In case you haven’t noticed, the San Jose Sharks are one win away from making it the Western Conference finals in a quest for their first National Hockey League championship.
If the Sharks win tonight, they’ll take the best-of-seven series from the Nashville Predators and prepare to play the winner of the Dallas-St. Louis series. (The Blues are up, 3-2.)
I mention all of this because if you’re a casual sports fan, you could easily miss San Jose’s run for the title. The Warriors, who are defending champs, feature two-time MVP Steph Curry, and set a new single-season win record, are the talk of Northern California sports circles.
Even in the Bay Area media, the Sharks operate in the shadow of the Warriors. If you scroll down the online sports section of The San Francisco Chronicle, you’ll have to work your way past the Warriors, Giants and A’s before you find a story about the Sharks.
That reflects to a certain extent the status of hockey in this country, a niche sport that consistently trails the big three in popularity. While the Sharks have an enthusiastic fan base, their support is a mile wide and an inch deep. Their games are broadcast on CSN Bay Area along with the Warriors, Giants and A’s, but they draw just a fraction of the viewers who watch the other three teams.
In the late ’90s, a San Jose TV station broadcast all of the Sharks’ games and a limited number of Warriors games. The Sharks made the playoffs one year, which overlapped with the end of the NBA season. The Warriors were just playing out another losing season, and had a broadcast scheduled that conflicted with a Sharks playoff game.
The San Jose station decided to broadcast the Warriors game. The station’s general manager explained the Warriors would draw a bigger audience than a hockey game.
Now there’s a shot between the pipes.
O CANADA: Our neighbor to the north, the birthplace of the sport, doesn’t have one team in the NHL playoffs. I guess that’s what can happen when you’re too nice.