Brawls, Beards and Dead Animals: What you never knew about ice hockey
Cam Blackwood | 27 March 2017

The first question people tend to ask me after finding out that I play and watch ice hockey is how I manage to play such a minority sport. The second is usually how I can support a team 4,000 miles away. So here's my explanation.

 

A brief clarification of the sport is probably required: players skate on a 100 x 30 yard sheet of ice, while holding sticks and trying to hit a heavy black disc (puck) past the goaltender into a goal. One goal equals one point on the scoreboard, like football. Of course, it's a contact game -- body checks are permitted against any player carrying the puck or the player that last had the puck (which is why you should never look where you pass the puck, next thing you know you'll be smashed to the ice). To protect from injury - as the sport is effectively like playing rugby on concrete - players wear helmets and ridged pads. Did I leave something out? Oh yeah, there's that whole thing about fighting. Yes, in our sport, fighting is not just allowed but encouraged (except in juniors, where players can be sent off at the referee's discretion). With play going on at such a high speed, players often sneak in a punch or a slash (hitting another player with their stick), so players 'police the game' themselves. They are not allowed to go back on the ice for five minutes.

 

I am a fan of the Washington Capitals in the NHL (National Hockey League), the highest calibre hockey league in the world. I enjoy live games on TV if I can, but with the time difference, matches are frequently on in the middle of the night here, so I keep up with highlights the next morning and twitter. Of course, I am not able to get to the matches live, but someday I'll be a season ticket holder!

 

To shed light on the title of the article, ice hockey fans are not like other sports fans. We have a number of odd/ borderline insane traditions. Fans and players grow beards until their favourite team is knocked out of the playoffs (which is why I usually sport a manly neck beard during the summer months -- until a teacher tells me to shave, anyway). Another tradition, as harsh as it is, is to insult the other team's players as much as possible. For example, cheering when the opposition's players get knocked down, or chanting 'It's all your fault!' at the opposition goaltender when a goal is scored. Another bizarre tradition is throwing various (thankfully already dead) animals onto the ice. In Florida, they throw rats, in Detroit, they throw squid and in Nashville, they throw catfish. As much as I'd love to explain why, I genuinely have no idea. You are also banned, if you play the sport, from touching the Stanley Cup until you win it. The Stanley Cup is like every cup in club football rolled into one, competed through a gruelling 82-game season and then a knockout tournament, with each round consisting of a best-of-seven (yes, seven!) match between two teams. This rule applies to me, until I hang up my skates!

James Routledge 2016