While most of us are caught up in the football currently taking place in South Africa, I wanted to look back and reflect on what has been my first full season of NHL ice hockey.
As someone who is British, hockey joins the many not-so-well-known sports that are overshadowed by the likes of our nation’s more traditional sports such as football, snooker and cricket. Few people follow the country’s national league - EIHL (Elite Ice Hockey League) where the performance of the league’s top teams are equivalent to those at the lower end of the ECHL and AFL leagues (there’s a reason why we’re the lowest ranked country in the IIHF!). Many of these EIHL teams rely on players from other countries and professional leagues (these are referred to as ‘imports’, of which there is a restriction of 10 per EIHL roster, the rest must consist of British nationals) in order to put on a decent game for the fans.
My initial interest in hockey started when I was around 6 years of age. At the time, my local team (the Sheffield Steelers) happened to be the highest ranked team in the league and my dad’s [old] office was next door to the team’s. It was here he befriended the team’s manager and bagged the family a bunch of season tickets (it is worth noting that these tickets are worth a fraction of the price of an NHL season ticket, considering that EIHL games cost no more than £10/$14 per person and never attract a crowd large enough to fill even half of an arena). As a family we managed to attend most of Sheffield’s games and watched as they went on to win the championships that year, a title they would hold for many seasons to come.
After that year, we moved home to a completely different area and I haven’t attended a single hockey game in person since. It would be 13 years later before my interest was sparked once again.
Towards the end of July and the beginning of August last year, I had the privilege of meeting two of the most awesome people on Tumblr (Sam and KG) who reintroduced me to the sport with their passion for their local team who had just won the Stanley Cup that year (the Pittsburgh Penguins of course). As I got to know the two, the differences between our countries was often a popular topic (it still is!) in our conversations and our differences in national sports is no exception. With persuasion from Sam and KG, along with many pre-season hockey posts from the likes of Justin, Alex and Dana to which I all owe my thanks (if any of you are reading this, you guys are awesome), I decided to give NHL a try and watch a few games featuring my friend’s local team: the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Actually watching the sport was a problem from the get-go however, as hockey is a sport that is simply not broadcast on British television due to the sport’s small following of people (at the time, ESPN was only available on satellite television and not with Top Up TV via Freeview - my current method of subscription). Instead, I’d resort to watching live streams (something I found completely impossible at the start) or downloading and watching them 1 or 2 days after the broadcast. Since I found my eyes struggling to watch live streams at the start of the season, I opted for the latter which led me to discover an awesome UK NHL community (which I shall not publicly name due to debatable legal reasons) featuring members that would rip all standard and HD hockey broadcasts from Canadian and American TV, cut out the commercial breaks and upload the video file for the rest of the community to download. After watching the first game of the season (New York Rangers @ Pittsburgh Penguins) with a bunch of mates (who also surprisingly enjoy the game) I was instantly hooked. The level of performance that the sport is played at was way beyond anything I had ever seen. From the quality of passing, checking and shooting to the drop of the gloves and fights that occur thereafter, I asked myself “What isn’t there to love about this sport?”.
Adjusting my eyes to the sport took some time. On many occasions my eyes would lose the puck and would take several seconds before I’d find it again. The NHL rules and terminology is another subject I would fail to grasp on occasion, some of which I was able to pick up as I went along. The rest such as icing calls, the hockey definition of offside, rink markings I would either learn from the likes of Wikipedia or through playing NHL 10 for the PlayStation 3 which I purchased on impulse two weeks into watching hockey.
Well, fast forward to the end of the season and the NHL folder on my computer now looks something like this:
I have to admit it was disappointing and surprisingly heartbreaking to see Pittsburgh lose to Montreal in the Eastern Conference finals, especially after watching every single game they had played this season, something that even long time fans of the sport fail to accomplish.
Looking back, I’m amazed to see how much I have grown to the sport within the space of a year. Although this is only just the beginning for me as I still have much to learn that you can only learn through experience, knowledge such as the history and rosters of NHL teams, historic games and players and so on. Still, to go from knowing very little about the sport to becoming a fan who has downloaded every game, frequently played the NHL 10 video game, [eventually] becoming an ESPN subscriber at the start of the playoffs and even having to constantly adjust my sleep pattern to be able to stay up till 4am so I could watch the live broadcasts, I am proud to say ice hockey has become a part of my life. The only thing I’m now lacking is a Pens jersey to show my support.
Perhaps I’ll pick one up when I visit the US in August!
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any questions or you’re unfamiliar with the sport or you’re interested in following ice hockey, feel free to send me a message and I’ll be more than happy to respond.
posted 3 years ago | Permatime