You’re so fine, you blow my mind, ice hockey

It seems that everyone is taking up some kind of activity to keep fit or get in shape for the New Year. So I decided to take up sport 🙂 . This weekend I attended my first proper American sporting event. I went to an ice hockey game once about 15 years ago, to see Manchester Storm. I’ve just looked them up and apparently they went out of business due to lack of income over ten years ago. Shame. Not the sort of scenario I can see happening to an ice hockey team on this side of the Atlantic.

Anyway, this time around I had the pleasure of seeing Norfolk Admirals against Syracuse Crunch (a rather appetising name for a chocolate bar if you ask me. Certainly more appealing than the Hershey Bears anyway).
I know pretty much nothing about ice hockey. Actually, that’s probably a bit of an understatement. So it was fun trying to guess the rules as the game went along. I have since looked at a basic guide to the rules and it pretty much confirms my understanding, i.e. that there aren’t really that many rules and the objective is pretty much just to zip around the ice as fast as possible and attempt to score as many goals as possible. There are three periods of play, each lasting twenty minutes. What?? Seriously, who came up with that? Two or four, fine, but three? That’s just a teensy bit lopsided if you ask me, seeing as each team gets two goes at one end and only one at the other. So why not just stay at the same end for each period then? Also in the event of a tie they have one five minute period of extra time, however instead of playing the whole five minutes (because it’s such a long time) they stop as soon as one team scores a goal. To be fair, by that point it has been such a long night that everyone is desperate to get home. No really. I mean, there may only be sixty minutes of play, not the eighty or ninety we are used to in British sports, but the play periods are punctuated by other events – various competitions designed to relieve the spectators of as much money as possible, mainly – not just in between the three periods but also in the middle of them at seemingly random times. If there is a nanosecond of stoppage time then an advert will be shown on the big screen or read out by the announcer. Which all goes to reinforce my view that this nation has the collective attention span of a gnat. I don’t know how they would manage to sit through a whole half of football or rugby. The upshot of all these advertising/moneymaking episodes in amongst the play is that an hour’s worth of sport takes three hours to complete. Phew.

It seemed to me that players were substituted in an entirely random manner and whenever they felt like it. In fact I have just checked the official rules and this does seem to be the case. What this meant was that the game would be in mid-play and suddenly one entire team would skate off and be completely replaced by their team mates with no warning. Slightly strange.

As you can imagine, it’s a pretty high speed game and I had little time to discern many other rules as I was too busy just trying to follow the puck around the rink. The velocity of the game makes it extra exciting as there are frequent face-plants on the glass / general ungainly crashes onto the ice as the players fight for control of the puck. The goals are really small (technically four by six feet, apparently) so I wondered why the goalies didn’t simply kneel down in front of them, as their shinpads would cover the entire goal area. Oh well.

By far the most exciting part of the game, however, are the fights. Every so often a couple of opposing players will get fed up and rip off their gloves and have a little bit of a punch up. The referees stand back and let them get on with it until there is bloodshed. The crowd loves it – the fights get even bigger cheers than the goalscoring does. Also the word FIGHT!! flashes up on the big screen in much the same manner as the word TRY might do during a British rugby match. Fabulous. More sports should encourage this type of violence.

I’m going to try baseball next. As a spectator, obviously. We’ll have to see if it can live up to the high octane thrills of this weekend’s ice hockey.

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