Sunday, 4 March 2012

Watching ice hockey

Last night I attended my first ice hockey game. I drove down to Nottingham and arrived in plenty of time to pick up my friend's daughter and get to the stadium for the 7pm start. Lots of people were walking from the car park towards the stadium,  many of them wearing ice hockey shirts. We presented our tickets and went inside to find our seats. Dead easy. We settled down in our front row seats and began watching the two teams practising and warming up. Then a woman came to our seats and politely informed us we were in the wrong place and that lots of people make that mistake. We'd gone into the right block and were sat on the right seats in the right row, so we were a bit confused.

We couldn't figure it out so went back out to ask a steward. Easier said than done as it was quite hard to tell who was working there and who was a supporter. Once we found someone, he directed us to another steward in a different part of the block and he found us our seats. Either there are two lots of seats with the same block, row and seat numbers, or the labelling on the doors to the blocks is incorrect. Anyway, our seats were good and we were still in plenty of time.

We sat on the front row at the centre of the rink right next to the box where players sit when they are sent off. They get sent off for two minutes at a time and are locked into this box by a warden type lady who only releases them back onto the rink when the two minutes is up.

Once the warm up was finished the players left the ice and the rink was skimmed and wetted by a big plough type vehicle. I could feel the chill rising up from the ice which I hadn't expected. A bit stupid of me really, as I was basically sat beside a giant freezer!

The plough skimming the ice. All the photos are this
quality because I was taking them through the scratched
perspex screen.

The players from the opposing team - the Fife Flyers - were then announced and they came on individually. Then the same was done for the home team - the Panthers. The player/coach of the Fife Flyers had tragically lost his wife and unborn twins a few days earlier in the week so of course he wasn't here. An announcement was made though, offering commiserations.

There seemed to be at least 18 players on each team and the ice was really crowded, but once the game was ready to start most of them went into an enclosure and there were just six from each side playing at one time. There seemed to be no official way of organising substitutions - the players randomly seemed to decide they needed a rest and would come off allowing someone else to come on. Sometimes most of them would change at the same time. Just because a player had come off didn't mean that he couldn't come back on again. I'm used to football where once a player has been substituted he can't come back on, so this all seemed a bit strange to me.

The Panthers are in white

The game was played over an hour in three thirds of 20 minutes each. There were fairly long intervals in between. It was really fast and furious; the players seemed to whizz from one end of the rink to the other, smashing into the hoardings and each other with great impact. The sticks were about shoulder high and were flying all over the place - sometimes without a player attached to the end! I could see exactly why the players were all wearing loads of padding and helmets. It would have been quite lethal otherwise.

At first the Fife Flyers seemed to be doing best and by the end of the first third were 3-1 up. For the next two thirds the Panthers did a lot better and most of the action seemed to be around the Flyers' goal, though the goalie was good and the Panthers struggled to score. Four times the fracas around the goal was so furious the nets came unstuck and were knocked across the ice. Finally the score was 3 all and it was down to the last minute or two of the game.

I don't understand what happened next, but whatever it was meant that with 30 seconds to go, the Panthers got a penalty. The ice was cleared of all but the Flyers' goalie and one Panthers' player. The puck was set in the middle of the centre circle with all eyes eagerly on it. The player skated up to it, guided it down the rink and straight into the goal. Yay! After a dubious start we'd won 4-1!

The players then all came back onto the ice for the final few seconds. Once the whistle had blown they did a few laps of the rink before lining up to shake hands with each other and have the players of the match announced. Leaving the rink for the final time, one of the Flyers seemed to be having a slanging match with one of the referees. Hm, maybe not too happy about the penalty?

Shaking hands at the end.

The spectators were all very well behaved and were even allowed to bring their beers to their seats. There was some shouting and cheering, but not nearly so much as at a football match. In the intervals there were performances by young ice skating dance troupes but not many people seemed to be paying attention to them. At the far end of the rink were four cheerleaders who performed a few lacklustre cheers every time the music started. I didn't really see the point to them as they were so far back and out of the way it wasn't particularly easy to see them and they only performed at times when everyone had all eyes on the game.

The music, which was all corny tunes like the Addam's Family, YMCA and Amarillo, seemed to be played at times when something was about to happen (the football equivalent of a free kick or a corner) and would stop abruptly once whatever was about to happen began to happen. I'd have thought this would be distracting to the players but it didn't seem to bother them. I suppose they're used to it.

So I enjoyed my first ice hockey game, though I didn't particularly understand any of it. Hopefully I will get to go again, maybe fairly soon when I'm in Germany.

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