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December, 2010:

Bradley Voth Is Coming To Town…

My parents can be described as, what you may call, “passive” sports fans. They hold no allegiances to any particular football team, they don’t keep track of the ongoing trials and tribulations of any individual sporting venture. The most they enjoy are their regular games of lawn bowls over the summer.

So it comes as no surprise that they hadn’t attended a Belfast Giants game in 8 years, despite the fanaticism of myself, their eldest son. As such I took it upon myself to try and re-introduce them to the sport I hold so dear. And for such a demanding feat I chose the visit of the rampaging Cardiff Devils. A team vying for the summit of the Elite League where my own team currently teetered.

I say ‘teetered’ because since I returned home from Manchester for Christmas the form of the Giants had taken an unfortunate downward turn. Talk leading up to December was of how the Giants would be strengthened as more and more of the injured players picked themselves off the treatment table and back onto the ice. The appearance of Brandon Benedict and Mark Garside would be a boost to any side, let alone one holding court in the league leading position, but to the Giants they were seen as a vital piece of the title-chasing puzzle.

However, things were not as straight forward as they may have seemed to be. The cancellation of the visit to Nottingham the week before Christmas due to snow meant that the visit of the Braehead Clan on Boxing Day was the Giants fifth consecutive game against Scottish opposition. Having won 3 of the previous 4, the faithful congregated at the Odyssey for what they hoped would be a belated Christmas present. What they witnessed was more a case of the post-Christmas hangover.

A disjointed, unorganised and obviously fatigued Giants side were slowly unravelled by a Clan side both disciplined and well organised. The Clan, led by Player-Coach and former Panther Bruce Richardson, capitalised on the loose pucks and sloppy passes that all of a sudden became prevalent in the Giants game. The new EIHL outfit have gained strength since their fledgling beginnings and the Giants were subject to some neat finishing. Stephen Murphy’s game seemed unconfident, while his defense gave little coverage.

The Clan, in their first of back to back meetings against the Giants, gave their travelling support some Christmas cheer, coming away with a 4-2 win, while the home fans were left frustrated by the overall performance. A post-mortem among fans came to the conclusion it was hopefully no more than a turkey and mulled wine infused ‘blip’ in form.

The festive period delivers the games thick and fast, a hope by franchises to capitalise on the holidays, get folk through the door and boost the revenue as the business end of the season approaches. Thus the Giants, and a number of fans, boarded the boat to Scotland the very next morning. Bound for the middle of three games in as many days. A return fixture to the Clan’s home of Braehead.

I myself was in said fan number. A superbly organised bus trip departed on the Stenaline HSS to Stranraer with hopes of an improved performance and, most of all, enjoyment. The bus was full and songs were plentiful. Time was spent talking of the previous nights fruitless endeavour and desire for revenge.

Braehead’s arena lies in the centre of a major shopping mall, kind of like putting the Phoenix arena in the Trafford Centre, but a large crowd witnessed a more gutsy performance from both teams. The Clan retained their organisation, but to it added some feisty physical play. The Giants, understrength in the physical department due to Mike Hoffman’s family bereavement, found themselves being out played for a good part of the first 2 periods. JF Perras, the former Coventry and Edinburgh netminder, once again playing north of Hadrians Wall, was on top form and was able to eal with all the likes of Welch, Peacock and Lambert had to offer.

The Giants were further hampered by the fact that recent returnees were being rested in order to face the Devils the following night, joined by Colin Hemmingway. As such, all creative nuance was channelled through Simon Lambert, the Giants latest addition struggling to provide that little bit of magic due to the constant Braehead shoulders and sticks impeding his space and ability.

The travelling fans grew impatient, not only with the Giants seemingly impotent powerplay, but also some of the seemingly physical, if a little dirty, tactics and handbag nature of the Braehead attack. Referee Moray Hanson handed the Clan over twice the penalty minutes the visitors received. Yet the Giants powerplay unit has proven static and sloppy, drawing no end of derision from this fan in particular and a number of others besides.

The game seemed lost, but this sport can be cruel at times. Braehead had done more than enough to take both points from the match, but a moment of magic from Josh Prudden and a well worked goal by Tim Cook around 90 seconds later stole the game for the visitors, much to the abject delight of those in teal and white behind the goal. The outcome was therefore a split series, both sets of travelling fans sailing home happy, if a little jaded by the long days travelling and effect of alcohol on the system.

Further talk ensued on the Giants performance now over the two nights. It appeared that despite the extended break facilitated by the cancelled game in Nottingham, the Giants were struggling with speed and sharpness. The result in Braehead did little to paper over the cracks forming in many opinions on the bus back and all too few held much hope for a result against the in-form welsh visitors the following night.

Which brings us to my parents and their re-introduction to the game that very next night. Despite my fatigued state of mind, I was pleased to bring them along to the wonderful Odyssey Arena. A few pints around town to whet the palate before making our way to Rockies pre-game.

The sales of tickets are usually high over the yuletide break and today seemed no different with queues already long at the Box Office. The clock ticked down to face off as we took our seats. A cold pint and a burger for each member of my family (my two brothers had joined us also), a 50/50 ticket all round, and a copy of the programme for my dad who was delighted to find my article contained within concerning the forthcoming visit of the Newcastle Vipers.

My mother had heard all about the infamous viral Christmas video by the Giants and was very entertained by what she saw. The Giants marketing coup had spread across the world, but this was the result, an arena with faces both old and new to the game.

Their anticipation grew as the teams emerged and the puck was dropped….

AVFTB: “Ooooops”

A View from the Bridge has returned. This weeks edition sees Conor and Patrick joined by Davy McGimpsey to discuss the Giants disastrous weekend that seen them take 1 point from an 11 man Vipers side.

There is a detailed post-mortem of Sunday night past, questions are asked of Steve Thornton’s coaching ability, Patrick rants about the “merits” of Corey Neilson and the lads look ahead to this weekends double header with the Panthers.

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A View From The Bridge is a UK Hockey LIVE production for Kingdom of the Giants

AVFTB Special: Todd Kelman Talks Bruins!

In a UK Hockey Live interview for KingdomoftheGiants.com, Todd Kelman speaks to Patrick about the NHL’s Boston Bruins impending trip to the Odyssey Arena.

He tells us the work put in to bring it to the franchise to Belfast, what fans can expect from the weekend, ticketing expectations and more

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Ker-Ching

The Toronto Maple Leafs are arguably the biggest ticket in Canadian sports. A team with money, power and an exceptional draw. However they are a team who lack in success, I hasten to draw minor parallels to the East Midlands.

 As the NHL grew, so did did the Leafs, and in order to give the full entertainment package to “more fans” they moved from Maple Leaf Gardens to the cavernous Air Canada Centre. A team followed across southern Ontario and beyond, and one you cannot set two steps into Yonge Street without seeing some form or promotion or merchandise behind a window or donned by a native.

 On Saturday night past I was delighted to be a guest of some close friends at the game between the Leafs and their fierce Ontario rivals the Ottawa Senators. Game night in Toronto is, as you can imagine, a far cry from Belfast’s “Hockey Night on Queens Island”. 

 From the second you step through the door you’re greeted by helpful ushers who check your ticket, welcome you to the Air Canada Centre and point you in the general direction of your seat. You pick up your huge beer and settle down in your purchased pew for the evenings entertainment.

 The lights, sound, fun and games have a certain gleam of polish. From the entrance of the teams to the quizzes in the TV time outs, everything has been perfectly choreographed to accompany the on-ice action and, unsurprisingly, that action didn’t fail to impress. 

 When I last blogged I was on a flight to Toronto, I now sit on the return journey remembering a cracking nights hockey. The Leafs currently stand unbeaten following a closely fought overtime victory over the New York Rangers last night, and on that Saturday night they powered past a substandard Sens performance.

 The game had it all; hits, fights, speed and skill. The crowd were delighted by how their team were playing  and rightly so. But not everyone in the arena was watching the home side rattle the goals by Pascal Leclaire.

 As I looked down toward the ice I noticed quite a few empty seats along the “Gold” and “Platinum” areas of the arena. Seats that cost quite in excess to the $95 seats we inhabited on the top tier of the ACC. But cushioned rink side seats that remained unused. The horror came in the second period break upon the discovery that many of the owners of these seats were actually in the building, just not in their seats.

 In the second break our hosts decided to show us right down to the Leafs dressing room. We ventured down flights of stairs and I gained a magnificent video from right by the where the team enters for the ice (I’ll stick it on YouTube I’m sure). It was here I discovered many side rooms with their own private bars filled with corporate types. As I slowly made my way back through this area the final period faced off and the Leafs scored before I could reach my seat.  However behind me I heard one corporate “fan” ask another “Oh, we scored? Whats the score now then” as they entered one of the myriad corporate bars behind the scenes.

 ”Whats the score?”; a question never to be asked by thousands, if not millions of Toronto Maple Leafs fans scattered about Ontario or beyond; including those sat outside in the cold watching the huge screen in Maple Leaf Square, unable to afford the high prices being charged to see the team they love.

Meanwhile I return to a land where only 1 season ago I was riling on the hike in ticket prices. I do feel mildly lucky I can afford to see my hockey team.

I do understand the differences, before folk begin to begin to get irate. The vast gulf in the standard of the product is one that can’t be ignored. But is it such that it is fair to charge nearly £75+ for a basic ticket, before then charging nearly £10+ for a beer? To out price the common or garden fan, happy to sit in the cold outside, in favour of the corporate “fan” who will spend more time in the Air Canada Centre casually glancing at the game on a TV in the bar than actually watch the puck with his own eyes?

In January myself and a number of friends took what has become a regular weekend in Berlin where we watched both Eisbaren Berlin and Hertha Berlin play in their countries top Hockey and Soccer leagues respectively. Both were highly affordable, highly charged and had an atmosphere that far outweighed that in any other hockey or soccer game I’ve attended.

Thus is the question, when does the price justify the product?

The drop in standard between top level hockey and soccer in Germany to other top leagues across the world could be taken as marginal, but the difference in ticket prices is significant.

Elite League hockey sits at an average of around £14-15 for a walk up to the game, while at EPL level you could pay anything from £8.50 in Guilford to £12 for an advance ticket in Manchester.

Are these fairly priced?

At Elite level I’d say so, while many, including myself, have given off about the price rises over the seasons, the fact remains that costs must be met, players must be paid and equipment purchased. Too many teams have fallen foul of over reaching financially and while I’m not declaring open season on ticket prices, I do feel proper financial management should be met to keep tickets affordable to those who are most important, the fans.

But are the corporate tickets the most important in the arena to fuel the team?

Corporate support is very important and of course they deserve their place in the hierarchy, be it in the NHL or the ENL. However, when it reaches a point where their importance force games to be out of reach to the average man, woman or child, such as in Toronto, then there needs to be a rethink. Not necessarily a cut in basic ticket price, but a fair structure that allow empty corporate seats be filled at a reasonable rate.

This will not take place in Toronto however as the ACC will fill, thanks to the supply and demand, regardless of the ticket pricing. But I arrive back in the UK within next hour thankful I can afford to watch the games I enjoy the most.

A View From The Bridge: Colin Shields Interview

With only a week before the puck drops on another EIHL season, Colin Shields, last seasons Captain of the Belfast cialis cheap Giants, chats to A View From The Bridge about the highs of last season, his off season preparations and the expectations for the season ahead.

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As The Curtain Rises

There’s something about the opening night at the Odyssey Arena that keeps drawing me in year on year. It’s hard to put your finger on it because it’s basically just a hockey game as similar to any other, be it in the middle in November or February. But as the long hockey-less months wile away, fan upon fan keep their eye on the team waiting in anticipation as the countdown to the season ticks second by second.

That countdown reached it’s conclusion at 7pm ,Saturday 11th September and for many fans they got their first glimpse of Doug Christiansen’s inaugural Belfast Giants team.

My day began at 8am, a quick run round Salford Quays in Manchester as my participation in the Great North Run was only a week away. Cobwebs of a nights sleep filled with excited restlessness blown asunder, I collected only my passport and my Giants shirt for the short stay, before heading directly to Liverpool Airport.

The trip to Belfast would last less than 24 hours, but my sole purpose was to stand at the back of Door 17 of the Odyssey Arena with friends and open the home season somewhere I enjoy the most.

Arrival at Rockies Sports Bar beforehand brings a time when you reacquaint yourself with friends you only see for 7 months of the year. Some of the folk there I’ve known for 10 years now and familiarity brings the conversation to the sides of hockey we enjoy. Having had the opportunity to see the Giants away from home, some people were asking about the netminder, some about the forwards and many wanted to know just how tough new enforcer Mike Hoffman is.

As some depart to watch the warm up, looking their first glimpse of the players they will adulate for the season to come, the rest of us sink the last pint before taking ourselves through the turnstile.

Traditional standing point assumed in the arena, programme in back pocket and drink in hand we awaited the teams. It had been pointed out on arrival that the championship banners hanging from the rafters had been given a spruce up, while the ice and advertising boards had been prepared in anticipation of the NHL’s own Boston Bruins.

A new addition to the Giants match night was the first to take the ice. The new mascot was introduced. The life-size realisation of Finn McCool, immortalised on the Giants badge for 10 seasons, looked more like a mixture between David Longstaff and Stretch Armstrong, but the character was no less amusing. The “mystery inhabitant” of the mascot suit certainly had an entertaining demeanour. The Giants very own “Stig” shall no doubt provide mystery and amusement as we race toward March.

The game only minutes away the Giants and Blaze took to the ice. The champions of last seasons two major trophys were welcomed by the lowering of the Giants Playoff Championship banner. Another reminder to all those lucky enough to have been there of a glorious moment in the history of the Belfast franchise.

The Giants had arrived home with an impressive opening two games, 3 points from 4 being no mean feat when asked to open your season on the road. Back to back games against the reigning league champions provided no less a stern test for Christiansen’s men.

Paul Thompson, like his Coventry teams of the Elite League era, draws mixed emotions  from opposition fans. Equal measures of envy and respect accompany one of the British games most successful coaches. But as the puck is dropped all that is set aside and desire for victory is all the Giants faithful care about.

A quick pace to the game right from the off saw the Giants under the cosh. And it was Blaze staple Russ Cowley who briefly silenced the expectant Belfast crowd with the first Odyssey goal of the season.

There is an abundance of new talent in this new Giants squad and it was they who pulled the score back. You can see folks beady eye on the new players, they want to suss out their game early in order to pick one as a “favourite”, be it to get their name on the back of a replica shirt or just to crow about in the bar after the game.

For me Richard Seeley is a player who has caught my eye in the two games I’ve seen so far. Tough, tenacious and tempered, the D man has shown immense ability for this league and was certainly a wall Coventry’s Luke Fulgum struggled to pass in the early stages of the game.

Mike Hoffman has been brought in by Christiansen as a new style enforcer and is quite the departure from his predecessor. Where McMorrow was there to provide a pantomime villan to opposition fans, his remit outside of the antics was (and, I’d say for Dundee, is) somewhat limited. A lot of fans loved him. I can’t say I agreed and was thankful upon his departure. Hoffman is a tonic long needed based on his early involvements. His equalizing goal and subsequent assist to Peacocks eventual game winning goal showed a player with physicality, and the mental grip on the game to push through a player and still place a pass onto a stick for a great finish. While “The Sherriff” crows on his imaginary ‘Heavyweight Title’, it seems Hoffman has a far greater and substantial prize in mind.

As I’ve mentioned the Giants ran out winners of the game and took their 2nd win of the season (if you count the meaningless Charity Shield game) over Thompson’s side. Thomo will be mildly concerned at the slow start his team have achieved in the burgeoning season. However few have any doubt that the leagues most successful coach will have the nuance to make any change if required, it will also depend on how much faith he has in his initial selection.

I didn’t find the ability of the netminder, Jaeger, to be that impressive. He does have the speed to counteract his height and span on the ice and was able to move quickly to stop shots (and a couple of very poor breakaway attempts by a mis-firing Colin Shields). But it is here where the confidence starts to fade as his rebounds seemed to lack control. A Blaze fan with a dodgy ticker may need to avert his gaze on a number of the poorly controlled shots the Blaze new arrival dealt with. Jaeger took a knock in the game that hampered his pace but still showed glimpses of ability that may come good if he can settle into the role.

An empty net goal sealed the victory, Thommo looking to salvage a point in the dying seconds by withdrawing Jaeger, but to no avail. Former Giant Sean Selmser won the draw in the Giants zone, but the puck fell loose and Bayrack put the victory beyond doubt. A fabulous opening to the home season and the reaction of a crowd nearing 5000 or more shared their appreciation.

There was also that sense of relief. The season had begun, the waiting was over and the anticipation of what the team’s ability could reach was initially fulfilled, for now. Chat after the game once again turned to the new players. Hoffman coming in for significant, and rightly deserved, praise.

The party continued will into the night and as I climbed on the plane the next morning back to Liverpool, wearing exactly what I’d arrived in, I wondered if “flying visits” home merely for hockey games were worth the time and expense. RyanAir are soon to withdraw their service from Belfast City Airport and as such these flits to the homeland will become significantly more expensive.

But as much as I enjoy traveling to away games and the sometimes siege mentality of being a minority fan in a foreign arena, it can’t substitute for the rush of a home game. The Giants fans don’t lack passion for their team at home, and win or lose the game has thrived far beyond the lifespan many local sports critics scoffingly gave it in the infant years. So the answer I came to very quickly was yes. It is worth it not merely for the hockey, but for the craic, which even when the team have waned, has never followed suit.

In saying that, the next trip home was never in doubt.

Let’s see what you have got ‘Boston’!

BIH: Cumbria to Cardiff

Before the Christmas break. UKHL’s Patrick Smyth began a blog on BritishIceHockey.co.uk about his experiences as an “exiled fan”.

The first two parts are now available on BIH.

Cumbria to Cardiff : Part 1

Cumbria to Cardiff : Part 2

The Referee's A….

Hate is a very emotive word, one that is bandied about with great disregard for its actual meaning in modern society. An emotion so basic in our being and a motive for many a crime on our streets, ‘hate’ has become a by-word for any form of dislike.

In sport ‘hate’ can take many forms, sometimes towards a team, an organisation, however more regularly toward an individual player. Occasionally this is a player whose skill and scoring prowess has tormented your own team’s fortunes, but more often than not it’s the player whose mischievous actions lie outside the rules of the game. And such actions can develop increased fervour should they go unpunished.

As spectators we are very rarely objective in these instances, while some may see a players actions to be perfectly legal, an opposition supporter will argue without fail the contrary as their view deems it to be so. It is the man in the middle, however, who has the final say and it is the referee who will ultimately gain the gratitude or the grief from sections of the on looking public.

The plight of the referee or a linesman is unenviable, yet essential. Especially in the Elite League. It is a position where even if you perform your job to the last perfect letter without a single fault, your ability and judgement will most likely still raise question from someone, be it player or public. The worst of these is the instilled unqualified belief that some of the officials may be crooked in some way or lacking in the impartiality required to deliver the job necessary to the game.

My own personal favourite has sometimes been the attempt to blame the referee’s ability for the loss of a game. While I do admit that sometimes a poor decision can lead to an unexpected and, maybe, unfair outcome, to put such entire blame at the door of the referee is, in my own view, farcical. Should a team’s ability in a game be subject to apparent “inconsistent” calls by the variations in referee, then it is the team whose game must change, I’ll elaborate on this point in a moment.

Ice Hockey referees have been the subject of much criticism and ‘hatred’ since as far back as I remember. The merest unusual call can demote the man in stripes from a hero to a villain in seconds. I stand to commit no hypocrisy in this blog. I have certainly taken a refereeing performance into light when judging a games outcome. I’ve had no qualms in joining in the cries of “you don’t know what you’re doing” that inevitably fall on deaf ears. But when the final buzzer sounds and the game is complete it has to be taken into account that the referee is as much an essential part of the game as the puck, the sticks and the ice.

An example of this was apparent in a goal scored by the Dundee Stars on Saturday night. In a tight and feisty game at the Odyssey Arena, an attempt to clear the puck by the Belfast Giants took an unfortunate if somewhat drastic ricochet off the nearside linesman. This fell to an open Stars forward who took advantage of the Giants decision, correct though it was in normal circumstances, to push up and allow for a line change. The scene was set for a two on one advance on Murphys goal and the result was, as you’d expect, a goal for the Stars.

Much derision and criticism was hurled at the linesman in question (whose name escapes me at this time), fuelled by the balance of the game and the effect of his mistake. The linesman, to his credit, immediately apologised to the Giants bench and players for his erroneous actions.

It is common knowledge to most, and certainly to those who read Paul Trevellion’s wonderful “You Are The Ref” in the Observer every Sunday, that the officials in many if not all sports are considered part of the furniture of the game. Hits, knocks or deflections off an out of position official are as legal to the game as an unexpected flick off the boards. But it should be the referee’s experience that mitigates such actions taking place in the first place.

And that’s the unfortunate thing about the EIHL. While the refereeing standard isn’t as bad as is made out, the development of young linesmen and referees is rarely given a chance by the baying public. It has put many an upcoming promising linesman off becoming a referee and in one case I recall, caused a referee to decide to return to the lines due to the grief received.

Teams themselves must also assist in this. Before I harkened to the blame of “inconsistent refereeing”. While I can understand what that means it is ultimately up to the teams to play to the whistles. Each ref in this league has his own style known more to those on the ice than off. The tendency of one ref to be whistle happy while another well known ref likes to let games flow and leaves minor indiscressions on the ice for the players to even up themselves, but it’s the minor penalty left alone that is noticed on your own team, rather than the one seconds earlier it was in retaliation to.

If you know what ref is to cover your game, you, more often than not, know the style the game will be played in. Mike Hicks has historically gained much derision for his approach caused mainly by a lingering recollection of the first impressions he game. A linesman who took the plunge and decided he wanted to ref, his first encounters over the season seemed, to me, to be nervous. His approach was one of whistles and poor decisions that left many without the ability to hold their tongue and throw countless creative adjectives in his direction.

In the on coming years, I believe, his refereeing has greatly improved and is a testament to what can be achieved when given the time to develop. Many will disagree as is their prerogative, but given an objective chance to compare the Hicks of yesteryear to the Hicks of today I have no doubt you would see the improvement to the game as a whole.

It is a part of the game, as a spectator, that will not change, the dislike of certain referees over others, the obligatory attempt to disguise a poor performance or result by placing the blame squarely at the refs door is one that has been experienced by most of those who watch organised team sports. That will not and should not change as it is the differing of opinions that provide the talking points in the bars and cars after the final buzzers and whistles have long since passed.

But from time to time I would implore folk to stop, think and remember that while you may disagree with calls, and the arrival of one referee over another can cause consternation before a puck is even dropped, the ref is an essential part of what we watch. An unenviable and unthankable task that we ourselves replicate in our own way up in the stands. But with less impartiality.

You Take What You Want

After last Saturdays fantastic night at the Odyssey Arena, every man and his blog will be throwing their opinion at you regarding what was witnessed. The spectacle, the atmosphere and what it meant deep down for them to see one of the worlds great ice hockey franchises take to the Belfast ice.

I agree with many of them, to see the likes of Chara, Bergeron, Recchi, Thornton and Rask line up along a blueline stretching to a “fon-a-cab” advertising boarding was somewhat surreal and it was difficult not to get caught up in what was a special night in the Giants 10 year history. 

But as the dust settles I currently sit on a flight from Manchester to Toronto, listening to some Janes Addiction, and instead of reminiscing and recounting a night you’ve probably read about a hundred times in under a week. I have begun to think of how matches like that rank in the pantheon of a typical hockey fans life of watching the game. 

An interesting discussion took place between myself and a few of my long suffering hockey friends after the game. It was without doubt that what we had just experienced was special, but where would it sit among all the other nights spent watching our team take to the ice? 

I can’t say I was surprised with the answer as I myself had a similar feeling. The visit of one of the NHL’s Original Six, though astounding, would still find it difficult to dislodge games that invoked shakes and sweats to the fans that watched. The Bruins game had speed, skill and immense entertainment, but there was no jeopardy. Jeopardy draws a fan to fully immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the game and hangs them on every shot. 

Three games of note were spoke of above that nights sporting theatre. The victory for the Giants over Linz Black Wings in the 2003 Continental Cup Semi-Finals at the Odyssey Arena, this years 2010 Playoff victory and the out right winning game by all in the discussion was the 2003 Playoff victory over the London Knights. 

But why? These games did not contain the level of ability shown only hours before? But a person will see in a game exactly what they need to gain entertainment. There will be folk leaving the Odyssey that night with the opinion it was one of the greatest nights they’ve ever experienced in hockey, and that I can understand. But for others the game was no more than a fantastic spectacle, without a competitive edge or ultimate jeopardy , an element that exhibitions, no matter who the opponent, would always lack. 

I’ve have been very privileged in the last 10 years to have been to NHL, DEL, AHL and Czech league hockey. Ability far in excess of a wet Sunday night’s away game in Hull. These games are attended by fans just like you and me. Turning up week on week to watch their own team compete for a title they will hold dear and use to brag over their rivals. Were these people to come to Belfast, as I’m sure a good few have in the last decade, they may not see our league’s standard as much more than a footnote to the European game. But for us we hold our team in as high regard as they would hold theirs. 

You watch and involve yourself in what is put in front of you. Your team is what provides and as a fan you make the choice to take what they offer. On Saturday night I encountered many faces I hadn’t seen since the days of the Superleague, when the standard of hockey was taken as being greater than what we have in the Elite League. Many returning with the hope that the standard would recapture the days of old. And thus the Odyssey Arena saw the largest crowd in over 5 years. But this alludes to my blog last week and the lost arena fans. 

What have I learned from Saturday night? Mainly that regardless of the gulf in standards you support your team, you watch your game, you cheer your players and you rebuke the opposition. It doesn’t have to be NHL, it doesn’t have to be DEL, it can be EIHL, EPL or whatever, but if the game means something to you, you’ll love it regardless.  

I had an absolute ball on Saturday night. Todd Kelman and the Giants organisation fully deserve the plaudits thrown their way. What it provided to the legacy of the game in Belfast and the wider UK game is up for debate. But one things for sure, for those that were there, it’ll remain a memory talked about for years to come. But then, who knows what other matches, or opponents, await us. 

What awaits me is Canadian Border Control… I’ll see you guys in a week or so

BIH: “Stop, Drop and Roll”

UKHL’s Patrick Smyth provides his take to the British Ice Hockey website on the Panthers double header visit to Belfast last weekend.

Read Here