Hockey fans in California?

Zuma Beach: Malibu, CA

Photo courtesy of C. Alexander

“Oh you’re serious!”, add a confused look and you get what most native Californian’s deal with when it comes to the sport we love, no seriously we like hockey.  Even after a game of 20 questions some still feel as if being from a so-called “Non-Hockey market” makes us less of a fan.  I find that statement funny considering that California had to have some sort of “market” to be able to get 3 expansion teams.   The Los Angeles Kings were part of the 6-team expansion that brought the NHL from 6 to 12 teams.  Not to mention they’ve been around since the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup, which was in 1967.  Do the math that was 42 years ago!

When you hear California you don’t think hockey, you visualize beaches, nice weather, movie stars, etc.  It’s understandable since hockey continues to fight for ratings and respect among other sports not only in California but the entire United States.  I can’t speak for TV broadcasts in Southern California for the LA Kings or the Anaheim Ducks, but up until a few years ago in Northern California you were lucky to even watch half of the San Jose Sharks season.  If you didn’t have the Center Ice package, games were often blacked out due to the Bay Area having 2 MLB teams, 2 NFL teams and 1 NBA team garnering most of the airtime.  Not to mention all Cal, Stanford, PAC-10, and other National league broadcast’s that took precedent over hockey.

Photo courtesy of MLSFAN 20

The Internet, radio, or catching the late night local news was how you could find out how the Sharks, LA Kings, and the Ducks were doing.  I myself had to rely on these methods often and as you can imagine it was frustrating not being able to watch the team you love.  This thankfully has changed for the Northerners in recent years with San Jose’s repeated winning seasons and playoff appearances.

So how do these California teams survive with adversity against them?

Two main reasons; first and most important are the fans, the die-hards that travel hours via car, train, bus, or plane just to see their team play…The locals that show up win or lose…The season ticket holders that have followed these teams from the Forum and the Cow Palace.  These are the people that inadvertently sign the players’ paychecks, without them these franchises would cease to exist.  As stated above, winning seasons factors into the equation as well.  Throughout the Sharks, Kings, and Ducks team history you have winning records, consecutive playoff appearances, and a Stanley Cup.  Bottom line if a team’s not winning people won’t show up, not just here but in most cities.  With these economic times people don’t want to shell out money for a team that doesn’t show up and play.

Photo courtesy of C. Alexander

Aside from the overall greatness of the game, what it takes to play, and marquee players like Gretzky, Robitaille, Thornton, Marleau, Selanne etc.,  you can understand why we are fans.  My personal experiences alone show the passion a “Non-Traditional” hockey fan can have.  I hear the word hockey and instantly my conversation and mood shift and I’m in a hockey induced trance.  I can spend countless hours watching games (thank you Center Ice package), looking up stats, or talking about it to anyone who’s interested.  It’s no secret that I’m one of those “die-hards” that travel any distance to see a game.  I really had no choice but to travel 4+ hours to San Jose being that my hometown was 200 miles away.  My friends tend to joke with me saying, “if you were to ever win the lottery the first thing you’d do is buy the San Jose Sharks and live in the HP Pavilion!”

The first game I was able to attend was during the 2006 playoff run.  I got tickets behind the SJ net 8 rows from the glass for a price that I still don’t regret.  The Sharks were playing against the Nashville Predators, which turned out to be a very gritty series.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  My buddy Trevor and I drove those 4+ hours to San Jose listening to a static ridden radio due to my friend only having one CD in his car. During the pre-skate I recognized a couple from a Sharks broadcast, it was none other then Joe Thornton’s parents!

I being the shy one didn’t want to bother them but my friend said, “Hey what do we got to lose?”  We introduced ourselves to them and talked at length about Joe, the Sharks organization, and the fact that we had traveled so far to come see the game.  They couldn’t believe how dedicated and loud the fans were in California considering they are from Ontario, Canada.  San Jose won that game, Patrick Marleau getting a hat trick, and my life forever changed by the experience.  I ended up buying tickets for the first game of the second round against Edmonton, me driving that time with more CD’s in tow and getting to say hi to the Thornton’s again.

Toronto I salute you!

Photo courtesy of C. Alexander

Hall of Fame

Photo courtesy of C. Alexander

Since then I’ve become a hockey junky, attending as many games as possible here in LA, even going solo to Toronto last February just to see the Hall of Fame and catch a few games.  I ended up having the time of my life and made a lot of new friends.  I can personally say that the fans in California are as passionate about the game as those in Canada.  Just because we may not be able to freeze a rink in our back yard or have to drive an hour in the snow at 5am to hockey practice, doesn’t mean we love our hockey and the teams we support any less.

Photo courtesy of C. Alexander


Chelsea Alexander

Chelsea Alexander

Chelsea Alexander

Latest posts by Chelsea Alexander (see all)

11 Comments

  1. Marc Beauregard says:

    Thanks…..As far as being one that bandstands or changing alliances just to be with the winning team! I look at becoming a Ducks fan much like the old Baseball songs says” root root root for the home team” I am not Fanatical towards Hockey like most people are because I was taught early on to love the game itself for the grace speed and toughest of the Worlds fastest team sport! (Funny that was taught to me by my Mother who would tell me stories of going to the Old Montréal Forum and watching the Best Hockey team of those days the Montreal Canadians of the late 40s and 50s) I am not able to attend many games as I would like, with a growing family and Money being tight, I tend to only being able to keep tabs on the League by watching sports shows and reading the sports page. But because my love for the sport is based on watching the skills and talent that is Ice Hockey (and after growing up playing I can appreciate the skills the player’s process) I can enjoy watching any team play be it my current home team the Ducks or any other team in the NHL except for maybe the Maple Leafs. I have fond memories of sneaking back into our living room on a Sunday night and watching the repeat showing of the Kings game on KTLA Chanel 5, as my parents sleep in the next room. I remember watching Vachon, Goring, Terry Harper, and Gill Marllot ( Capt Crunch) sorry about the spelling their names incorrect but….lol I also remember all of the long forgotten players and marveled at their greatness. Gordy Howe, Ted Lindsey, Phil and Tony Esposino, Stan Makita, Bobby Orr, Bret Hull, Terry Sawchuck, Gump Worthy ( one of the last goalies to play with out a mask.) on and on! I just love watching any Hockey Game and I am not so crazy into being zeroed into just my team. Now I work just down the street from the now Honda Center here behind the Orange Curtain in the OC. I remember watching Paul Kariea getting knocked out by Kevin Stevens, and a few hours latter got to meet him in which I told him that he had won my allegiance with his performance that day. It took a lot for me to Start calling myself a Ducks Fan after growing up Watching the then only pro Hockey team in So Cal the LA Kings, even going back to the Oakland Seals with their gold skates. But if anything I want to be known as a Ice Hockey Purest and love the Sport for the Sport itself Thanks for all of the found Memories Beau

    • Marc: Like I tell people when they blast me on my choices of the teams I follow very closely (Sharks, Kings, Capitals, Leafs) “I’m a hockey fan first and foremost”. I love the game ans everything that goes into it. Although I’m not a Ducks fan I can respect you view and your’ love of the team!!

      Cheers!
      -Chelsea

    • Jason Ashton says:

      WZUP Mark, my name is Jason Ashton I to played hockey in West Covina for the Bruins squirt aa peewee aa and bantom in the 80s. Im 40 now your name sure seems familiar. I started playing in Penticton BC Canada as a mite. My home team is still Vancuver even though I am now living in Oregon. Miss playing after all these years ive been considering playing in the old mans pick up game lol, perhaps. Drop me an email if you remeber me. jason68ashton @GMAIL.COM

  2. Chelsea…will you marry me?

  3. To Marc Beauregard, I think you’re story is fascinated, but how can you ever be a Kings fan, but then stop just because a team who was playing better (cross-town rivals)..root for them. That falls into the bandwagon group. But oh well. I’m a dieheart Kings fans and I hate when people assume Californian’s don’t like hockey. The Kings have VERY loyal fans too because before this season, the Kings were generally awful (for the past years) and we STILL had many loyal fans at the games and now that we’re playing great this year, it’s really kept the fan base increasing. I love the Kings.

  4. Great article. I’m a Canadian but my favorite team is Anaheim (so I often see how both sides do things), and I’ve seen evidence time and time again that the average hockey fan of a Californian team is much more passionate than the average fan of a Canadian team. Californian fans have to really LOVE the game and take the effort to follow the team while Canadians don’t have to lift a finger.

    I’ve seen Californian fans follow the team on road trips, as you said. I don’t see a lot of Canadians doing the same (although some do). Californian fans know much more about the teams’ players, even information you normally wouldn’t think of. Those and many more examples are among the reasons why I’m proud to call a myself a fan of a Californian team.

    • Chelsea Alexander says:

      Thank you! I’m very proud to be a hockey fan and a Californian one to boot! You’re right in saying that we really have to “LOVE the game” and know more about the players. I attribute this to the NHL organizations really making an effort for the fans to get to know the players (i.e. meet and greets, charity functions, etc.) and to the tenacity us fans have in getting the most out of what little opportunity we have to see games. In San Jose the players are easily accessible yet people give them their distance out of respect, they aren’t the celebrities here like the players in Canada.

      I have read that some people think that Americans are only interested in players not teams and that they don’t have passion, which I strongly disagree (shocker haha). I not only follow the Sharks, but pretty much all teams in the NHL. I like to know what’s going on, who we’re playing next, the different player tendencies, cause you never know when they will be traded to your team and you want to know how they are gonna fit into the “TEAM” dynamic. Growing up everything was football which I love, but my passion is hockey. As you read in my article my first game was only a few years ago which surprises a lot of people. It’s not like Canada were there’s youth hockey, juniors, adult leagues, etc. Back home in the next town there’s a men’s adult roller hockey league that only runs for a few months a year and that’s it.

      I was slightly disappointed during my trip to Canada. I caught a few games up there and was looked at as a crazy person for getting into the game and when cheering for the team. Granted I was in Toronto and at a Marlies game but heck come on people. I wish I could see AHL hockey for $10 whenever I wanted!! I did meet some really dedicated fans though and made friends at every bar I went to. They were shocked that I could talk puck like a guy and the fact that I was genuinely interested in the game. I also agree with you on not having to make an effort it’s in front of you 24/7, which I envy so much!

      I’ve written a novel haha but really appreciate that you left a comment. You’re a division rival but I will still wish your team good luck and health for the rest of the season. Hopefully my boys will raise the cup this year but it’s still too early to tell :D

      Cheers,
      Chelsea

      • Really a great read. 30 years ago, one would never think that the west coast would become a hockey hotbed. I’m bookmarking this site.

        • Thank you! Yes the West/Pacific Division is becoming quite the contender.

        • Marc Beauregard says:

          I am French Canadian ( Born here is LA) played my league Hockey in SCAHA West Covina Bruins 70′s/80′s and was brought up with a love of Ice Hockey from an early age. My Parents Die hard Hab fans ( both from Quebec) took me to see my first Ice Hockey game LA vs Canadians played at the Long Beach arena in 67. I have seen growth in terms of popularity here in California as well as other Southern and Western States over the years. In line Roller Blades brought the newest players into the folds around the late 80′s early 90′s which has allowed some American local boys to transition into the NHL. Always nice to see other Appreciate what I like to consider Canada true contribution to the world. Best Wishes

          PS……I was a Kings Fan until I moved to Anaheim and still stayed loyal to the Kings until 2003 when the Ducks and Devils went to 7 games. I became a Ducks Fan after watching Kevin Stevens knock out Paul Kariya who came back to Score on a Wicked Slap Shot…..Memories to last a life time!

        • Awesome Marc! thanks so much for stopping by and sharing with us.

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