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Taking the Sharks with you on the road

@BarroldBonds reflects on what it means to be a Sharks fan away from the Bay.

Tommy Wingels faces off against Brock Nelson as the Sharks take on the Islanders. (Oct. 18, 2016).

The San Jose Sharks are my strongest connection to the Bay Area. Since I left the South Bay in 2009, I’ve bounced all over the country. So many things have changed in my life in those intervening years – friends, hobbies, priorities -- but the Sharks have been a constant presence and a source of comfort.

The first Sharks game I attended – and the one that really got me hooked on NHL hockey – was a 6-0 drubbing of the Florida Panthers midway through the 2001-02 season. I remember being nine years old and completely blown away by how fast Pavel Bure was, but I even more vividly remember how much of a joy it was to see a team firing on all cylinders.

Eleven Sharks got points that night, and ever since then I’ve taken the most delight in those rare Sharks wins where most of the roster gets a moment to shine. Here’s a video of Scott Thornton and Paul Laus throwing down from that game:

That 2002 game was notable for another reason – it was Miikka Kirpusoff’s first career shutout. My Dad turned to me and wondered out loud if it would mark the start of an unstoppable Nabby-Kipper goaltending tandem. Last night, as I rode the subway en route to Barclays Center to see Aaron Dell make his first career start against the Islanders, I found myself hoping I’d see his first shutout (and that, if it happened, we wouldn’t trade him to the Calgary Flames).

That didn’t happen. Dell played a solid game and the Sharks supported just him enough to get Dell his first career win. I will remember him making a final save as time expired and giving the tiniest fist pump as his teammates swarmed him. I will remember Joe Thornton making four separate passes that made me chuckle with joy, especially when Tomas Hertl deflected one of them into the back of the Islanders net. Jumbo has been doing that for twelve years now. Watching him play is like seeing an old friend.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at New York Islanders
Old friend Joe Thornton: a source of constant joy.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

That’s one takeaway that makes hockey fandom – and sports fandom in general – a delightful thing. A year ago, I was at Barclays to see the Sharks lose 6-3 in a generally sloppy effort. But there were little moments of amusement and joy in that ugly game I’ll remember for a long time.

Nikolay Goldobin scored his first career goal in that game, which brought a rush of hope and excitement for his future. In what may go down as the most memorable moment of his Sharks career, Alex Stalock tried to draw a penalty by knocking his own mask off. He was caught red-handed, which brought a chorus of boos from the Islanders faithful and made me cackle like an idiot. Sometimes all you can do is laugh and shrug.

NHL: New York Islanders at San Jose Sharks
Oh Al, we hardly knew ye.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

You’ll notice that I’m using the word “I” a fair amount in this piece. That won’t be a recurring theme as I move forward at Fear The Fin. Broadly speaking, everyone is here to talk about the team and not ourselves. But sports fandom is odd because it is simultaneously intensely personal and incredibly communal. Memories and shared experiences are the foundation on which a lifelong passion is built and nurtured over the years.

That personal connection -- that feeling of excitement during San Jose’s success and quiet despair during their struggles -- is what keeps me watching regular season games even though they end at 1 a.m. Eastern when I have places to be six hours later. It’s why I see the Sharks whenever they’re on the road and within a four-hour drive, even though they are 2-11 since I attended my last Sharks home game on April 26, 2009. It’s why I will keep the Sharks with me, no matter where I go or what I do.