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Friday, May 20, 2022

The Best Game I Ever Saw Live: Catching Lightning in a Bottle

Originally, I was going to write about the best game I ever covered. As a guy who has been with the Alligator for five semesters, I figured that I had plenty of games to write about.

But then I realized that if I went down the “best game I’ve ever seen live” route, I’d finally have the opportunity to write about hockey.

And I can’t pass that up.

My parents are from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and are serious Penguins and Flyers fans, respectively. My brother and I were introduced to the sport at an early age, and it has stuck ever since. Eric Lindros was my brother’s favorite hockey player at first, so he went with my dad and became a Flyers fan.

As for me, well, I’m a little weird. We had a computer game growing up called “Backyard Hockey” that featured multiple NHL players stylized as kids. One of those players was a tall, then-dirty-blonde-haired Boston Bruin named Joe Thornton. I still don’t know what it was about him, but he was my new favorite player. He ended up getting traded in November of 2005 to the Sharks, so I traded in the Bruins’ yellow for the Sharks’ teal.

One of the problems with being a hockey fan in Jacksonville is that it’s difficult to watch a game live. After the Jacksonville Barracudas of the Southern Professional Hockey League folded in 2007, Duval County didn’t have a hockey team to call its own until 2017.

Every year, we would make a pilgrimage to Tampa or Sunrise to see either the Flyers or the Penguins, but I’d still never seen the Sharks live. Until January 18, 2014.

The Sharks were in Tampa to face the Lightning, and I was finally going to see Thornton and my favorite hockey team. And the game that unfolded was something to behold.

San Jose got on the board early and led 2-1 in the first period after goals from Matt Nieto and Patrick Marleau.

However, the story of the day was Lightning legend Martin St. Louis, who dominated the first period. He scored a hat trick to put the Lightning up 3-2 and tied a team record with four goals in a game after scoring again early in the second period.

While I was most excited to see Thornton play, it turned out that the highlight of the day was going to be the other Joe on San Jose’s roster: Joe Pavelski. The Sharks pulled the goalie after a delayed penalty on Tampa, and after having the puck in the offensive zone for what felt like an eternity, Tyler Kennedy found a wide-open Pavelski. Pavelski sniped a shot past a sprawling Ben Bishop to bring the Sharks within one.

He tied the game on the power play just 21 seconds later to tie the game at four. Pavelski then deflected a shot from the blue line past Bishop to record a natural hat trick and put the Sharks in the lead with a minute left in the second period.

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Somehow, in this crazy, high-scoring game, neither team scored in the third, and the Sharks held on for a 5-4 win.

That was the first hat trick of Pavelski’s career, and Thornton’s assist on the game-winning goal tied him with Hall of Famer Bobby Hull for 49th place on the all-time points list.

I got to see my favorite team live for the first time, watched an absolutely wild game where another one of my favorite players was finally rewarded with a hat trick for the first time and was there to see the Sharks win. Easy choice for me.

I’ve deleted all of my other memories from 2014 because of how that season ended for the Sharks, but I’m never going to forget that game.

Follow Brendan on Twitter @Bfarrell727 and contact him at bfarrell@alligator.org.

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