Come game day, we didn’t really care. We just wanted to watch hockey!
We showed up at the arena not really knowing what to expect, but excited nonetheless to get our-Canadian-culture-on.
Hockey is different here. The rink size is bigger, the rules are a bit different, and the penalties are (in my eyes) cheaper. We Canadians know about the “international” refs.
But the biggest difference is with the fans and atmosphere. Similar to football (soccer) matches we’ve seen worldwide, fans are separated in the stands according to allegiance. We told the ticket agent to “surprise us” with our seats and she put us with the home team crowd (probably safer if things got ugly!) Before the puck even dropped, the fans who traveled from Croatia were already loudly singing and chanting from their corner.
When the starting lineups were announced, the home team skated out from an inflatable dragon. And when the announcer said the first name of the player, the crowd would excitedly yell out the last name. The crowd was so into it, right from the get-go.
The game started….
And then things got interesting…
The Slovenian fans spent more time booing the other team than they did cheering for their own squad. When a Croatian player took a penalty, a good majority of the fans would boo the player going to the bench. When their own player took a penalty, they booed every time the puck was in Croatia’s possession. Obvious missed penalty calls were met with loud whistles from the fans.
While disappointed (and parched) at first when we realized we couldn’t enjoy the game with a beer like at home, we soon realized why the don’t serve alcohol at these matches.
There’s a lot of enthusiasm for fighting. Every time it looked like a couple of players might drop their gloves, the loudspeakers shook the stands with the Beastie Boys’ classic “Fight For Your Right” and the crowd surged to its feet for a better view. When all was said and done, instead of cheering for their hometown player, a good majority chose to give a double middle finger and then throw random things at the opposing player on the ice.
Oh, and we even saw some fans across the arena get kicked out for fighting. Again, good call on the no-drinking rule.
The home team also had a cheerleading squad which parked themselves in the aisles of the stands to dance at every break in play. From dance tracks to popular polka tunes, they were busy throughout the game. And my logic is that they do it to distract the fans from throwing more debris on the ice.
We saw a couple of great goals, but as close as the score was (2 to 1 for Croatia), the game was severely dominated by Croatia.
We’ve seen hurling in Ireland and been to soccer games in Argentina and Belgium. Not to be a total biased Canadian (even though I am), but hockey kicks ass over all of these for the excitement of the game and the roar of the crowd. Even when they don’t serve beer.