My knowledge of Ice Hockey goes as far as the 1992 classic The Mighty Ducks, and a few games of NHL 96 or 97 many years ago, but I still really wanted to see an Ice Hockey game when we moved here.
We live about a five minute walk from the CZ Arena here in Pardubice, home to HC CSOB Pardubice, the local Ice Hockey team. Since we arrived we’ve been looking forward to attending a game, and last night we got to do just that. Pardubice were playing the Knights of Kladno, a team a number of places above them in the table. I had attempted to purchase tickets earlier in the afternoon online but they stop selling them a few hours before the game. So we had to try our luck at the Box-Office, which fortunately had some tickets remaining.
We purchased two tickets, in zone 107, on the ground level in the corner. We made our way around past the ticket attendants, the vending machines, the merchandise stands and the numerous food counters till we found the entrance to our zone. We found our seat numbers and promptly sat down in the quickly filling arena.
These were really good seats we thought, not bad for just over a tenner between us. We were about 4 rows from the home dugouts and had a great view of the whole rink. A man came along and after some puzzled stares, sat down beside us. A few minutes later he asked me something in Czech and showed me his ticket. He had row 5, seat 18, the same as me….I took out my ticket thinking there’d been some mix-up, and that’s when I copped on. We were in zone 106, not 107. Cue embarrassed apologies as we shuffled our way back out past several fans, over to zone 107. The whole row was filled from 1-17, our seats were 18 and 19. Sinéad noticed one of the people staring at us had crutches, awkard….We apologised to a new bunch of people and made our way to our seats, cheeks as red as the team’s jersey.
As the clock on the giant scoreboard suspended over the arena counted down the minutes before the start, the atmosphere inside grew and grew. Down the far wall the fanclub was in full voice, singing, clapping and beating their drums in anticipation. Some guys came out onto the ice in front of us and carried what looked like a rolled up bouncy castle. Within minutes it began to take shape, it was a giant inflatable horse’s head complete with a tunnel for the players to appear from. The crest of Pardubice is a red shield with half a white horse (the front half), and this is carried over into the hockey team who have a slightly more garish and trendy horses head with fiery red hair and an intense wild eyed smile.
The timer on the scoreboard ran down to a few minutes remaining, children gathered by the railings in front of us, drowning in their oversized hockey jerseys. The players appeared to a huge cheer from the crowd, the kids eagerly high fiving the players as they ran past, through the horses mouth and onto the ice.
The buzz in the arena was fantastic, a real sense of occasion filled the air. The teams lined up in their initial layout of 6 players and the game got under way. Substitutions in ice hockey are a bit different to say those found in soccer or rugby. The whole team switches out from time to time, it’s a wonderfully choreographed tactical manoeuvre that happens in seconds and the game continues apace. My hockey knowledge is pretty limited for now so I won’t go into details of the game’s rules or things like that.
Kladno started well and put Pardubice under pressure but it was the home side who struck first. Cue……Gary Glitter? Yep that’s right, whenever Pardubice score Rock and Roll by Gary Glitter is played. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a catchy tune, but the man’s behaviour is a little questionable to say the least….
If the fanfare associated with a home goal was deafening, so was the silence when the opposition equalised a few minutes later. No horns, no klaxons, no Gary Glitter, just a few thousand people groaning and then silence. At least for a little while, until the fans on the far wall burst back into life and the drums began to beat once more.
That was to be the only time the crowd would be silenced all evening as Pardubice went on to win by a rather dominant 4 goals to 1. At the final whistle a most bizzare occurrance……occurred. From all corners of the arena, what looked to be ice-creams were thrown onto the ice. We couldn’t help but laugh as the objects rained down from all angles and bounced around the players. A quick Google search when we got home revealed this isn’t uncommon in Ice Hockey and many clubs have traditions of throwing objects, born out of bizarre superstitions I suppose.
EDIT: I’ve since been informed that they were throwing gingerbread onto the ice, which is collected after the game and given to a local orphanage. Now if that doesn’t warm your cockles I don’t know what will.
The players after shaking the hands of their opponents made their way down to the end where their loyal fans jumped up and down and cheered on their victorious heroes. The two groups then saluted each other, the fans giving a quick simultaneous Mexican wave, and the players copying the action swinging their sticks aloft. It was really nice to see such a connection between the fans and the players, something that’s sorely missing with a lot of today’s millionaire sport stars.
After waving goodbye the players made their way over towards our corner where they were greeted by the same adoring kids that had welcomed them into the arena. Some scooped up ice-creams in their helmets on the way and handed them to the kids. The players disappeared into the changing area and some of the crowd dispersed. But many remained, including us, intrigued that this night wasn’t quite finished. Sure enough the players emerged once more, high fived the kids and skated back over to the far end, for another rapturous applause and salute from the fans. It was like an encore from a band after playing a gig, or when the cast of a play return to the stage and take a bow. Again, fantastic stuff, i’m smiling away to myself just thinking about it.
There was one negative point however….not a single helmet was angrily thrown to the ice, no gloves were furiously tossed aside, not one punch was thrown….My dad used to always joke “I went to a fight, and an ice hockey match broke out”, so imagine the disappointment I felt having watched an entire ice hockey match, and not seeing one fight. Perhaps that’s just the NHL, and these guys are more polite, it would certainly explain the gentlemanly behaviour exhibited by Pardubice’s residents that I’ve witnessed. Maybe the next one there’ll be a riot….
I’ve been to numerous sporting events over the years, but I have to say this was one of the most satisfying and exciting. The sense of occasion and fanfare was second to none and the camaraderie between the fans and the players was truly refreshing. I think I might have just become a fan. Definitely have to get tickets in the fan club end the next time…
A short video of my first Ice Hockey experience.