I am not an avid NHL fan, nor have I ever claimed to be one. But I appreciate the sport for what it is –– especially after my experience from the SAP Center press box.
Jan. 17, 2022, was my first time watching the San Jose Sharks play in person and my first time at an NHL game since elementary school. For as dry as a Sharks 6-2 blowout win over the Los Angeles Kings sounds, the rousing cheers of the home crowd kept me engaged for all three periods.
From the outside parking lot, the stadium seemed massive. From the inside, it seemed even more so. Holding a maximum capacity of 17,562 people, the SAP Center has hosted past events such as concerts, March Madness Tournament games and U.S. Figure Skating Championships. On Monday, it was 61% full.
The staff and media entrance is tucked away beneath the main stairway. It isn’t a glamorous spot –– one security gate and a heavy set of metal doors led me straight to the check-in desk, which funneled into the hallways of the premier seating sections. With a quick flash of my ID and proof of COVID-19 vaccination to an attendant, I was handed my Sharks media pass sticker.
As I passed through a sea of fans in teal jerseys, I took the elevator up to the topmost “fourth” floor. Once the doors opened, another attendant helped guide me through a maze to the press box. From start to finish, it took around 10 minutes.
At SAP Center, the media area resembles more of a press “booth” than a “box.” It isn’t enclosed, but rather open to every sight and sound of the venue. Centered at the very top, nestled underneath roof pipelines and wires, the booth holds a spectacular bird’s eye view of the ice.
My seat number was 17, normally the spot for the visiting team’s TV crew. That day, it was The Daily Californian’s. To my left were live broadcasters and the PA announcer. To my right were writers from The Athletic, NHL.com and The Associated Press, to name a few.
At every seat a TV, desk, outlets and printable stats are provided. Multiple seats are sectioned off with dividers, resembling a prototypical office workspace. Cozy, yet spacious, each media member has the privacy to watch the game on their own accord. The media relations coordinator often roams around to answer questions and requests.
Typically a media member is expected to arrive at a game well before it officially begins. Since puck drop was at 1 p.m., I made my way to the booth an hour earlier. This gave me more than enough time to find my bearings and indulge in the refreshments provided by “The Shark Tank.”
And indulged I did.
With a complete array of foods and drinks before me, my options were plentiful. On one side of the booth lay a refrigerator of beverages, coffee maker and tea, as well as a rotating cart of pretzels, chips and granola bars. On the other side lay a hot bar of taquitos, corn dogs and raspberry shortbread desserts. After stuffing myself to the edge of a food-induced coma, I continued to explore.
What caught my eye throughout the entirety of the game was the lighting. Every seat in the house was lined with lights to coordinate a spectacular showing. With spotlights flickering and a teal hue shining on the rink, the presence of the Sharks branding was omnipresent.
S.J. Sharkie made multiple appearances. The San Jose players skated onto the ice through a massive shark-head tunnel. Even the Zambonis were fitted with fins and painted to match one of the NHL’s most beloved mascots.
From skates scraping the ice to sticks hitting the puck, satisfying sounds reverberated throughout the stadium. “Beat LA” chants, much to my chagrin as an LA local, started the game off. “Timo” chants, after a historic five-goal performance by the Sharks’ star forward Timo Meier, ended it.
While I didn’t exactly know what to expect by traveling to San Jose, the home crowd did not disappoint. The Sharks-Kings rivalry is a bitter one in the NHL, and that tension could be felt in multiple ways. Though this was my first time at the SAP Center for a hockey game, it certainly won’t be my last –– whether it’s from the press box or not.