So I Went to My First Hockey Game…

Some images from the San Francisco Bulls home season opener, which I went to celebrate my buddy Alvin's birthday!
Some images from the San Francisco Bulls home season opener, which I went to celebrate my buddy Alvin’s birthday!

You all know how much I adore sports, but one seemingly popular one (At least amongst my Twitter timeline) that I’ve never really been able to get into is hockey. I’ve watched it a few times in the past several years and there was just nothing that ever excited me about guys on ice blades whose only goal is to, well, score a thing called a goal by trying to get a puck inside a net. Also, I swear the players get into about five shoving matches requiring referee interference per game. As a football fan, I shouldn’t see that as a terrible thing, but at least in football, they do it on turf. Ice is just scary.

Well, this past Friday night, I was proven somewhat right about my initial indifference about hockey BUT I also kind of got excited about it! Maybe it’s just one of those sports that’s better to witness in person. I found myself at the San Francisco Bulls game with my crew to celebrate our friend Alvin’s birthday, an idea implanted and executed through one of his professional connections. The team had played several games in the last couple of weeks but this one was their home opener versus the Bakersfield Condors for the season at the Cow Palace. The San Francisco Bulls are a minor league affiliate of the Bay Area’s NHL team, the San Jose Sharks, and they are only in their second year of being a team, so they are baby hockey players in every way (Except not actual babies)!

As part of the group incentive, we all received tickets for a choice of a hot dog or a pretzel along with a choice of beer or wine. I got my hot dog just fine, but the bartender and I got into a mini scuffle about not being able to take my ticket for wine (She said she could only take another ticket called “Bull Bucks,” and because the drink ticket was printed on the same paper as the regular ticket though it was still a separate ticket, she was all like “You won’t be able to get to your seat if I take this!”), and I begrudgingly ended up paying $9.00 for a cup that got knocked over by my sister later in the game with most of its contents still in it. Turned out the bartender was right though—the ticket was only valid at two stands and not the bar, and it said so in tiny print on the face of the ticket. HOWEVER, although I was stupid to not have seen that in the first place, it was also her fault for not seeing it too. So if that bartender is reading this, I’m sorry for arguing with you, but you looked at my ticket as well and I wish you had seen the tiny print first and had pointed it out to me.

Anyway, that was the crappiest part of my night because it was simply so beyond embarrassing. But thankfully, it ended up being a very tiny blemish on a very fun evening with the Bulls, at the Cow Palace, and with friends (And I did get my free glass of wine after all, though I ended up not even drinking most of it since I got a tummy ache. Damn antibiotics!). We did see a few shoving matches, including one that happened not even three or four minutes into the game. I felt like such a fool turning around to ask Alvin so many questions like “How many periods are there?,” “How long is intermission?,” “Why do their substitutes go into the game while the clock is still ticking?,” and “What’s the deal with the penalty box?”

But the great thing was that this was a minor league game with less than half of the capacity filled. Nobody cares what you do or say. It was chill but the arena was still rocking with energy and enthusiasm well-throughout, especially when the Bulls scored their two goals (They won 2-1). There seemed to be a lot of strong reactions from the section next to us. One guy kept going “NO!” at every Bulls mishap. A group of folks kept heckling the guys on the other team. Everyone seemed to have a turn being featured on the jumbotron and some of the things I saw just made me laugh for minutes: Guys grinding the poles next to them. Guys lifting up their shirts all the way. Guys flipping the camera off. The best. When I first started going to baseball games, the crowd energy was what impressed me the most. It was contagious. I got that same feeling at this hockey game, especially in the last ten or so seconds when the Condors were thisclose to scoring a game-tying goal. I felt like I needed the Bulls to get that win and I felt a lot of nervousness in those last seconds, and excitement when that clock ran to zero without another Condors goal.

I also really like what the San Francisco Bulls’ marketing and entertainment teams are doing to engage fans and get them to come out to the games. I know elements like in-game emcees and promotional nights and special events are all part of sports, but it’s just fun stuff and they’re doing it all right. I totally want some of their giveaway items. Also, you can ride a mechanical bull for $5 at the venue! Additionally, they announced autograph sessions for players at Serramonte Mall (One of the San Francisco Bulls’ sponsors) on Saturday, and a couple of player signings in the main lobby after the game. Though they’re minor league players, that accessibility is wonderful—you just never know how famous and fabulous they’ll get if they do make it to the bigs!

Finally, I really love how the San Francisco Bulls have brought life and a bit more cleanliness to the Cow Palace. When I was little, my parents, uncles, and aunts used to take me there for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice shows. It seemed so huge and pristine back in those days. When I last went there in 2008 for American Idol auditions, it was disgusting and incredibly gross. Only one bathroom was open, one end of the arena was completely dark, and it didn’t look nice at all. What seemed like a monastery to me as a young child became a total dump to me as a young adult. Now, both the men and women bathrooms are open and mostly fresh and outside of them, it actually looks like the welcoming and comfortable venue again.

As for the game of hockey itself, I’m not sure what looked different to me that actually made it interesting for me. I think I was just able to realize that there is more to it than just putting a puck inside a net and all that shoving. Defense, speed, strength, and focus are all very much part of the game to keep the other team out.

The fact that I will become a full-fledged hockey fan may or may not be in the cards, but it can start with this one small step. The experience I had at my first-ever hockey game (And a minor league one at that) gave me a new appreciation for the sport and I truly adored being part of the small yet fiery crowd who came to watch. I will keep in mind going to another San Francisco Bulls game for an outing with a friend or friends in the near future. Oh yeah, and tickets are generally pretty cheap (Starts at $12.50 a pop!), so that’s definitely a one-up from the extremely expensive football games that are going on this season.

Yay affordable entertainment! Yay sports! Yay BAY AREA sports!

(PHOTO CREDIT: My Instagram | Karen Datangel / [featured])

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