It was a highly anticipated game featuring one of the biggest rivalries in California sports, and with over 70,000 in attendance, Levi’s Stadium hosted its first outdoor hockey event when the Los Angeles Kings battled the San Jose Sharks in the National Hockey League’s Stadium Series on Feb. 21.
Despite public transportation problems noted in the past, fans’ dismay quickly turned to excitement as they settled in for the second NHL game played outdoors in the Golden State.
After American Idol winner Kris Allen sang his hit song from 2009, “Live Like We’re Dying,” and the National Anthem, it was all business for the Northern-Southern California battle.
“Seeing hockey being played outside is a unique experience,” said San Jose resident Brad Vernon, who attended the game with his wife Kristen. “Being in California and watching your home team play makes it even more special. There was a cross between excitement and awe among the fans, both the number of people and for many their first time seeing the stadium.”
The Kings drew first blood when Kyle Clifford, with an assist by Jake Muzzin, scored at 2:46 in the first. L.A.’s lead lasted the majority of the period, but San Jose tied it at 18:56 when Tommy Wingels assisted Brent Burns in his 16th goal of the season.
Bay Area native John Fogerty rocked the first intermission with a Creedence Clearwater Revival set that included “Bad Moon Rising,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Proud Mary,” “Fortunate Son” and “Up Around the Bend.”
With the players noting the ice’s “stickiness” in post-game interviews, the second period lacked the same spark of the first. Fans scaled back their intensity, only mustering a very brief “Beat LA” chant when the Sharks were given a power play opportunity.
During the second intermission, Melissa Ethridge performed what felt like a much shorter set, singing only “Bring Me Some Water,” “I’m the Only One” and a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.”
Once the third period began, it wasn’t long before the 1-1 tie was broken on Marian Gaborik’s 17th goal of the season. Assisted by Jeff Carter, the Kings’ second score of the night became the one that sealed the deal for Los Angeles, as not even a late period goalie pull was enough to get the Sharks an equalizer.
“Sharks did what they have been doing all season – lack of decent passing, letting other teams be more physical and giving away too many pucks in their own zone,” said Vernon. “We let the Kings take the lead and only really tried to take it back the last four or five minutes of the game, typical Sharks.”
“We made a couple mistakes,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “The last one, on Gaborik's goal, was disappointing because we had talked about that exact situation … We wanted to win, but we wanted to win in Nashville the other night, too, and there were 7,000 people because of a storm. So the win is really important for the team, and that type of stuff. But maybe this was a little more significance, obviously, because this was our show. These were our fans. This is Sharks Territory, if you want – that's probably the best way to put it. They showed up in droves. I know there were Kings fans here, and there were just plain hockey fans. That's what made tonight so special. But the fact we lost was disappointing. But, to be part of it, I wouldn't trade it for anything.”
Transportation Woes Continue on Game Days
With the first football season in the books, VTA and the City of Santa Clara are still battling with public transportation and commuting woes at Levi’s Stadium on game days. As the city continues to tout VTA as the best way to avoid the congestion on Great America Parkway, fans are seeing a darker side to the ease that should be getting to the stadium.
“[VTA] need[s] to figure something out before next football season or more and more people will just stop buying tickets to games,” said Vernon. “If VTA wants to be the service everyone turns to for games they need to do something about – one, we saw five southbound trains for every northbound train, [and] two, they need to have a few trains start downtown. Anyone trying to get on from St. James to Gish couldn't find room – everything was packed from Campbell or Santa Teresa on. There are fans in downtown San Jose who use public transportation more than anyone else due to location and access. It's frustrating to force your way on a train that is a few blocks from your home. Why should we need to drive to South San Jose to catch a train?”
Likewise, travelers from the north also experienced problems with VTA. Nolan Wong of San Leandro, who attended the game with his girlfriend, Golda Marcus and friends, easily got to the game, but found the trip home treacherous.
“We had no issues getting there because we got there extremely early,” he said. “We got there at 2:30. Going home was a two-hour hell, though. It was unorganized and the trains arriving to take us back home were too short. It was mostly two-car trains rather than three.”
Some of the issues can likely be chalked up to a lack of preparation. VTA noted that it experienced “exceptionally higher crowds … particularly from the south” and carried twice as many fans (nearly 16,000) for the Stadium Series as it had for any of the San Francisco 49ers games. According to the VTA website (www.vta.org/Projects-and-Programs/Transit/light-rail-efficiency/mountain-view-double-track), there are some improvement plans that will be completed this year. But with Super Bowl 50 looming, there are many kinks for VTA work out in order to ensure smooth ride times next February.