Sunday, November 03, 2013

For Reference, My Home Team Won The Stanley Cup Last Year

You guys. YOU GUYS. Did you know they had ice hockey in the UK? Because I didn't know. But there is. And last night, StereoNinja and I decided to check it out a game OH MY GOD it was the best* thing I've ever seen in my life.

We went to see the Bracknell Bees take on the Guildford Flames at Bracknell's home ice rink at the John Nike Leisuresport Complex. Driving up to it I thought it looked like a youth center, and I said so. I also said the car park was about a quarter of the size of the one for the high school down the street from where I lived in Chicago. The was a massive banner on the side of the building advertising that the rink was Olympic sized, which based on the exterior of the building I was loathe to believe. "With about three rows of seats going around it," I estimated sarcastically, at which point StereoNinja threatened to put me back in the car and take me home if I didn't stop it.

We were early for the start of the game because we weren't sure how the parking situation was going to be (HAHAHAHAHAHA), and we were hungry, so we went to the cafeteria and ordered two "cheeseburgers" that turned out to be made of grade triple Z meat which was grey and may have had chunks of hooves baked in. StereoNinja described this athletic event fare as "typical" of such things in the UK, and for the first time I think ever in my life, I couldn't finish my burger because it tasted that bad.

We decided to wash that horrifying experience down with a beer. This was much more challenging than it needed to be. The bar was at center ice, and from where we were sitting in the third row (out of four. Four.) behind the goal, we started walking around to get to it, only to find a barrier set up blocking off the section of seating directly in front of it. So obviously we climbed right over it because, duh, beer. This brought a kid in some sort of official staff shirt running over telling us we couldn't go in there because THAT IS VIP SEATING and OMGWTFBBQ. StereoNinja explained that we had no intention of sitting there, we just wanted to go get a stupid beer, and the kid countered that we would have to go all the way downstairs, through a series of tunnels and possibly a coal mine and back up a different set of stairs in order to get a beer from the bar that was literally 15 feet away from us. We ignored him.

Back at our seats, the pregame ritual had started. This included a 16 year old Zamboni driver who I'm pretty sure is a member of One Direction resurfacing ice which does not appear to have ever been replaced since the structure was built. Certainly no one has repainted the lines underneath the ice which are more a suggestion of where one might draw some lines rather than actual markings. The visiting team skated out first which the PA announcer did not deem important enough to mention, and then the Bees were introduced (following an air raid siren sound effect because of course there was), in numerical order, with no positions given, and each with their own individual sponsor (you can sponsor a player for £200 and make the announcer say pretty much whatever you want, as evidenced by one player being sponsored by "Damned: Pleasure and Pain").

And then they started playing.

Sorry if you're a fan, but Bracknell are a TERRIBLE hockey team. They managed to make it through the first period with no score from either side, mostly by skating slowly and passing the puck to just about anywhere on the ice that didn't have a player nearby to receive it. I also noticed a stunning lack of checking players into the walls. Earlier I had been perusing the game program (which is HILARIOUS) and had noticed that boarding was not among the penalties listed on the "Why is the ref gesticulating like that?" page, so presumably it's missing because it would never occur to the players to do any such thing. There was one minor skirmish in the first period which prompted a man in our row to shout "YEAH! Knock his teeth out!"

"What teeth?" I wanted to know. "Why does he still have teeth? Is he new?" StereoNinja thought this was hilarious, but I swear I heard an audible sigh of disappointment coming from the direction of Canada.

The beat down began in the second period. The Flames (who by the way seem to have just taken Calgary's logo and added a little hook at the end to make it a G and not a C) scored 4 goals inside of about 6 or 7 minutes (it's hard to tell since the scoreboard is either broken or not plugged in and the only time you know how much time is left in a period is when the announcer deigns to mention it), prompting the Bees to pull their goalie, only to have the replacement goalie scored on 30 seconds later. The entire period was just painful and embarrassing to watch, with the Bees making such basic pee-wee hockey mistakes that I postulated I might be able to carve out a career as a coach here (note: I have never played a game of hockey in my life). I noticed a sign on the wall behind us warning about the danger of flying pucks. "Ice hockey is probably the fastest team game in the world," it began, but not the way they were playing it.

At the end of that disaster (which may have been a full 20 minutes or may have been called for mercy, I couldn't tell), there was a contest during intermission that seemed to involve people throwing rubber duckies on the ice. I don't really understand what was happening, I was busy diagramming plays to show the Bees front office during my interview for the head coaching position.

After three more sad goals in the third period, the Bees suddenly decided to actually play hockey for the last 10 minutes, which was a large and pleasant surprise, but which was also far too late and they ended the game losing 8-0 which can only accurately be described as getting bitch-slapped.

What followed was the politest post game ritual I have ever been witness to. First the teams lined up for the center ice handshake, a tradition in hockey, but one normally reserved for games during the playoffs in most leagues. In the NHL that would pretty much be the end of it. But here, as the players got to the end of the line, they then skated to the opposing teams' bench to shake the hands of all the coaches, trainers and equipment managers, then circled back to the other side of the ice to shake hands with all four officials. After THAT, the opposing team got together and did a full skate all the way around the ice applauding all the fans in the audience. AND THEN the Bees went all the way around the rink doing the exact same thing. I have never seen anything like it. I was half expecting the players to be waiting outside when we got downstairs to personally walk everyone to their cars. I turned to StereoNinja and said "That was the most English thing that has ever happened."

So, yeah. There's ice hockey here. And it is hilarious.



Steve said...

Sounds about right, though in fairness I think Bracknell are in the English Premier Ice Hockey League which is the feeder league for the Elite League. Yeah, the feeder league for a British Hockey League, doesn't sound like a hot bed of talent does it? Elite league is a bit better with the occasional NHL player making an appearance when they can't find a berth in the big leagues anymore. Heck, I think some of the arenas might have two tiers of seating!

Of course if you want the British equivalent of the NHL hunt down some Rugby. Two types: League or Union. League is a (much) faster paced game with a focus on lots of scoring, Union is more of a tactical game with a focus on territory. Both offer moments of sheer genius on the pitch and a general approach to injuries that goes something like "if you're not missing a head then you're fine to play on".

BrownsFan said...

I'm disappointed. My impression of English hockey was based on Son's favorite YouTube video, which you can find here, Watch that (best announcer line at 3:16), then find those teams and follow them.

Yay for NaBloMo. I miss you.

R said...

Great Britain has been at the top level in the IIHF World Championship (also known as consolation prize international competition for players whose teams didn't make it to the Stanley Cup play-offs) once in 1994. The coach who led them to this glorious achievement was a Canadian by the name of Alex Dampier and his achievement was immortalized in one of the worst sports games ever made...


Webbo said...

Go to see some football instead. If you enjoy the extreme lows and occasional highs of following a sports team I urge you to try becoming a West Ham fan.

amberance said...

I am familiar with the Elite league, but unfortunately all the teams in it are really far away from me, so it would be hard to catch many games. Rugby is not allowed in my house because StereoNinja went to a rugby school which didn't work out for him very well, being an artist with no interest in athletics and all. I grew up watching football, but it doesn't compare to hockey. For fear of sounding like a typical American, the pitch is far too big and the lack of player substitutions on top of that leads to long sections of the match being just some guys playing keepaway at mid field. Ice hockey changes entire lines every 30-90 seconds, so they come out at full speed and stay that way the whole time they're on the ice.

Webbo said...

I'll tell you what. Wait till summer comes back and go see some cricket. If you do it right, it's less about watching sport and more about having a picnic and some beer in the sun, getting more and more dehydrated as the day goes by, until you come to leave at about 6pm and realise you're so dehydrated and sunburned that you need to go home via the hospital. It's the most English thing you can do.