I have enjoyed ice hockey ever since I was young and my parents bought me NHL Hitz 2003 for my GameCube (an incredible game on a fantastic console). However, until December I had only managed to satisfy this enjoyment by the occasional watching of Disney’s The Mighty Ducks or a YouTube session watching highlights of the Stanley Cup. However, over the Christmas vacation, I managed to experience live ice hockey for the first time and ever since I have been completely hooked.
Now I have to make it clear here that I didn’t make a transatlantic trip to experience the glitz of the NHL, although one day I’m sure I will. No, instead I was bought tickets for the Elite Ice Hockey League fixture between Sheffield Steelers and Manchester Storm.
Entering the arena I anticipated a few hundred in the crowd and paper programs for 50p but what I saw completely changed my opinion. As I entered the arena there was a full merchandise stand with high quality jerseys, t-shirts, car accessories, key rings, hats, scarves etcetera etcetera, the list goes on. There were sellers at every door pedaling high quality, professionally printed programs and raffle tickets galore. Now this really was a surprise to me, surely this is a little bit over the top for the few hundred fans that are going to actually turn up right?
Wrong. As I entered through the arena doors to where the rink sat I was greeted by the roar of nearly 9000 fans. Now let me just contextualise that. Bournemouth, a Premier League football team, currently have an average attendance of just over 10,000 per game. Football is our national sport and the Premier League is a global attraction and therefore for the Steelers, who I’m presuming many of you haven’t heard of, to get 9000 for an ice hockey game is an incredible effort. Ice hockey in the UK is a big business.
However, my awe and amazement did not stop there. Ice hockey matches really are a spectacle to behold from the off with each player coming out to a darkened arena with a spotlight following them. After this, in true American style, the teams line up for the National Anthem.
Then, and only after all of the showbiz, the game begins. A high-octane, fast paced action fest with huge tackles, fistfights and plenty of skill is all captured in real time, and in slow motion replays on the big screen. However, what I applauded above all of the big hits and incredible hand eye co-ordination was the unbelievable ease with which these players maneuvered their bodies around what was effectively a frozen 7-a-side football pitch. I’m sure many of you reading have had the pleasure of finding a patch of ice on the QC astroturf and therefore for these men to stay up right, let alone duck, dive and turn on a sixpence, with only a few millimetres of metal providing any friction with the frozen ground is absolutely mesmerising.
I’m sure its clear here how much I really enjoyed my first experience of watching professional ice hockey. But, at risk of sounding too sycophantic, I think that regardless of your preference for sports, this one is truly spectator focused and is a spectacle to behold. I would suggest that if you’re looking for something to do you check out your nearest Elite League club and watch a game – it’s well worth it for a fantastic day out.