Iced Canes – My New Favourite Thing

Posted on November 11, 2013

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For all my faults, I adore sports. Despite getting older, viewing the world and where we are going to go in a more progressive way and realising that the idea of competitive sports is utterly ridiculous, I still find myself watching these silly things all day long. A game of rugby, football, cricket, whatever, is really no different to the slaughter of gladiators in Roman times or whatever the hell happened in Battle Royale. Sure, no one was getting murdered, but the idea of pitting people against each in order to find out who is better still exists, and the more you think about it the more ridiculous it is. We should all be celebrated for our strengths, not be put in positions where our weaknesses are being exploited.,

Still, I can’t bring myself to avoid them, because they can be utterly captivating. When Alan Donald dropped his bat in the act of getting run out despite Lance Klusener single-handedly taking South Africa to the brink of the World Cup final, me and Ffion were entirely entranced. As Wales pushed closer and closer into drop goal territory in the semi final of the 2012 rugby world cup, I myself edged closer and closer to the television. Both of these occasions ended in failure, but my interest level could not have been higher. As I reach my 28th birthday, this year has seen an interest in a sport that I hadn’t cared for until last year, to the point where it is fast becoming my favourite thing, let alone favourite sport. This, my dear bewitched chums, is the sport of Ice Hockey. Or Iced Canes, if you dabble in the Tim and Eric world.

My first real experience of ice hockey actually came in 2008, in Olomouc. Everyone in the hostel went out to see the local team, and I really bloody enjoyed it. To be honest, I enjoyed it mostly because Jessica Barnie was there and I was bowled over at the time, but it was still a lot of fun. Then I saw nothing of the sport until last year, when myself and Eric Wiedemann found ourselves in Kranj with the wonderful Jerry. They spoke about hockey and decided to watch a game, the Philadelphia Flyers versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. I watched, I enjoyed, and decided that I would take the Penguins as my team.

Fast forward to this year, and night shifts in Belgrade were the summer. Hockey was on in the middle of the night, and what better way to relax during the shift? The Penguins were going well, so I found myself watching a game every shift, and even watching games when I wasn’t working. The sport just got more and more exciting the more I watched, to the point where I couldn’t understand how anyone was unable to love the thing. I still say its the perfect spectator sport for the neutral. The new NHL season is in full flow now, and every day I’ll keep up with the results, watch the highlights on Premier Sports and feel like I actually understand the damn thing.

So what do we have? Well, the NHL has 30 franchises (teams, basically), 23 of which are from the States and 7 from Canada. They are split East/West, and split again into four divisions. The top three in each division will qualify for the play-offs, where they are joined by two wild card sides from each conference. The play-offs are freakin’ intense, four rounds of Best of Seven series which ends up with one team, the Stanley Cup champions, and no confusion over who the best side is. When the season potentially lasts 110 games, there’s no room for luck.

There is a lot to love about hockey. First off, it’s an immensely physical game. I’m not just talking about the hits and the fights, but just the pure playing of the sport. Back and forth across the ice for three 20 minute periods, attack and defence, attack and defence, constantly. Then we add in the hits. Ice Hockey is kinda like rugby on ice, with players frequently being flattened by opposition players. Teeth are lost, bones are broken, but even then players rarely miss a shift unless shit gets serious. Hockey players are tough as balls.

It’s also as dynamic as sport can get. There really is no let up in the action. Where as football often descends into a defence passing the ball around, or Barcelona stringing 8392 passes together, hockey doesn’t have this. It literally is end to end. The players have next to no time on the puck, and the skill level is unreal. At times it’s as if the stick is just an extension of the hand, as the puck is stroked around at high speeds but at total ease. Oh, and all of this is done on ice. ON ICE. You try ice skating, it’s tough. Now try ice skating whilst playing hockey and having burly men try to flatten you. There is a lot of skill involved here. Fighting is also kinda allowed, but not in the thuggish way you assume. If it’s one-on-one it’s fine, until someone hits the deck. This allows for excess aggression to be expelled, and avoids full blown bust ups. It’s a remarkably controlled environment. It also has the effect of waking up the crowd, and giving a team a kick in the arse.

There are no draws in hockey. If the teams are level after regulation time, overtime is played to determine a winner. If there is still no victor, it’s shoot out time. In hockey you win or you lose, there is no sitting on the fence. Another great thing about hockey is the fans. Look how close they are! Jesus! This can be bad, such as the other day when a Chicago fan managed to steal the helmet of a Winnipeg player and then dump a beer on his head, but still. The close fans create an atmosphere that really is unique in the world of sports. The fans are also absolutely mental. MENTAL I tell you.

I can list reasons to love hockey all day long. The music is metal-friendly. Each player and coach of the winning Stanley Cup side gets a day in their home town with the trophy. Beer has been drunk out of it, it’s been up mountains, who knows where else. That trophy, that massive massive trophy, has seen some strange things. We’re only 15 or so games into the new season, and there is a long way to go, but roll on the play-offs. Hockey, you’re the best.

Let’s go Pens.

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