Before Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Owen Nolan, and Doug Wilson skated in those iconic Pacific Teal uniforms. Before “The Chomp”, and many rough nights at the Cow Palace, there were flyers handed out in the parking lot of Candlestick Park in 1989. Meeting at Kukar’s House of Pizza on South Almaden Avenue, Randy Hahn was among a group that started NHL Hockey San Jose, a grassroots campaign to get the National Hockey League to the Capital of Silicon Valley.
At the time, 73,409 San Jose voters took a risk and narrowly passed Measure H to provide funding for a new arena. Despite no primary tenant committed to the building, San Jose mayor Tom McEnery was hoping to lure the Golden State Warriors to the new building. Hahn and his associates were trying to convince the mayor hockey was the way to go, but McEnery wasn’t interested at the time. A National Hockey League executive told Hahn, “if it’s not in ‘Frisco’, it’s not going to happen.”
Around the end of the 1988-89 NHL season, owners of the Minnesota North Stars, George and Gordon Gund, were considering a move. The Gunds had a share of the California Golden Seals and were tinkering with the thoughts of leaving a state synonymous with hockey and heading to the Oakland Coliseum. The Seals left the East Bay for Cleveland in the mid 1970’s, only to merge with Minnesota two years later. The idea would be a full circle of sorts. The league nixed that deal, stating they didn’t want to relocate clubs. Meanwhile, NHL Hockey San Jose was working together with former Hartford Whalers owner, Howard Baldwin, to get a Bay Area expansion club.
In 1989, National Hockey League president John Zeigler announced the league would expand by as many as seven teams in the 1990’s. That’s when McEnery finally opened the door to NHL Hockey San Jose, and Baldwin, about the idea of professional men’s ice hockey in the South Bay. Meanwhile, the Gunds were looking to find a way to get to the Bay. Baldwin and the Gunds reached a deal where the Gunds would sell the North Stars to Baldwin in return for the rights to a Bay Area expansion franchise. But where? After all, the league was looking towards San Francisco or Oakland, not the largest populated city in the Bay Area.
San Francisco was open to an arena being built in China Basin. However, nothing would happen there until 1997 when construction began for a new San Francisco Giants ballpark. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Oakland was too preoccupied with trying to lure the Raiders back from Los Angeles to consider renovating the Coliseum Arena. The Golden State Warriors would later use the San Jose Arena as leverage to get Oakland to renovate their home court in 1997. That left San Jose where the Gunds would pay for changes to San Jose’s arena plans to make it more hockey friendly.
Once everything settled into place, the official announcement came on May 9, 1990. The Bay Area would be granted the 22nd franchise in the NHL. Groundbreaking for San Jose Arena happened the following month. From there, the hockey world, pro sports, and Bay Area hockey fans would never be the same.
30 Years Later
During the three decades the building has been in San Jose, it’s had many names. At the beginning of the franchise, it was San Jose Arena. Some fans still lovingly refer to the barn as such to this day. Other fans came on board during the brief time it was known as Compaq Center at San Jose. Some fans will always know it as HP Pavilion while others only refer to it as SAP Center. No matter which camp you’re in, Sharks fans have always known it as “The Tank”.
The arrival of the Sharks gave San Jose an identity. South Bay residents finally had a pro team to call their own. Happy Birthday, Sharks. Here’s to another 30 years in the South Bay.