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Training camp primer
Some tips on attending camp
9/5/11 - By Mike Lee -

Hockey is on the horizon folks. Training camp is right around the corner, followed by the Sharks 21st NHL season and crack at conquering Lord Stanley’s Cup. I’ve seen a few questions regarding how training camp works and the best way for hockey fans to partake in the pre-season festivities, so I thought I’d throw together something. If you have other suggestions or comments, feel free to post them in the message boards.

The first thing that you need to know is that not all preseason practices are open to the public. Many are, but only if they are held at Sharks Ice on 10th Street in San Jose, and even that is not a guarantee. All practices held at HP Pavilion are traditionally closed to the public (with the exception of the Teal & White Game, which is held exclusively for corporate sponsors and season ticket holders).

To see when practices are held, check the Sharks website for the official schedule. I always post schedules in the Training Camp section of the site, so that’s also a good source, and can be easier to find than the Sharks schedule. Official timelines have yet to be published, so don’t be confused with last season’s info.

For those practices at Sharks Ice that are open to the public, be sure to get there early, especially for weekend practices. The facility houses more than one rink, and the Sharks will utilize more than one sheet of ice for practices, but seating is limited and it will fill up. Weekday practices are always a better bet. The south rink has the fewest number of seats, so if you intend on attending a practice there, early arrival is a must.

Ice rinks are essentially large freezers, so dress accordingly. Unless you’re used to sitting in an ice-box, dressed in shorts and flip-flops for an extended period, I would recommend heartier choices of apparel for a training-camp practice. Long pants and a jacket will make your experience more bearable.

As for what to expect at a training camp practice, keep in mind that you’re attending a practice, not Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. You’ll typically see lots of skating and skills drills. You’ll also see more conditioning related activity early in the camp schedule. That means more skating and less time with an actual puck. That can get monotonous, unless you’re simply there to see the players on the ice. As camp draws closer to the start of the regular season, you’ll tend to see more scrimmages and situational training.

The cozy confines of Sharks Ice will get you up close and personal to players who will be practicing within a puck toss of spectator areas, but don’t count on any autograph opportunities while players are in uniform. They’re there to work, and will marched onto the ice from locker-room facilities that are off-limits to spectators.

If it’s Joe Thornton’s John Hancock that you seek, plan on hanging out after the practice in the back parking lot (between the training facility and Municipal Stadium). While not guaranteed, some players will take the time to autograph your favorite jersey or photograph.

It pays to do your homework and figure out who the Sharks top prospects are and go after their autographs now. Those not likely to make the roster this season, could be next year’s breakout star. The only word of advice here is to be personable. Nobody likes pushy autograph seekers, especially those that bring half their memorabilia collection with them. Hockey players, especially prospects, are as down-to-earth as they come, but keep in mind these guys just went through a couple hours of intense training. Give them a little room.

Given the exploitation of autographs for profit, you may be better served to simply bring your camera and ask your favorite player to pose for a picture with you and little Johnny. Players may be more open to this, rather than signing a puck that might end up on eBay before the day is done.

As for those prospects, recognize that many of them won’t be around long. While the NHL doesn’t have mandatory cut-down dates, teams will make cuts throughout camp in order to assign prospects to the clubs they will most likely be spending the bulk of the season with.

Training camp serves a couple of purposes. Yes, it gives the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate players who may be on the bubble, but it also provides some of those prospects with a taste of what the big show is all about. It provides them with some incentive to work hard after they’re assigned to their minor league clubs.

Because of the large number of players that will be in camp early on, it’s also difficult to know which players will make appearances in pre-season games. San Jose will play three games at HP Pavilion and three games on the road in NHL arenas, before beinning the 2011-12 regular season.

One of the nice things about public practice sessions is that they’re free. This also makes it easier to bring the kids along, because you’re not shelling out an extra $60 for their ticket, only to have them fall asleep in your lap 10-minutes into the event. Do keep in mind however that some players are literally fighting to get noticed. Fisticuffs in training camp are not-uncommon, so be prepared to explain why haymakers are flying to the little ones should a fight breakout on the ice. Remember that you're going to be a lot closer to the action, so you'll get to see some of those cuts up close and personal.

Use all the money you’ll save in the on-site equipment store. There are plenty of hockey related items in the store for both you and the little ones. There’s also a snack bar on site, which can come in handy, as there are no restaurants within the immediate vicinity of Sharks Ice.

If you’ve never made the trek to training camp, it’s a must for any hard core Shark fan. Just make sure you plan ahead by checking on schedules, which can change on a day-to-day basis.


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