Sunday, March 24, 2013

So I went to a Hockey game in the UK...


So I went to a Hockey game in the UK...

As you probably know, (mainly because I don’t stop complaining about the time change) work has relocated to me to the UK. 

I have been over here since the beginning of January and over the past few months I have been enjoying and immersing myself into the British culture and definitely not spending my time watching hours and hours of Hockey highlights that I couldn’t watch live. 

This isn’t going to be a long complaint riddled dissertation about a Hockey starved expat who stays up until 3 AM to watch the Habs/Devils game…no…this is going to be complaint riddled dissertation about a Hockey starved expat who stays up until 3 AM watching the Habs/Bruins game. 




The Devils are boring. 

Seriously though. Life hasn’t been too terrible from a Hockey perspective because of this fancy new invention called the internet (which apparently is sticking around). 

The only thing that I really miss is going to the Bell Centre and watching a live game. 

Michel Lacroix giving me Goosebumps, Charles Prevost-Linton making me wish I could pull of a perm, Coldplay putting me into a trance that I can only compare to what I assume doing Meth feels like. The expensive hot dogs, the expensive pizza and the inexplicable lack of Poutine, the meetings with my financial advisers months in advance to work out a budget plan then figuring out I have to take out a loan, sell my condo in that up and coming neighborhood near the Bureau En Gros near Namur Metro that is still being built, selling my certified pre-owned 2002 Dodge Neon that I just bought 3 weeks ago just to buy a can of Molson Ex.

And also the Hockey or whatever.

Good times.

If someone tells me they started serving Poutine I’ll be on the next flight back. 
 
I figured I’d be the only Hockey fan for miles so you can imagine I felt just like residents of Tampa when they found out they had a Hockey team just after their Stanley Cup win when I found out that someone I work with and her husband are Hockey fans and go to games on occasion. 

It took about 2 months of jokingly talking about going to see a game before we started seriously talking about it. Short story short we bought 3 tickets to see the Coventry Blaze host the Belfast Giants do battle.

Coventry is about an hour north of Oxford, where I’ve been camping out during my stay here. 

It wouldn’t be the first time I’d drive an hour to see a Hockey game because for the past few years I have driven from the Miami area to middle of nowhere Sunrise, Florida to watch the Habs play the Panthers. Nice rink, absolute middle of nowhere. Worse than Kanata.

They play in the EIHL aka the Elite Ice Hockey League which is the UK’s top Hockey League.

It has 10 teams mainly located in Northern UK of which, along with the two I mentioned above, are the league leading Nottingham Panthers (wasted opportunity to call themselves the Sheriffs) and the Cardiff Devils where Biznasty scored 21 points in 11 games during the lockout.  (the most recent one)

I don’t want to talk too much about the teams themselves because if you wanted to know you can use that thing called the internet to find out but I will go into it a little bit.

The majority of both rosters are Canadian sprinkled with random European players as well as a few UK talents. 

From the one game I watched, the Giants notables were Andrew Fournier (4 years with Plymouth in the OHL, bounced around the ECHL for a few years) and Chad Langlais (U of Michigan, bounced around the minors). Theo Fleury played for the Giants during the 05-06 season. He scored 74 points in 34 games. 

For the home team Coventry Blaze, their notables were Captain Shea Guthrie (drafted in the 3rd round by the Islanders in the 2005 draft) and 6’4 Adam Henrich (2nd round pick of the Lightning in the 2002 draft).

The Giants beat the Blaze 4-2 which was a bummer for the home crowd fans in the mostly packed 3,000 seat Coventry Skydome. This was definitely not a bummer for the 40ish Giants fans who came in all the way from Belfast to watch their beloved team. They sat in the away fan section much like you would find at a Football/Soccer game. This was awesome and NHL rinks need to adopt this concept. I was surprised when the arena filled itself but was even more surprised to find that on top the stands being full the team also allows fans to cram up against the glass and watch the game from there. Scary close.

The Blaze fans were fantastic. Not only knowledgeable but frantic, excited and passionate. They individually and collectively pointed out shortcomings and cheered on their team's success. Massive ups to the fans in Coventry, you impressed me more than anything else. 

The quality of the game was what you would expect. I’m not going to sugar coat anything, it was far from the best Hockey I’ve seen but you could tell that the majority of the players there really cared and were playing out of a combination of necessity and love for the sport. 

The Giants were the better team without question. They had properly executed plays, a solid system and the talent to pull it off. 

The Blaze were a step behind but they held their own. They are definitely aware that Guthrie and Henrich were their two best players that night and did what they could to build around that. The one breakout that didn’t involve the defenseman launching the puck from behind his own net to a winger at the far blue line for a tip in then chase resulted in a Guthrie snipe that was the goal of the night.

The Blaze definitely held their own and dominated the early goings of the game but just couldn’t keep up with what I assume is a much better Giants team (23 points ahead of them in the standings).

Now enough about the game, hope I didn’t lose you. Time to focus on the atmosphere, the qualities that made this game undeniably British and the similarities that unified the game with its North American counterpart.

We walked in during the warm-ups. We spent the first 5 minutes trying to spot former Hab Gregory Stewart, who currently plays for the Giants. Turns out he was scratched which ruined my plan of banging on the glass like a 5 year old for ten minutes hoping to get his attention and show him the Habs shirt that I was wearing. Lame.

After that the first thing I noticed was the rafters. Turns out the Blaze have a history and they’re not opposed to honoring it just as any NHL team would, by hanging up banners in their rafters. They had about 15 banners commemorating championship teams and retired numbers. 

We did a tour of the rink, past the concessions that sold tea, coffee, hot dogs and curry. Yes, curry, which was a shade of red so loud it would have made Lindy Ruff proud. 

We also stepped into the arena Bar…called Crosby’s. Definitely not a coincidence. The bar had a good vibe and had a Bob Probert Wings Jersey hanging next to an Islanders Fisherman Jersey. I am not making this up, best bar d├ęcor I’ve ever seen. I challenge you to find a bar with better jerseys hanging in it.
  
We had accidentally bought my favorite seats (about 15 rows up in the corner) so I was happy when we sat down and took in the end of the warm-up.

Now about the jerseys. They were decked out in sponsorships which was expected but what I thought was a nice touch was the Blaze players sporting patches of their home country on their chest.

When the game was about to start the lights cut out and a light show that I can only compare to Saturday night at Rose Bowl (Disco Bowling for you non-Montrealers) started. After that the game’s Emcee skated onto the ice in jeans and got the crowd riled up with the mascot (when I say “Coventry” you say “Blaze”)

I went over the game itself above but I want to mention some quirks that I found made the night that much better.

-Halfway through the first period: “Will the owner of a silver Insert Car Name Here please go to the ticket counter immediately.” That blew my mind.

-Danish Blaze Goalie Peter Hirsch had a mask that resembled the one that Carey Price wore during the last Heritage Classic. Freaked me out every time he made a save.

-Every time the Giants scored the DJ would play songs appropriate to the situation including “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” and “That don’t Impress Me Much”.

-Halfway through the second period they played a punk version of The Hockey Song. RIP Stompin Tom.

-There was a surprising amount of NHL merchandise in the stands including: Two Leafs jerseys, two Bruins jerseys, 4 Penguins jerseys, a Rangers jersey, a Sharks jersey, a Red Wings jersey and hat, a Chiefs Hansen jersey and a little kid wearing a Ryan Miller Sabres jersey that I beat up because the Habs played the Sabres last night and I don’t mess around.

Outside of the game itself the most entertaining parts of the night were the intermissions. During the first intermission they had a Tug of War. I’m not shitting you here, they actually had Tug of War on the ice. 

Within the first 2 seconds half of one team had hilariously fallen down and was being dragged by the other team while feebly trying to get up. I should probably mention that the Benny Hill theme song was playing throughout the duration of the war thus culminating the most British thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was fantastic, kudos to the Blaze, everyone loved it.

During the second intermission they put on what they called the Duck Chuck. 

The Duck Chuck is what the play that Charlie Conway drew up in D2 should have been called. What a waste.

The real Duck Chuck consisted of people trying to throw Rubber Duckies into kiddie pools located on the ice surface. It was very yellow. Nobody won.

The thing that I found the most interesting about the night had to do with a sponsorship angle that I had never seen before.

This would make Michael Yormark drool all over his middle of nowhere arena.

Each Blaze player was individually sponsored. Whenever they mentioned that player in any capacity (goal, assist, penalty etc.) they mentioned the sponsor before and after. I can definitely see some NHL teams doing this and I want a cut if this blog is the reason behind it.

Overall an awesome night in Coventry. I would definitely go back seeing as it only made me want to watch more live Hockey.

Good on the Blaze organization for putting on a good game for the fans, good on the teams for playing for it all given their circumstances.

Oh, and the reffing was absolute horse shit. It’s not just a North American thing.  

4 comments:

  1. If you want a good hockey bar you need to go and watch the giants play at home.
    Glad you enjoyed coventry :-)

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  2. Referees are always Horseshit. Its definitely a worldwide thing. Although, if you get chance, look up the Coventry vs Nottingham Bench Clearance Brawl from 2010, quite a vicious little affair, with serial 'hardman' Alex Penner attempting to strip off during a fight.. :D

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  3. If you liked the bar decor here in Coventry, should definitely check out Rockies bar for the Giants should you ever get chance to visit Belfast. The amount of memorabilia in there is insane! Glad you enjoyed our hockey night anyway :)

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  4. Thank you for writing informative content

    ReplyDelete