Sharks, NHL dis­cussing op­tions

With ban go­ing into ef­fect, San Jose slated to play three home games later this month

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Curtis Pashelka

SAN JOSE >> No op­tion ap­pears to be off the ta­ble as the San Jose Sharks and the NHL on Tues­day were still try­ing to fig­ure out what it will do for the three home games the team is sched­uled to play later this month.

A day af­ter Santa Clara County health of­fi­cials im­ple­mented a manda­tory ban on all large gath­er­ings in hopes of con­tain­ing the spread of the deadly coro­n­avirus, the Sharks were still un­sure

as to what might hap­pen to sched­uled games at SAP Cen­ter against Mon­treal, Bos­ton and Ari­zona.

The ban be­gan at mid­night Wed­nes­day, will span at least three weeks and will ap­ply to any event with more than 1,000 at­ten­dees. The Santa Clara County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and po­lice de­part­ments through­out the county will en­force the ban.

Op­tions the NHL and the Sharks are dis­cussing in­clude play­ing games as sched­uled at SAP Cen­ter with­out spec­ta­tors in the build­ing, play­ing games at neu­tral sites out­side of Santa Clara County or post­pon­ing home games un­til af­ter the end of March.

“Home ice ad­van­tage is al­ways key,” Sharks in­terim coach Bob Bough­ner said when asked whether he’s rather play games at neu­tral sites with fans. “Whether it’s a neu­tral site game or if they de­cide some­thing like that, it’s still nice to be in your home rink and your home dress­ing room. Be

able to not stay in a ho­tel and go sleep in your own bed. There’s a lot of ad­van­tages to be­ing at home.”

There could also be dif­fer­ent op­tions for dif­fer­ent games, as all three games may not be played at the same site.

“I’ve never been in the NHL when we played a game with­out any fans,” Sharks for­ward Evan­der Kane said Tues­day. “That idea would def­i­nitely be very dif­fer­ent. I know they made an an­nounce­ment on a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios. We’re just all wait­ing to see what ac­tu­ally hap­pens. Ob­vi­ously the empty build­ing is one of them.

“It’s be very strange to play in an empty build­ing, that’s for sure.”

The Sharks have also been in close con­tact with of­fi­cials from the county. Last week, the Sharks de­cided they would con­tinue to play sched­uled games against Min­nesota, Ot­tawa and Colorado de­spite county health of­fi­cials at the time call­ing for new mea­sures to pre­vent the virus from cir­cu­lat­ing, in­clud­ing can­cel­ing large gath­er­ings like sport­ing events.

The games against the Wild and Se­na­tors had the two small­est crowds of the sea­son. The Sharks an­nounced that 14,517 tick­ets were dis­trib­uted for the March 5 game with Min­nesota and 14,694 tick­ets were dis­trib­uted for Sun­day’s game with Colorado. Seat­ing ca­pac­ity for Sharks games at SAP Cen­ter is 17,562, and the av­er­age-sized crowd in 36 home games so this sea­son has been 16,427.

“We love play­ing in front of our fans, so it’s def­i­nitely shock­ing news,” Sharks for­ward Timo Meier said. “But we also know that health comes first, so we’re just here to do our job. We love play­ing hockey and we love hav­ing a crowd.”

The Sharks held prac­tice Tues­day morn­ing be­fore they left for Chicago, as they be­gin a week­long road trip against the Black­hawks on Wed­nes­day. Their next home game is sched­uled to be against the Cana­di­ens on March 19, fol­lowed two days later by a game with the Bru­ins. They play the Coy­otes on March 29.

Mon­day, Santa Clara County an­nounced its first coro­n­avirus-re­lated death, prompt­ing the ban. As of then, there were 133 known cases of COVID-19 within Cal­i­for­nia, in­clud­ing 37 re­ported in Santa Clara County. Last Thurs­day, the num­ber of con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases in Santa Clara County had reached 20.

“I think we’re go­ing through it just like you guys are go­ing through it,” Sharks cen­ter Joe Thorn­ton said. “I think we’ve got to be sen­si­tive to what’s go­ing on. And it’s not just this com­mu­nity, it’s world­wide. But to see it kind of hit home and kind put things in per­spec­tive. We’ve got to take care of each other. It’s been tough these last cou­ple weeks.”

Bough­ner has two chil­dren who at­tend law school at the Univer­sity of Detroit Mercy. Bough­ner is from Wind­sor, On­tario, which is right next to Detroit.

“They’re talk­ing about can­celling their classes and do­ing the rest of their law school through Skype,” Bough­ner said. “So it’s af­fect­ing ev­ery­body. In my home­town, it’s start­ing to be a lit­tle bit of a scare.”

Last week, the gov­ern­ment of Switzer­land banned events in­volv­ing more than 1,000 peo­ple, which af­fected the coun­try’s na­tional league for hockey. Over the week­end, the league held reg­u­larsea­son qual­i­fy­ing rounds with­out spec­ta­tors.

Meier, who is from Switzer­land, said he talked to peo­ple who played in those games with empty are­nas.

“They said, ob­vi­ously, it’s weird, play­ing in front of no­body,” Meier said. “Es­pe­cially once it gets later in the sea­son, to­ward the play­offs when the en­ergy in the build­ing is high. Play­ing mean­ing­ful games in front of no­body, ob­vi­ously it’s dif­fer­ent.”

The Sharks (29-35-5) also play two home games next month, against Dallas on April 2 and Anaheim on April 4 to end the reg­u­lar sea­son. The Sharks re­main math­e­mat­i­cally alive to make the play­offs, but are re­al­is­ti­cally out of con­tention. So in case the ban is ex­tended into April, those would be the only other NHL games po­ten­tially af­fected.

“It’s been a crazy sea­son, for the play­ers and the staff,” said Bough­ner, who took over as the Sharks’ coach Dec. 11 af­ter Pete De­Boer was fired. “From the coach­ing change to the (trade) dead­line, all of the in­juries we’ve dealt with and now this. There’s noth­ing else that can re­ally be thrown at you. It’s been one of those sea­sons.”

ANDA CHU — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

The Sharks’ head is low­ered onto the ice as fans cheer be­fore the team takes on the Blues in Game 1of the 2019Wester­n Con­fer­ence fi­nal at SAP Cen­ter in San Jose on May 11.

JOSE CARLOS FA­JARDO — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

Sharks fans cheer for their play­ers dur­ing in­tro­duc­tions at the All-Star skills com­pe­ti­tion at SAP Cen­ter in San Jose on Jan. 25, 2019.

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