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Why I’m a Fan of the San Jose Sharks

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An unconventional journey led me to my unconventional team.

Tommy Wingels, St. Louis Blues versus San Jose Sharks Jan. 14th 2017. Photo courtesy of Sie Nicole.

Welcome to the refreshed Fear the Fin! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

I didn't exactly grow up in hockey. Sure, my dad used to take us to Kalamazoo Wings games, but it always felt like an activity planned for my three older brothers. I was the youngest and the only girl. I was always an afterthought.

That was fine by me. I was a theatre kid, anyway. From the time I was five, I was a dancer, a singer, an actress – I threw myself into everything the world of theatre had to offer. That world was my world, one that gave me a chance to start over with every new show.

This was before High School Musical. Before Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens challenged the status quo, high school was still high school. I was in theatre. At some point, sports fell off my radar and I let them go.

My director had other plans.

When High School Musical hit the stage, my high school was the first in Michigan to obtain its rights and perform it. Every show, we would have a cast outing. For the spring musical, just like clockwork, we would go to a K Wings game. I did my best to pretend to be over it, covering that part of me that still had my heart race when anyone rushed the net. By then, it was too late. Though I spent my afternoons rehearsing it line by line, the meaning of the High School Musical had been lost on me and it stayed like that through graduation.

I ended up attending Western Michigan University, a Division I hockey college. While there, I had a roommate who took me to a Muskegon Lumberjacks game. It was college. The social structures were different and sitting just a few rows behind the net, I had a chance to be honest with myself.

I liked sports. In particular, I loved hockey.

I went to school to study playwriting and learned how to create characters, how to build narratives. In my time at Western, I watched future NHL players take the ice at Lawson. Watching them skate out, I remembered being a wobbly child, my dad holding my hand as we lapped around Wings Event Center. I imagined myself as they were, skating out to all of the fanfare Western Michigan had to provide and just like waiting backstage for the curtain to rise, I would hold my breath.

I thought of my high school drama teacher, dragging a group of theatre kids and taking them to a hockey game every year. Though he never said it, I think he was trying to teach us something that took years for me to finally figure out.

Sports are theatre.

They're improvisational theatre where the rules of the game are the only constant circumstances. There are narratives that build on each other, that result in emotional payoffs because you're invested in this story and its characters. The audiences ooo and ahh in unison, an experience unique to live storytelling. And every game, every season, they get to start over.

See, the real point of High School Musical isn't that Zac Efron could be both a basketball player and an actor. It's that there's so much more overlap to those two worlds than we're willing to allow ourselves to imagine.

The ice is their stage, a black box theatre with the audience on all sides, so close it’s as if they’re part of the show themselves. Their lines are are nicknames, shouts, the frequent “Fuckin’ right, boys!” over the special effects of a goal horn sounding in the distance. Their stage directions are learned with a dry erase marker and carried out with knives strapped to their feet.

With hockey in particular, there's a performative nature. There's a culture, not all too different from the one I grew up in here in rural Michigan. There are villains, there are good guys, and there are redemption arcs. It's an unending sea of narratives, ready and waiting for the next move to set them in motion. It’s pure theatre, where the audience is just as much a part of the story as the actors giving everything they have to tell the right one.

“The best thing about live theatre,” my drama teacher used to tell us, “is that it’s live.” This was usually wrapping up the story about a broom catching fire onstage during a production of The Wizard of Oz, or the ten year old lead piecing her mic pack together on stage, mid-song, during Seussical. Isn’t that the same thing we love about sports? No matter how many times you rehearse it perfectly, live storytelling is unpredictable by nature.

So how did I settle on the Sharks?

When I decided I'd start paying attention to the NHL, I was out of college and didn't have the constant access to hockey I'd been used to. I just started watching games, trying out all of my friends' teams on a trial basis. One night, the Red Wings were playing in San Jose. I’d heard very little about the Sharks before then, but I tuned in, since the Wings are local for me.

They lowered the shark head onto the ice and everything I love about sports came together in that moment. It was pure theatre.

Through the game, Randy Hahn told me about the Sharks and I spent the rest of the night on YouTube, putting together their narrative. I watched player profiles, Sharks Foundation videos, the infamous holiday sweater video – one of the better all-nighters I've pulled post-college.

By the end of it, I knew I'd found my team. They played fast and exciting hockey and they were good. Watching Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton make plays felt like watching difficult choreography finally come together. I could already feel they were on the edge of something big.

Sharks fans all seemed to feel it. I found people that in a lot of ways reminded me of the Lawson Lunatics at WMU or the fervent fans at K Wings games. There hadn’t been a lot of payoff in cheering for those teams, but there was a community there to support them, anyway. Sharks fans made this team my home.

It all came together for me in the 2015-16 playoffs. Sure, I would've written a better ending, but what a story along the way.

I always thought I wanted to be a playwright. I’ve spent the last two years writing about hockey, finding the narrative in the ever-changing world of sports, and I don’t feel too far from that desire.

Being part of the Sharks' story is the best thing I've done. There's no better story out there.

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