Sharks, NHL discussing options
With ban going into effect, San Jose slated to play three home games later this month
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.”
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.
Sharks fans cheer for their players during introductions at the All-Star skills competition at SAP Center in San Jose on Jan. 25, 2019.