I originally started writing this article four months ago and to be honest I have found it a lot harder to write about than I had planned. I have always been a ice hockey fan along with football it was the first sport I had really liked.
The first game I went to was a British Super League game way back in 2000 for my then sixth birthday, needless to say I do not remember much of the game but I do remember it being the Bracknell Bees versus the Manchester Storm and it’s safe to say it started the craze, soon after it became a weekly routine of travelling to my grandparents house in Swindon on Saturday afternoons and going to the Link Centre in the evenings with my father and grandfather. Two years of watching Swindon back when they were known as the Lynx and had the high scoring pairing of Ken Forshee and Merv Priest rip the twine on a weekly basis was always a fun way to spend the weekend.
The hockey buzz for me stretched overseas on family holidays twice, in 2001 I went to my first and so far only NHL game, on holiday in New York me and the rest of my family went to see the New York Rangers versus the Buffalo Sabres, the Rangers were a team my dad had supported for years and it seemed only right that I followed suit, to this day I still have a flag I was given at the game and the pennant I brought from Madison Square Garden hanging pride of place in my bedroom. Another family holiday turned out to be the last game I went to, on holiday in Norway we went to watch Vålarenga take on the Stavanger Oilers. The game was a blur of speed and brutal hits and was an eye opener to the different styles of play that exist in the different world leagues.
It all changed in 2004, there was no more trips to Swindon, no more reading about hockey scores in the paper, nothing. It all seemed to fade into distant memory of course there were mitigating circumstances like my family having money problems, my father fell ill for quite a while which meant we didn’t spend much time going to or watching ice hockey. In all honesty after a few years I had forgotten that hockey was even played in Britain, it’s hard to describe what happened to make me forget, there was the fact I didn’t live in a hockey city (Southampton), there was the obvious school stuff basically a lot of things conspired to me not going to games.
It all changed again in 2012, the NHL lockout lead to a shortened season and an offer crossed my eye, NHL Game Center for the whole season only fifteen pounds, I jumped at the chance the first week of the season I watched every game I could. It didn’t really matter who was playing the Rangers, the Sharks, the Red Wings I just watched hockey and eventually something in my brain just clicked, the spark was back, I remembered about hockey in Britain, about those times spent with my dad and grandad and I was determined to go back to watching live games.
After a quick search I found a game to go to, December 2012 I made the short trip to Basingstoke and watched the Bison take on the Sheffield Steeldogs and it felt so good just to be at a game again, to have a programme in my hands, to fill in a gamesheet, hearing the crowd cheer with every goal scored and every fight had it was such an adrenaline rush and I knew I was hooked again. After the game I was back waiting at the train station and it was then I had my first conversation with Anthony Russell, in a half hour chat I learnt a lot from him about hockey, about the Bison and his fanatical support of lots of teams. What struck me the most was his passion for the sport, the fact he would travel from Southampton most weekends to watch games and when he mentioned he wrote a blog about his team it made me more interested. I went through an entire season of articles and read every word and his knowledge of the sport is what really drew me in and in all honesty as a writer I look up to him if I can recount half as much information into my writing as he can I will consider myself a success.
A quick iTunes search a few days later and I found a name I recognised from my past hockey experiences, the Manchester Phoenix podcast, a show obviously dedicated to the Phoenix but also spoke of the rest of the EPL, hearing the ranting of hockey fans in a car park in Altrincham again showed me how passionate British hockey fans are, again I went through the back catalogue, listened to all the podcasts spanning two seasons. I started tweeting into the show and have now even been on the show live from Coventry for the last two years (if you can’t spot me I am one of the annoying southerners).
Going on the show mean I met a good friend in Peter Bradbury, someone who I could talk to about things not just hockey. There are other sports that both of us enjoy like Football, Cricket, Speedway, American Football and others. He puts up with me talking nonsense on his podcast and we spend hours talking about sporting events we’ve been to and listening to the stories he tells me is always a highlight for me, my personal favourite being the time a speedway rider nearly broke his fingers but I’ll let him tell you that one.
Quickly it became clear I was part of a larger hockey family and this year while at the playoffs in Coventry while watching my team the Swindon Wildcats get beat by the Phoenix in overtime I felt the worst I ever had whilst watching one of my teams. I wasn’t confident that we could win the game but when you watch your team lose in the dying minutes its heartbreaking, to have been so close only to have it taken away was cruel but I knew the right team went through. After the game I was expecting the Phoenix fans to rub it in my face but it didn’t happen, they knew the position I was in they had been there before and they were nothing but supportive. It showed that in British ice hockey all the teams fans have a laugh and a joke with each other, when the game is on the friendship is off and when it finishes it’s back to laughing and joking and this is why I am back in love with hockey again.
Now it’s August 2014 and at the time of writing this I am scouring through every teams fixture list to try and find games to go to, I would be lying if I said I went to every Swindon game as for me it is simply not possible, I try and got to at least 10 Wildcats games a year and mix it in with games from other teams. I try and find teams close enough to spend a weekend in one place and watch a game each day the attempt is to go to every rink in Britain’s top two leagues and so far I’m on 9 out of 19. In two years I have gone from an outsider who hadn’t been to a game in years to a member of a larger family with people I am proud to call friends there are more I haven’t named but they know who they are, now let’s just see how far down the rabbit hole goes.