Sunday, February 14, 2016

San Antonio Rampage 0 at San Jose Barracuda 5 (AHL) - February 13, 2016

The whole reason I chose the past couple of weeks for the AHL California swing was a doubleheader on this Saturday, with an afternoon affair in San Jose followed by an evening encounter 90 miles away in Stockton.

The San Jose Barracuda were the Worcester Sharks last season, but moved west as part of the AHL's new Pacific Division. Their parent club (the San Jose Sharks if you haven't already deduced that) decided to use the SAP Center, their home rink, as the AHL facility as well. As such, the Sharks nickname had to go, and the Barracuda were born. The name is not only a great tie-in with the Sharks but a marketing opportunity for Barracuda Networks, whose corporate logo (two fins) is part of the team logo.

From previous trips, I know of free street parking within a couple of blocks of the arena, but it didn't really matter today as the surrounding area is quiet on the weekend and the AHL team doesn't draw very well. I arrived at noon for the 1:15 start, and there wasn't much of a crowd, and certainly nobody with extras. I bought the cheapest ticket at $12 and stood in line, expecting gates to open at 12:15. For some reason though, they kept everybody waiting for another 15 minutes; which doesn't sound long but is really annoying when there is no explanation.

Anyway, I already talked about SAP Center when I visited in 2011. It was known as the HP Pavilion then, but SAP purchased the naming rights in 2013. I took the same picture that time, but obviously the name is now different.

As mentioned, few fans seem to have taken to the AHL yet, as you can see by the empty concourse. Will MacNeil, a Bay Area sports fan who I met at a San Francisco Bulls game in 2013, told me that the Sharks are not marketing the Barracuda that heavily as they themselves are not drawing that well for a variety of reasons. Attendance was announced at 4,696 but I don't think there were more than 2,000 fans. Note that the upper bowl is mostly curtained off, though they do sell tickets in sections between the blue lines.

I do enjoy the different seat colours used in the lower bowl.

Note the entryway in the foreground below, as well as the same entryways in each section across the way. These lead to the Club Level, which includes a restaurant known as the Grill. It is not open for business during Barracuda games, but it is accessible, and you should take the time to walk around when it is empty as there is quite a bit of memorabilia there.

They have photos of every Shark who ever laced up the skates for the team, as well as posters from past music concerts. The display I enjoyed was the drawings commemorating every major event in Shark history. Below is Doug Wilson, who lived across the street from me when I was a kid, and finished his career with two seasons in San Jose.

The Barracuda also have an in-game host who interacts very well with the crowd, many of whom are regulars. The camaraderie is not something you see often in rinks of this size and it was fun to watch.
Even more fun is the goal celebration created by these fans. The goal song is "Celtic Invasion" by CFO$ and fans in one end stand and move their arms up and down in tempo with the music, before cheering "Yes! Yes! Yes!" when the music changes. The host joined in and by the time the Barracuda scored their last goal, much of the arena had caught on. If more fans showed up, this could be one of the best atmospheres in the AHL.

I always enjoy pro venues when they host minor league teams as you get a chance to walk around without the crowd, and SAP Center is no different. It is a good venue that has aged very well since it opened in 1993, the season that I first visited, when I saw the Sharks in their first ever home playoff games. If you want to see in without all the hassles of a pro game, go when the Barracuda are in town and stop by section 109 to say hi to the gang.

The Game

It was "Pink in the Rink" night for the third time on my trip, and again the home team had special uniforms that were auctioned off after the game. The minimum price was $200 for these, although all were selling for much more when I checked during the second intermission.

The San Antonio Rampage (Colorado) were in town as part of their Rodeo Road Trip, when their home rink is taken over by the San Antonio Rodeo. They had played in Charlotte on Monday and Wednesday, and although coast-to-coast trips are common in the bigs, they are unusual at this level. So it was no surprise that the Rampage had no legs to start, getting outshot 20-8 by the Barracuda, who managed only a single goal when Ben Smith  (#21 below) deflected a Nikolay Goldobin (San Jose's 1st-round pick, 27th overall, in 2014) shot past Roman Will. Smith is a Stanley Cup winner after playing a game with Chicago in the 2013 Final, but he was traded to San Jose in March of 2015, before the Blackhawks most recent Cup run. Smith suffered a concussion when he was struck by a teammate's shot when the Sharks were in Brooklyn and he is down with the Barracuda on a long-term conditioning assignment.

The second period was a bit closer in shots, but San Jose scored the only two goals, with Patrick McNally (4th round to Vancouver in 2010, traded to San Jose in 2015) scoring his first pro goal to make it 2-0. McNally played college hockey at Harvard and was involved in the 2012 cheating scandal, causing him to miss most of the 2012-13 season. Nikita Jevpalovs banged home a rebound to make it 3-0. In the third, Smith added another on a beautiful breakaway backhand deke, and Bryan Lerg (below getting checked into Will) completed the rout midway through the final frame.

Aaron Dell got the shutout with 30 saves; that's him being congratulated below. Highlights are available on the AHL site, check out the 3:28 mark after Smith's second goal for a brief look at the goal celebration.

With only four penalties and few scuffles, the game was completed in a tidy 2:09. That allowed me to get up to Stockton in plenty of time for the 7:30 start there, which I'll discuss in the next post.


The only other AHL affiliate to play in the same venue as their NHL club is Winnipeg. The MTS Centre is one of five AHL venues I still have to visit, with the others being in Iowa, Grand Rapids, Portland, and St. John's. The latter two will be seen in the next month, while the other three will have to wait until next season.



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