I went to my first NHL game tonight. I'm not much of a hockey fan. As with most Americans, it ranks a pretty distant fourth on my list of major sports behind football, basketball and baseball. It's amusing, but pretty hard to watch on TV. Given the alternative of college basketball or even (gasp) the NBA, I'll probably watch the game with an actual ball.
That being said, when I found out the Canucks were in town, I did my best to find a ticket. An NHL game was the only live sporting event missing from my "big four", and I felt I'd probably never get a better chance. Plus, I've been told the Canucks are pretty good, and the opponent tonight was the New York Rangers. Can't be all bad.
I've actually been to one hockey game in my life - it was a Kansas City Blades (IHL) game way back in 2002 or 2003. They went under not too long after that, leaving a relatively unnoticed vacancy in the heart of the Kansas City sporting community. It was a pretty good time though. Like watching baseball, the entertainment factor for hockey goes up by about 63% if you're actually there. With about 2,000 people in the "crowd", we were able to sit down by the glass, which immediately beckons you to slap it when a player skates by. As it was minor-league hockey there was a fight every five minutes to go along with about seven goals between the two teams. All in all, a pretty fun event.
For tonight's festivities, I arrived at the GM Place a bit early, and walked down by the glass behind one of the goals. Soon, the teams came out for their warm ups, and started flinging round, black missiles at the net. I had never been that close to an NHL slap-shot. The first time one went high and hit the glass, I was pretty sure someone was going to die. It sounded like a whip cracking. That glass must be some secret-service approved stuff. Shot after shot nailed the clear wall in front of me - my self preservation mechanisms kicking in a couple of times, much to my embarrassment.
Once the teams headed back in, I hiked up to my seat in the nose-bleeds (you didn't think I paid for a good ticket, did you?) and watched the festivities leading up to the face-off. It had a very slick, NBA-esqe feel to it - lots of epilepsy-inducing light shows, stupid intermission time-killing contests and hordes of advertisements. And this was just the pre-game. I was pretty sure the hockey would be pretty conservative and watered down as well. The game would probably end up 1-0 with no fights.
In a sweet turn of events, two guys dropped gloves four seconds after the opening face off. Four seconds! The guy next to me explained there was some bad blood from an earlier game. They wasted no time grabbing each other's jerseys and trying to rapid-fire punch at the head. Hockey fights in general pretty much suck. Your only hope of some real head-knocking is if some guy has a long reach, or one of them lets go of the other's sweater for a better grip. I'd grade this one at about a C+. It went on for a while, until they inevitably fell down and were summarily separated and sent to the sin bin.
The rest of the first period was pretty boring - the teams feeling each other out, and me trying to understand the weird-ass rules about the blue line, off-sides and icing. The highlight though, was when the big jumbotron hanging from the center of the arena flashed a picture of Pamela Anderson sitting in her suite. Apparently Pam is a Canucks fan. Turns out she was sitting just diagonal from my section, and I could see her and all her friends paying minimal attention to the hockey, and lots of time on their drinks, cell phones and flipping their hair around.
The game did get more interesting - the second period producing a goal by Vancouver, and two or three pretty good displays of goal tending by Roberto Luongo from the home team. The third period was a virtual explosion - two more late goals by Vancouver which sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Which leads me to yet another soccer analogy. There's unfortunately a big soccer-esqe feel to hockey. A lot of moving around without a lot of action, a lot of frustrating turnovers and a lot of excitement over sequences that get somewhat close to the center of the ice, but eventually lead to nothing. Hockey is still 100 times better than soccer though - it's on ice, the surface is smaller, they have sticks, it's fast, and they hit each other. A lot.
I did honestly have a pretty good time. They have a good atmosphere, and a nice following here. It would definitely be more fun to be closer to the glass, and to have a couple friends to share it with. But, I can't complain. Plus, I got to see Pam in the flesh.. er... Fully clothed... live... in person. From a long ways away.