The dearth of top-tier professional sports teams in the South Bay, aside from the San Jose Sharks, sort of makes the city a “hockeytown” by default. Some of the most ardent fans in Detroit’s Red (Wings) Army might quarrel with such a claim, but who’s really asking for Detroit’s opinion? Shouldn’t they just be focusing on their economic recovery?
Here’s the truth: San Jose has subtly become one of the most popular hubs in America for amateur hockey. Sharks media-relations director Scott Emmert says that Sharks Ice—rinks that the team’s ownership group manages in San Jose, Fremont and Oakland—provide the largest adult hockey program in the country, with 4,500 registered participants. And with four sheets of ice at its San Jose location, the South Bay is home to the largest recreational ice facility west of the Mississippi at 188,000 square feet.
The Sharks’ youth hockey program, the Jr. Sharks, is among the top 10 largest youth programs in the United States, with 20 teams, and it’s becoming one of more competitive clubs in the country. In 2011, the 12-and-under girls squad took home the 2011 USA Hockey National Championship.
“We are beginning to see players who played their formative years in the Bay Area advancing to top-tier collegiate programs and even the NHL,” Emmert says. “Players who would have come through this area at some time in their youth include: Casey Wellman, Viktor Tihkonov, Brett Sutter, Alec Martinez and Stefan Matteau (first-round pick by New Jersey this year), with many more currently playing in the NCAA or junior programs. Hockey scouts are now a regular presence here in the Bay Area.”
You hear that? Sign up for some amateur hockey, and you could be scouted to play in the NHL. Or maybe you’ll just bang the puck around and go out for a few LaBatt Blues. Either way, take comfort in the knowledge that you’re not in Detroit, and it’s safe to go out and play.