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“Did You See What I Saw?”

The enduring enjoyment of a sport can lie in the opinions and perceptions of the game. The agreements and disagreements that come from contemplation over what has been witnessed and the differing mind-sets of what each spectator wishes to gain from the sport they enjoy.

In ice hockey, the action that takes place on the ice is finite. The goals that are scored, the hits that shake the plexiglass, the slashes that shatter sticks or bruise calves all stand as actions with consequence and probable reaction. However they also develop opinion and response. Fair and Foul.

A referee may see a player fall to the ice and in his opinion it was due to the dragging stick of an opponent left to trip his opposite number. However the offending player will most likely see it differently, and a third opinion falls to the spectator in the crowd.

Here, in the comfortable seat of Block 3, the opinion of Johnny-Home-Fan is once again polarised by the shirts the players wear, not necessarily by the action that has taken place. His opinion is split between what he witnesses, what he believes and if this is in line with the decision of the referee.

Yet depending on his opinions, his experience of the game and love of his club, the immediate reaction may be partisan, falling in line with those around him. However deep down his contemplation of the event may lead him to believe his reaction was wrong, the referee seeing the correct incident, the players actions being worthy of the penalty. And here-in lies the tribal opinions of sporting fans. Few willing to stray from the norm of resentment for actions that impede their team’s advances.

On Sunday night in Coventry’s SkyDome Arena I witnessed what, for me, stands in the top 5 British hockey games I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. Over 2000 people stood with me as a saga unfolded which stirred opinions, emotions and elations. When an opening period takes around one hour to complete due to the extreme battle on the ice you begin lose sight of what is controlled and sensible. As a fan you encamp yourself among your fellow supporters and you stand tall against the opposition. As a visiting fan, doubly so.

As I stood watching Belfast and Coventry entertain the crowd with a distracting display of physicality, skill and aggression I also began to become aware of what was going on around me. The responses of the Coventry fans, the Belfast fans around me and my own approach to the game.

Those that know me know that “from time to time” I’m not afraid to express my opinions at games, loudly. Yet I found my opinions in the stands during that game were different to those that I discussed in the period breaks, different to those that I discussed in the bar afterward and different to those I typed up in report of the action. All because I felt a need to show support in the game for my team.

Even if I knew the referee to be right, I berated him for “being wrong”. I witness Gregory Stewart wholly defeated in a vastly one-sided punch up with Mike Egner, yet I cheer like Stewart was the victor upon its tumbling conclusion. Likewise the Coventry fans chant “Hirshy Hirshy Hirshy” for their starting netminder, many already in acceptance that Referee Andrew Carson had little choice but to eject him for “3rd Man In” to the tussle between Chalmers and Stewart. They boo as the angry shot-stopper is shown to the dressing room. Booing and disagreement all round, yet forums and discussions are heavy with understanding by Blaze fans as to why he had to go. But the consequence deemed superfluous to the cause and who such blame lies on.

The game stirs these emotions. The game stirs these opinions. The game stirs these reactions.

The key, however, is understanding these facets of your character and not letting them take the better of you. Such a failure of control leads to incidents like was witnessed in Cardiff over a week ago when one fan saw fit to confront Benn Olson because the game and the actions witnessed had stirred him to feel this was the correct course of action. It was not.

Unfortunately games such as Sunday’s in Coventry are all too infrequent. I am hard pushed to find anyone on the ice, on the bench or in the stands that left that arena without their money’s worth of entertainment. No doubt twitter feeds and discussions between fans across the league that night were rife with information and mis-information from between those walls I was lucky to inhabit.

Games like that reinvigorate your passion for the sport. Remind you why your opinions become so strong and why you follow your team. Belfast fans left happy with the win, the discipline of their team and the way they were able to provoke their opposition to the verge self-destruction.

Coventry fans left happy in the display of “never-say-die” hockey the Blaze provided in the face of adversity, the performance of young replacement netminder Adam Goss personifying the spirit that brought the blaze fans to their feet in applause over the final minutes of the game. Points lost, but pride intact.

The final buzzer goes and you walk away from the arena. You mind whirring from what you have witnessed. Your opinions chomping at the bit to be expressed. The bar is filled with discussions and disagreements. Not everyone sees things the same way. Not everyone understands the game in the same way and not everyone sees the entire action across the vast frozen rink. But as you piece your night back together and understand your friends opinions, people begin to realise why sport in itself is so popular.

Because I don’t agree with you!

Patrick Smyth

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