NHL ice hockey team the San Jose Sharks have confirmed they will return home to SAP Center for the February 13 and 15 games against Anaheim Ducks following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County.

At the weekend, the Sharks said they would play their first two home games of the NHL season at Gila River Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, due to the ban on contact sports in Santa Clara County.

Earlier this week, the State of California announced the lifting of its Regional Stay at Home Order for all regions statewide, including the Bay Area. Effective from Monday, Santa Clara County returned to the Purple Tier of COVID-19 restrictions, which meant that professional and collegiate sports events could resume.

While the Sharks’ games against the Vegas Golden Knights on February 1 and 3 will still be held at Gila River Arena, which is located more than 700 miles away from SAP Center, the team yesterday (Wednesday) confirmed its plan to return home.

The Sharks said an earlier return was not possible due to “numerous health and safety issues” – both from the County and League level – that need to be implemented to ensure the safety of the returning players and staff.

The Sharks will return to SAP Center for the February 13 and 15 games against the Anaheim Ducks and for the remaining 2020-21 home games. Per County directives, spectators will not be allowed to attend these games.

However, a “very limited” number of tickets, said to be around 2,500, are available in physically-distanced pods, for the February 1 and 3 Golden Knights games in Glendale, for fans residing in Arizona.

The Coyotes earlier this month became the first NHL team to welcome fans since the COVID-19 outbreak, although the move was labelled “incredibly risky” by a local health expert. The Coyotes’ game against the Sharks was attended by 2,274 fans and ended in a 4-3 defeat for the home team.

Contact sports had been banned in Santa Clara County since the end of November. The ban forced the NFL’s 49ers to play home games away from Levi’s Stadium, with the team reaching an agreement with the Arizona Cardinals to play at State Farm Stadium instead.

Image: Travis Wise/CC BY-SA 2.0/Edited for size