onstad: Hockey in San Jose, eh?

Dear Diary:

Well it is that time of year again. The time sports fans in the sunny states have been waiting all year for ... the NHL playoffs. Yes I know the MLS season is in full swing and people all over the United States are excited about our league, but down south there is no bigger excitement than the Sharks playoff run. OK, maybe being a transplanted Canadian has a tiny bit to do with my passion for hockey, but the NHL playoffs are almost as exciting as last year's run to the MLS Cup Championship.

I have to protect the professional soccer player a little here. I firmly believe that the soccer player is a finely-tuned endurance athlete (well maybe not the goalies, although we are finely-tuned eaters!), but for physical and emotional pain tolerance the professional hockey player is second to none. For those not accustomed to playoff hockey (I know there may be only a couple in the Bay Area), it is a grueling battle of attrition where teams play each other every other night in a best of seven series. It is possible for a team to play 28 games in less than two months to win the Holy Grail, which is sometimes known as the Stanley Cup. To put that in perspective we play 30 games in a seven-month season (of course our players play 90 minutes compared to the top hockey players playing 20-25 minutes per game - I told you I would defend our sport).

Now as difficult as it is to play all these games do not forget about the avid hockey fan - me. You see, the Sharks can only play 28 games, but there are a lot more games on television than that. I married a beautiful, intelligent woman from North Carolina; however, I'm not so sure I was completely honest about my passion for the NHL playoffs when I proposed. I think she is still in the house, but this is already the second round of the playoffs, and I probably won't notice her until a few days after the Stanley Cup is raised. My son, on the other hand, is two years old and refuses to go to sleep unless the hockey games are over (let me tell you, triple overtime makes for a cranky child the next day).

Hockey is a sport very much like ours in the sense that it is best watched live. Last year there was no better place to be than Spartan Stadium in early November with the excitement and energy of our playoff run. Although our game against Kansas City was on television, people who attended the match will never forget the dramatic late equalizer and golden goal winner that put us into the highest scoring final in MLS history (I won't even mention the atmosphere at the L.A. game). As a sports fan these are the moments that are never forgotten and turn even the casual fan into a lifelong 'believer' (I told the media staff I'd get our motto in there somewhere).

I have always loved hockey. I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada on CBC every Saturday night, but it was attending a live playoff game at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver that forever got me hooked on hockey. I attended the first game of the Sharks current series against the Avalanche at the "Shark Tank" and it was an electric atmosphere. Of course the Sharks will finish the series in four games out of respect for our game against D.C. United on Saturday and the large crowd we expect.

My prediction is the Tampa Bay Lightning will be skating against the Sharks in early June for the Stanley Cup. I'm sure the sunny states can't wait. I know I can't!

-- Pat

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