Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eagle vs. Shark

Score: San Jose Sharks-2, Adler Mannheim-2, Sharks win shootout 2-1

On Saturday night, the second of October, SAP Arena was packed with all kinds of NHL fans. It would be easier to list the NHL teams whose jerseys I did not see. But I won't. Many of these fans had traveled to be there. We met Sharks fans from the States, Germany, Switzerland, not to mention that almost half of the other guests we saw at the hotel were wearing Gretzky Oilers jerseys, Luongo and Crosby Olympic jerseys, or giant teal foam fingers. The Germans love sport and, I have to say, it was easily the most electric preseason game I have ever attended; that arena was LOUD. I had expected to be part of a strong Sharks contingent screaming and hollering over the rest of the crowd, the pride of the Sharks showing Central Europe what it means to have one of the most dominant teams in the world's most competitive league and why the Sharks have one of the loudest buildings in that league day-in day-out. As a member of a family which has long-held season tickets in sec. 208, I have to admit: they put us to shame. From the moment the puck hit the Eis, there was nonstop drumming and singing coming from the equivalent sections behind the away team's net. And I am not referring to the drunken droning one is occasionally embarrassed to hear wafting over from somewhere around sec 212 at the Tank. I am talking about a strong, sharp unison of voices singing a variety of songs to heavy, malletted drums, so well organized that it sounded like a Japanese Taiko drum performance. Their responses to the announcer's calls were intense and precise, even militaristic, conjuring images of courtyards full of disciplined men practicing Kung Fu (okay, I watched the new Karate Kid movie featuring Jackie Chan on the plane). Anyway, I couldn't sing the chants back to you weil ich verstehe nur ein bisschen Deutsch, but they were intense. Sections 420 and 216 of SAP Arena, I salute you.

Interesting to me was the fact that the Sharks brought with them the Shark Tank's announcer Danny Miller, a lot of the montages and short features which are used on the gondola at the Tank, and also that particular keyboard-recording of "rock and roll part two" for when they score. I have since learned that that is because they brought with them director of event presentation Steve Maroni. This is also the first game I've been to in which both the home and away teams had goal-celebration music. It was extremely refreshing to see a return to home-white uniforms for this game and it was super cool to see the Sharks play on international-sized ice, on which I had never seen a game played before, and also fun to see Sharkie in Lederhosen. The wider ice really seemed to favor Mannheim, which served as a reminder to me just how unfair it was for the Vancouver Olympics to be played on NHL ice (isn't one of the prerequisites of hosting the Olympics the possession of or the willingness to construct Olympic facilities?). The San Jose forwards lost the puck just about every time they rimmed it around the boards behind the net and the defensemen, who still seem to be working on their communication, played about the same positioning I expect to see on the smaller ice surface and thereby struggled to keep the puck in when it came along the far boards. The Sharks were also not their usual, physically dominant selves. My own lack of hockey-playing experience allows me only to speculate as to whether that is a case of a slower team not wanting to be caught out of position or whether it is because the Sharks were expecting a friendly exhibition. At any rate, one thing was clear from minute one: the Germans play fast. Much faster than what we are used to in the NHL.

Mannheim took a one-nothing lead in the first period and, despite the Sharks coming on stronger in the second, were able to hold that lead until the third, at which point special teams took over and the Sharks were able to claw their way onto the board on the power play and then take the lead on a 5-on-3, which they got when one of the Mannheim players took a delay of game penalty. I wonder if the German league typically uses the same delay of game penalties as the NHL.
I had heard there isn't really any fighting in European hockey, which is why I was surprised to see Ryane Clowe drop the gloves with someone after he didn't like one of the hits Mannheim threw. It wasn't much of a fight. The Mannheim player clearly did not want to go. In fairness, I don't believe anybody ever actually wants to fight Ryane Clowe. Mannheim tied the game on their own power play later that period. The game ended in a 2-2 tie and the Sharks won the subsequent shootout. For those of you who care: Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn were both failed to score on the Mannheim netminder in the shootout. Ryane Clowe beat their goalie with his high, glove-side backhand (you know the one) and Dan Boyle lured the goalie into making the first move and patiently slid the puck just past the post at the last moment on his forehand (same glove-side). Only Mannheim's second shooter (of four) beat Niemi. I would love to be able to give a better account of the Mannheim players, but there were no stat sheets provided and where one expects to see the player's name on the sweater there is only a big label: "SAP". It's all I can do not to make jokes about it. Surnames are written in small print beneath the numbers. I couldn't read them. Even when they were announced in the shootout, the announcer only gave the players' numbers and first names; the crowd shouted [unintelligibly] their last.

A couple of annoyances this preseason: 1. Why can Dany Heatley not stay on his feet? 2. Why did Thomas Greiss not dress for this game? That's bullscheisse. I'm sure Todd McClellan wanted to make the professional choice and not the personal one based on Greiss's family and friends coming to town, but if the purpose of this exhibition game was to grow the sport in Europe/Germany, you'd think you'd play your German players. I guess Niemi needs all the experience he can get right now.

A word on Germany: don't be afraid to travel here. Germans are required to learn a second language very early in school (by our standards) and many of them choose English. Almost anywhere you go there will be a German/English speaker within earshot and the number of them increases pretty sharply as you approach an international airport. By the time you get to Berlin you won't need to know a word of German (Berlin Street Vendor: "It's okay, you can order in English; I'm from Detroit." Us: "Oh. Uhh... go Wings?").

I had been hoping to catch the last weekend of Oktoberfest here, but my family and I spent pretty much all of Saturday traveling and checking in to the hotel. I had only enough time for a couple Special Oktoberfest brews before the game and Sunday was Unification Day, which meant that almost nothing was open. But anyway there really weren't any big festivities going on in Mannheim, only a few Germans in Lederhosen or those distinctive traditional dresses (think St. Pauli Girl) at the restaurant, and I'm not convinced they don't wear those 365 days a year. If you want to go to the famous festival of huge, crowded tents each serving a single brand of beer, you pretty much have to go to Munich in September. It's about three weeks long, but it ends the first weekend in October. The good news is that this is still Germany all year 'round and any restaurant you walk into will serve you a beer for a little more than the price of a Coke (Coke being a bit more expensive here). Also unfortunate is the fact that the Berliner Eisbaren are on a road trip right now, so we were unable to see if Jeff Friesen still plays for them (didn't find a roster on their website, either).
Anyway, it took me a while for my sister and I to figure out how to post to this blog from her tablet (I don't want to give the brand a free plug), but given that we are leaving Berlin in the next eight hours for Stockholm, I decided it was time to pull this all together and get it online. You will hear from me again from Sweden. And you won't have to suffer through any pitiful attempts to write the language, because the only thing I know how to say in Swedish is "a horse."
From Berlin,

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