What soccer is for Germans is ice hockey for Canadians. It’s the national sport. I had never been to an ice hockey match before, but really wanted to go. So the last time I went to Montreal, I bought a ticket for the game of the Canadiens de Montréal against the Buffalo Sabres. Unfortunately, tickets are quite expensive – I paid almost 100 Canadian Dollars (about 80 U.S. Dollars or 66 Euro) for sitting very high up, i.e. far away from the rink. But since I was already spending money, I also bought a Canadiens T-shirt and hat for myself. I had a feeling that I would really like ice hockey and therefore had already decided which team to support.
On Saturday, 25 November I got ready in my hostel room and went early to the Bell Center, the ice hockey rink in Montreal. The game was set to start at 7 p.m., but the Bell Center already opened its doors at 5 p.m. I always love the atmosphere in stadiums which is why I try to be there early. I had a quick coffee in the Starbucks opposite and then went in shortly after 5. People strolled around, had a look at the fan shop, ate dinner, took pictures of the yet rather empty stadium. I had a hotdog for dinner, and then bought popcorn for the game. Eventually I went to my seat.
The stands slowly filled up. Most people wore the proper Canadiens jerseys. And I felt pretty smug with my T-shirt and hat. At least I didn’t stand out. While I was munching away on my popcorn, the show around the game started. Two presenters went through the stadium live, there were some shows on the huge screen in the middle – like two players asking each other questions and answering them – and there even was a DJ. Everything was said first in French and then in English, some French advertisements had English subtitles. The shows are another thing I absolutely love about sport games in North America. They really know how to appeal to the audience and make an otherwise three hour long game, ice hockey, even more exciting. (Except for baseball, no show could make baseball in any way exciting at all for me. That game is so slow that I would always fall asleep.)
Eventually, the ice hockey games went on the rink to warm up. Then the ice was smoothed and the actual game started. There are three periods á twenty minutes, and, woah, is that game fast! I was very impressed by the players’ skating skills. They race across the rink, never fall, never accidentally bump into somebody else or the walls, and they hit the tiny puck at the same time. There are even four referees who skate forwards, backwards, jump into the air when the puck comes their way, and keep track of the game. Every now and then a hockey stick breaks. The players are substituted every few minutes – except for the goaltender. I loved the high speed of the game, but also that – like in soccer – it seems really difficult for any team to score. The goals are quite small, the goaltenders look even more huge with their extra protective equipment. On that day fortunately, the Canadiens scored three times. Every time the whole audience jumped up and cheered. The Sabres didn’t manage any goals. I mean the puck once found a way into the goal, but the point wasn’t given after the four referees had consulted with each other.
In the end the three hour long game – three periods of twenty minutes plus time outs, times to smooth the ice, and breaks – was over way too fast. The atmosphere was cheerful since the Canadiens won. After the game the Canadiens team skated around the rink one more time. The audience welcomed Carey Price back, who hadn’t played for a while after being injured at the start of the season. He is said to be one of the world’s best goaltenders. Accordingly, the audience went wild when he showed up on the rink afterwards and talked to the presenters.
Then everybody quickly left the huge Bell Center. Many people went into the fan shop to buy more products. I took the whole atmosphere in and really enjoyed myself. Ice hockey is my new second favorite sport to watch after soccer I think. It is fast, players have to be incredibly skilled in ice skating and managing the stick at the same time. As a side note, ice hockey might be the only sport that is absolutey asexual when you watch it. All players wear heavy protection so that you can neither see nor judge their outward appearance at all. Yes, I admit that when I watch other sports I also pay a little attention to the players’ appearance. With ice hockey it is different. There is only the game itself to pay attention to. And I like that very much.