(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner)
Seeing it on the schedule, I went to see some Sharks skate with some kids at the Oakland Ice Center. That was Wednesday afternoon.
I got lost once in Oakland, out by the docks and warehouses. I didn’t mean to be anywhere near the docks or the warehouses, but I took a wrong exit and then decided to correct the mistake via surface streets. I always carry a sat nav now.
The sat nav isn’t perfect and it kept trying to send me the wrong way on a one way street. That’s not as bad as being lost out by the docks at night, but it is irritating.
I think I was attacked by a maple leaf as I walked from my car. I mention that because an hour or so later, Toronto was clobbering the Flyers and their fancy new goalie in an exhibition game. Maybe it wasn’t a maple leaf. I’m not much of a botanist. It was breezy and the leaves are all yellow and inclined to fall, drift, and plaster themselves against you like befuddled butterflies. Or flap in your face and tell you the Flyers are in trouble. Same difference.
When I sit down in the Oakland Ice Center, there are a few teens on the ice but mostly the skaters are tiny. A few more teens arrive in purple and gold, the Oakland Tech hockey team.
One kid is late getting his gear on. He complains to his friend that last time the Sharks sent someone who didn’t make the team. I ask him if he remembers who it was. He says “I dunno, someone who got cut or sent down or something.”
The Sharks arrive in jerseys and jeans: Sexsmith, Irwin, Livingston, Heemskerk, Connolly and Pelech.
Not being in Anaheim has to be sort of a bummer for them. Surely a bunch of tiny skaters will take the sting out of it, eventually.
More kids arrive, and the little critic shouts to them, pointing to the ice “look who’s here! Sharks are here!” So much for the skeptic routine.
Irwin is the most active from the start, skating around with the kids as they do laps of half the ice. Other Sharks are chatting with the people in charge of the kids.
Sharkie is here too.
A tiny goalie arrives in red. The group convenes around center ice for a question and answer session.
The kids get split into two groups, skate to opposite corners. As they reach the corner, a few off them leap and hurl themselves into the boards. They can’t quite reach the glass with any part but their faces. Thank goodness for the cages.
As the necessarily chaotic shooting drill gets under way (how tidy can it be with around 30 tiny skaters?) the Sharks seem to enjoy retrieving stray pucks, avoiding little projectile skaters (hey, we all saw the Toews vid, right?), and occasionally tossing a puck at each other.
More organized drills go on at the other end of the ice with the Oakland Tech team. I think it’s nice to include the older kids in this event. It really stinks to be left out just because you are over 3 ft tall.
The young kids are divvied up into two scrimmage groups, one young, the other teeny tiny.
The tinies are very intense. They have some positioning issues but they are all over that puck, all 12 or so of them.
The Oakland Ice Center has 2 rinks, one Olympic and one NHL. Both have good sized grandstands, larger than I expected. The facility is clean, the mats look new, in very good shape. The boards are unmarked. The space is bright, open, uncluttered. If I’m going to evaluate the facility, I think, I’d better check out the bathrooms.
Everyone lines up for a group photo, some of the Sharks staff folks go to set up for autograph signing. The Sharks stay on the ice, play some more with the kids.
One young skater in teal isn’t going to wait: he asks Pelech to sign a puck for him.
Word that it’s time to go get autographs starts a stampede of tinies off the ice.
I go to assess the restroom situation. They are easy to find. Someone thought about them. I’m not saying there’s someone waiting for you holding out a linen towel. Come on, they’re public bathrooms. They are clean, there’s a decorative bench along one wall, there’s paper where you expect it. Like the rest of the facility, things seem to work and they are taken care of.
Oakland has a reputation for not being a good place to send your kids out to play in the streets. Warranted or not, that reputation makes me think it’s extra important to have a clean well-lit place to skate.