Raptor Writings: At the bottom of the barrel (or how you and I can fall in love with hockey because of the lower leagues)

NOTE: From the Lancashire Raptors match night programme, 15/10/11 vs Flintshire Freeze.  Whilst I wrote this with the Raptors and Blackburn in mind, I think a lot of what I said in here applies to pretty much every club in Britain. Enjoy.

What number game of hockey is this for you? First? Tenth? One hundredth? If it genuinely is your first game, welcome to the Blackburn Arena. If it’s not your first time, welcome anyway! Whilst Blackburn may seem miles away from being the epicentre of the glamorous world of NHL hockey where players earn million dollar contracts for a decade at a time and get watched on TV by millions every week, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Hockey is more than just the NHL!

Let me tell you a story:

I didn’t get into hockey by watching the NHL or playing NHL computer games. I didn’t fall in love with our sport watching on TV or in a multi million pound facility.

In what used to be communist East Germany is the city of Rostock. If you get a tram 10 minutes outside of the city centre and walk up the Schillingallee past the university hospital is the Eishalle Rostock. Inside there are no foldout plastic chairs, just wooden benches and the rink has not seen a refurbishment since it was built in 1991. It was in that rink watching German 4th division hockey that I fell in love with the sport of ice hockey.

I remember all the subtle things that made hockey great on and off the ice. I remember watching Dimitri Kramerenko score the game winning penalty shot in the first game I saw. I remember standing on those wooden benches lighting sparklers as the team came out (yes wooden benches and sparklers, nobody ever said the Germans were fans of health and safety.) I even remember how, due to the fact there was no smoking ban at the time how the second period would start with a cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over the ice.

It was dirty and grotty and bottom of the barrel, it still is, but I love it!

It’s what makes ice hockey so amazing as a sport; you can be anywhere watching any two teams at any standard and have a good time. The sport attracts people who will give anything for the cause, people with a bit of skill and people with a bit of grit. You can find something to make you laugh, to make you scream in frustration but always something to smile about on your way home. I am serious when I say this is the greatest sport on Earth.

Yes the NHL is a big part of hockey but so is this; teams made of local players who play for little money and the love of the game. People doing this for no money are as important for this sport to thrive as those who play for buckets of money.

If this is your first game tonight, I really hope you enjoy yourself and your first experience of the game. Talk to people, ask questions, learn the fine points of what goes on here at the Arena and most importantly cheer as loudly as you can.

For those of you for whom tonight isn’t the first time, enjoy falling in love all over again.


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