And How This Whole Hockey Thing Came About

I'll get to the season preview and roster breakdown tomorrow.  First, some info on where someone California born and bred caught hockey fever.
Mrs. Dude, who has suffered my assorted peccadilloes going on twenty-four years this coming Monday, hung a sign over our bed some years back which reads "we interrupt this marriage to bring you the hockey season."  Actually, she's as passionate a fan of the game as I.  Her story is it's inherited, as her grandmother on her mother's side was born in Canada.  Um... okay, honey.

My love for the game started back in the dim distant past known as 1967.  The National Hockey League decided that maybe having more than six teams total might prove advantageous to alleviating boredom among the general public, so it added six more (quick, name them), one being in Oakland.  Thus began the brief, sorry history of the Seals, and with them the game grabbing hold of me and never letting go.
The Seals' history was anything but distinguished.  The team seldom made the post season and never got past the first round of the playoffs as it routinely shuttled from one bad owner to another and eventually was spirited away to Cleveland, where under the Barons moniker they briefly struggled before being folded into the then-Minnesota North Stars in the mid-'70s.  However, the overwhelming majority of this was lost on yours truly.  All I knew as a kid was that this was the most fascinating game I had ever seen or heard.  Nights were spent with a transistor radio smuggled under my pillow at night so I could listen to the games as called by Joe Starkey, best known for his "the band is out on the field" call of The Play when Cal beat Stanford in the single most improbable finish of a game college football has ever known.  Days were spent with roller skates strapped on and a stick in my hands so I could be my favorite player, big bad Carol Vadnais.  It didn't matter that none of my friends or family cared a whit about the team or the game.  This was my team, my sport, one that I loved every minute of.  And when my team went away, I grieved alone.  One can only imagine my unbridled joy when the Sharks came into being in the very early '90s, and how I've willingly made the trip down to San Jose again and again to see something I spent many years wondering if I'd ever have back in my life -- a team I could call my own.
My most cherished sports memory, greater than even the pre-earthquake joy of the Bay Bridge World Series of 1989 or seeing my driver in NASCAR Jeff Gordon win in person at California Speedway in 2004, came one late September evening in 1991 at the rickety old Cow Palace in Daly City when the Sharks played their first-ever home game, a pre-season tilt against the Vancouver Canucks.  As the Sharks took the ice for the pre-game warm-up, those in attendance stood up and applauded, and as I joined them the overwhelming realization flooded every part of my being: I had a team again.
This is the way sports ought to be, a joyous bond between fan and performer, the latter's skill and determination being saluted by the former.
I can get as frustrated with my team as anyone, and there is little doubt this will seep into the blog from time to time.  That said, my love for the game itself never diminishes.  And having a team to root for is something I don't take for granted.  So that all said...