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San Jose strides into spotlight for NHL All-Star weekend

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Fans cheer after a third period goal as the Vegas Golden Knights take on the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, April 30, 2018.

The hockey world will descend upon San Jose this weekend for NHL All-Star festivities, the second time SAP Center has hosted the mid-season event that last came to the Bay Area in 1997.

The weekend starts off with a skills competition on Friday. Players will walk the red carpet into the Shark Tank at 4 p.m., with the competition starting at 6 p.m. The All-Star Game will take place on Saturday at 5 p.m. There will also be a Fan Fair at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center that opens Thursday evening and runs through Sunday.

Here is what to expect in a weekend full of hockey:

Sharks will be well-represented

It pays to have the All-Star Game in your city. The Sharks are the only team with three All-Stars: Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.

Pavelski, the Sharks’ captain, will make his third All-Star appearance. His selection has as much to do with being the team’s leading goal-scorer (27) as the face of the franchise.

Burns and Karlsson, each making their sixth All-Star rosters, are two of the premier defensemen in the league. Burns leads all NHL D-men with 55 points, while Karlsson has found a groove in San Jose after struggling out of the gate in his first season with the Sharks. Karlsson’s status for the game is up in the air, as he has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury.

West Coast hockey hub

The Bay Area might not be the first region that comes to mind when you think of a hockey hotbed, but the South Bay has been home to NHL premier events in recent years. In 2015, Levi’s Stadium hosted an outdoor game between the Sharks and Kings. The next year, the Stanley Cup was awarded in San Jose when the Penguins defeated the Sharks at SAP Center to clinch the trophy.

After this weekend, San Jose will have hosted all three of the NHL’s biggest events in a five-year span. Seven NHL cities have yet to host the All-Star game.

John Poch, the executive director of San Jose Sports Authority, told SFBay the city’s track record partnering with the league helped them land the All-Star festivities:

“It’s important for the NHL to see that we’re not only a good partner but we can promote the league, highlight their all-star players and more importantly, welcome the hockey world.”

‘Programmed for families’

Sharks Co-President Jonathan Becher told SFBay that the weekend is a family friendly event, intended not just for hard core hockey fans:

“This event is programmed for families. It’s not just for the experienced hockey fan … We’ve intentionally partnered with them to make this for more people than just the traditional hockey fan.”

Among the attractions: Thirty-four three-dimensional, oversized pucks which will line the path to SAP Center, each dedicated to an All-Star player. Also, the outdoor ice rink at the Circle of Palms in downtown San Jose will open through Sunday, where attendees can skate under palm trees. Any youth wearing the jersey of their favorite NHL team will skate for free.

Poch said he was inspired when he attended last year’s All-Star festivities in Tampa Bay, where he counted jerseys of 29 of the 31 teams represented by a father-and-son duo. Poch said:

“This is a family trip for families all over the league come to see their favorite players, on vacation to watch the game.”

Lasting memories

Hanging around Fan Fair over the weekend will be well-known Sharks alumni including Mike Ricci, Jonathan Cheechoo, Dan Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov, Owen Nolan and Adam Graves. They’ll be mingling with the crowd and available to sign autographs.

Becher said:

“That’s the lynch bone of the event. Our building only seats 17,000 and change. For people who won’t be able to come … that’s what the fan fair is for.”

Local fans will be able to reminisce in the memories of their franchise. Twenty-one years have passed since the All-Star game last came to San Jose, and fans still remember the moment that Nolan called his own shot on a breakaway before netting a hat trick.

Becher said:

“Hardly a week ago has gone by when a fan, season ticket holder hasn’t said, ‘When are we going to bring it back?’”

Becher added that his favorite part of All-Star weekend will be the lasting impact it has on San Jose and the surrounding community. There will be a short-term economic boom: Becher estimates that 7,500 hotel rooms will be filled from visitors for the festivities, which is expected to reap in around $15 million for the city.

But there will also be a long-term impact: the Sharks will be redecorating the Roosevelt Hockey Rink, a roller hockey rink on Santa Clara Street in San Jose, installing a new floor surface, bleachers, lighting and drainage. According to Becher, it is a way to show there is more growth to hockey beyond ice:

“Not everybody can get on ice and do skates, so street hockey is more accessible to more people. That will be there long after the game has left town, even after some memories have left as well.”

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