Sunday, October 15, 2006

First Scottish Ice Hockey Experience

First Scottish Ice Hockey Experience

So, I had my very first Ice Hockey game here in Scotland on Saturday afternoon. It was pretty interesting and so I figured it warranted its own entry on my beloved blog.

The game was a Scottish National League game, which effectively means that it is competitive men’s hockey where the various cities field teams. This sounded reasonable enough and something that might get my attention. I was slated to work the game with the Referee in Chief for Scotland and a guy from just outside of Glasgow called Sam. He was actually very nice and picked me up just minutes from my flat at about 2pm and we headed off for our game which was supposed to start at 3:30pm. We arrived in Kilmarnock, opened the boot of the car (not trunk folks…boot) and headed in. Boy was I in for a shock.

I expected a shabby rink. It’s true…I did not expect much in terms of a hockey rink. When I went to Finland my first game was on a rink surrounded by chicken wire, so I figured I had seen it all. Well, THIS rink in Kilmarnock is small, with very square corners, very soft ice, no glass but netting everywhere, and of course the obligatory…curling circles painted on the ice? I couldn’t believe it. Curling circles were painted on the rink because apparently the rink doubles as a curling venue. It was crazy. There were no gates to penalty boxes…heck, I’m not really sure there really was a penalty box. Neil, the ref, called it the craziest rink in Scotland because it all makes for a pretty surreal experience during the game. Check out the photos of the rink

Well, the game began about 3:45pm and was heated match between the home Kilmarnock Avalanche and the high powered Solway Sharks. Check out the program I snagged. Well, the Kilmarnock team is new team to the league, and is going through some growing pains and didn’t fare very well. They were beaten 9-2, but really deserved a better fate. The Kilmarnock players were solid enough, but the goaltender looked a little gun shy and gave up lots of goals on slapshots. By the end of the game Solway was just shooting from anywhere hoping he’d be too scared to stop the puck.

As for my performance on the ice, I thought I did well. The players were very similar in skill to Jr. C hockey players, but they were much better behaved. At whistles everyone just skated away and didn’t cause any mischief. I would often come racing in expecting pushing and shoving and would discover that the players just wanted to head to the bench. I felt a little ridiculous, but it’s good to know that all that ODHA training in Westport and Gan when fight night breaks out have paid off. Otherwise, I had some trouble with procedures because I had forgotten that the procedures in Europe are a lot different. I would regularly fetch the puck and bring it pack for my partner, fully expecting to hand it off to him and skate away while he conducted the faceoff. However, I quickly learned, from his perplexed look on his face, that this was not the normal state of affairs and that I was now fetching pucks and dropping them myself. Once I sorted that little detail out I figure I fared much better.

After the game another referee walked into our changing room. Brian was on his way to Ayr for a second game and needed a partner to work a two man game. It was a men’s league recreational game and he was supposed to be down in Ayr very shortly. Well, with nothing better to do I agreed to go and got changed quickly and piled into his car, thanking Neil and Sam as I headed out the door. We arrived in Ayr to yet another rink with curling circles, boards that were tilted and falling outwards, and a rink of grumpy men. I remembered within the first 5 minutes of the game why I don’t like men’s league hockey back home…there is so much complaining that it is really very disheartening. Sure enough, some things never change, and they complained all game long. At the end one guy (on the wrong end of a 14-4 score) asked me if I had a Visa…clearly indicating that he felt I should head home to Canada. Another man (from the same squad) told me I was worst official he had ever seen...ah yes…the joys of men’s league.

I won’t lie…the men’s league game wasn’t all that much fun, and by the end I was tired and hungry, but all in all I thought I had done ok for myself. There certainly is room for improvement because I felt very rusty to say the least (not to mention shocked by some of the little wrinkles in IIHF hockey), but Neil said that I’d likely have a game again next weekend somewhere, so that’s a bonus.

Anyway, that’s my deal for now. Sunday is going to be homework day so I suppose I had better get cracking. I hope all of you back home in Canada are staying out of trouble and having fun. Mark the 12th of December on your calendar because that’s when I’ll be coming home. I’m looking forward to it.

Take care and all the best from Scotland,



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