SAN JOSE, Calif. — It had been nearly two years since I went on the road to cover a hockey game and I won’t lie, I missed it, mishaps, quirks and all.
The Vegas Golden Knights were wrapping up their preseason Saturday in San Jose to face the Sharks at SAP Center and since I was able to mix business with pleasure, I opted to go.
I’m glad I did.
Not only did I get to see much of my family in the Bay Area, I remembered how traveling to a road game can help your reporting and building relationships. The players seem more relaxed. The coach definitely does sound more relaxed, though in Peter DeBoer’s case, returning to San Jose where he coached the Sharks for 4 1/2 years and still has many friends, was probably a mixed bag.
But like the world itself, much has changed. The pandemic remains part of our daily lives. You’re masking up everywhere, be it the airport, the hotel, the restaurant or the rink. The locker room is off limits, just like at home. The Golden Knights have ditched Zoom, so if you’re not there, you are relying on the team to provide postgame quotes from DeBoer and his players.
I held the strange distinction to be the first member of the Golden Knights media to cover a road game during the preseason. Two reporters did attend the rookie tournament in Arizona a few weeks ago, but no one had been on the road with the parent club until I showed up Saturday.
I nearly didn’t get in. The guy at the security entrance could not find my credential, even though it was right on top of a separate pile. A call to Golden Knights PR man Sage Sammons led to a call to Sharks PR and in a matter of minutes, problem solved.
I’ll chalk it up to it being preseason and everyone’s working out the kinks. But strange things sometimes happen on the road. When I arrived at the Oakland Airport Friday, I headed to the rental car center, waited on line, got my contract and proceeded outside to grab my car and drive to Danville in the East Bay for lunch with my aunt and uncle.
Problem was, there were no cars. Like many companies, the agency I rented from has a shortage in its fleet so it took an additional 40 minutes before I was on the road. Hey, things happen.
The last time I covered a Golden Knights road game was in December 2019. Gerard Gallant was still the coach, Malcom Subban was in the net and Nate Schmidt spent the overtime chasing the Islanders’ Mat Barzal all over the ice at Nassau Coliseum in what would be a 3-2 loss to the Isles.
Since then, my coverage of the team has extended as far as City National Arena and T-Mobile Arena. Until Saturday.
It may take a while until the true normal experience of covering a team on the road actually happens. To be able to go back int a locker room and get a 1-on-1 interview with the players. To chat with the coach in a hotel lobby or in his office at the visiting rink. To swap info and stories with the other team’s reporters. The little things that help you cover a team and also make it an enjoyable experience.
Sometimes, where you cover the game from isn’t all that enjoyable. SAP Center comes close to falling into that category. The press box was an afterthought when they built the place so to get there, you take an elevator four levels, them walk up a flight of stairs. It’s not as bad as trying to navigate the “Catwalk of Doom” at Calgary but it’s not a walk in the park either.
Once there, you have to make sure you don’t run into the cross beams that help hold up the roof. Fortunately, they’re behind you and as long as you’re paying attention, you’ll be fine. The view of the ice is very good and the chairs are comfortable.
Many NHL press boxes have photos on the wall of players who played there and/or the media which covered them. In San Jose, there’s a gallery of four photos that include Ken Dryden, Gerry Desjardins, Wayne Thomas and Gary Smith, all who played in the late 1960s and ’70s. But you have to go to the restroom in the SAP Center press box to find them. And while it strikes me as odd, it’s also kinda cool seeing those photos hanging on a bathroom wall.
As for the game itself, well, let’s just say the Golden Knights have had better outings in San Jose. They trailed 2-0 less than seven minutes in, couldn’t solve Adin Hill, who stopped all 25 shots he faced, and was rewarded with a 4-0 shutout.
Normally, DeBoer might not be in the best of moods after such a performance by his team. He wasn’t happy defenseman Zach Whitecloud got hurt in the second period. But since this was preseason, he rationalized it as such and he expects a much better effort from his team come Tuesday when the Golden Knights open the regular season at T-Mobile Arena against the expansion Seattle Kraken.
DeBoer was surprised to see me waiting for him after the game and I explained that like him, I too had lived in San Jose (I’m a San Jose State graduate). We chatted for a minute or so about the South Bay and it’s moments like that that make life on the road for a reporter worthwhile. You get to establish a rapport with those you cover and they get to know you as well.
I plan to make several road trips this year. We’re going to start a travel tip jar soon on the Vegas Hockey Now website where you can contribute as much or as little as you’d like to help fund my road trips with the team and enhance our coverage of the Golden Knights. So look for that feature on our home page real soon. In the meantime, I’m driving to Los Angeles Wednesday for Thursday’s game with the Kings at Staples Center. Wish me luck navigating the freeways.