I don’t know anything about hockey.
Well, this instinctive thought is not entirely true: I know it’s like soccer, but players have to make goals by sending a puck—not a ball—in the net, and they have to move this puck around using a stick, instead of kicking it with their feet. Oh, and in the case of ice hockey, they have to skate on ice, instead of running. And they wear a lot of protections that look quite uncomfortable. That’s all I know.
I never cared very much about hockey. In my home country, Italy, it isn’t very popular. And even though I grew up in the Chisone Valley, where the Olympic Winter Games took place in 2006, and where there is, in the nearby Pellice Valley, an ice hockey team named HC Valpellice Bulldogs, I still just wasn’t exposed to it and didn’t think about it.
This changed when I moved to Canada: Canada is notable, among the other things, for the attention that Canadians have for hockey. Since my first year here, I knew I just had to see a hockey game. And so I did, finally, a few days ago: Montreal Canadiens vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, at the Bell Centre.
And here are my ignorant considerations about it.
First, seeing a hockey game should really be on any international student’s to-do list, at least for those who are not acquainted with ice hockey. It’s one of Canada’s national sports, the National Sports of Canada Act, dated 1994, is very clear about it:
The game commonly known as ice hockey is hereby recognized and declared to be the national winter sport of Canada and the game commonly known as lacrosse is hereby recognized and declared to be the national summer sport of Canada.
It’s not just fun: It’s culture. And when culture calls, McGill students answer… preferably with a beer in hand. And this leads to the second consideration.
The second point I’m making is that PGSS offers discounted tickets under the event named University Nights at the Bell Centre. And, if you are of age, the ticket includes a beer, too! Now, personally I missed my beer because I came late to the game (shame on me!) and didn’t want to waste even more time in line for a beer, but I guess the hockey+beer combo works well for many people.
The third point concerns the seat position. Being a total non-expert who just wanted to see a hockey game, I chose the cheapest ticket I found, which was obviously one of the farthest from the rink. Since I wasn’t unable to really enjoy the details anyway, I thought it wouldn’t have been a big deal if I had a bad view. Luckily, that wasn’t the case: Ok, I couldn’t read the names on the players’ shirts, but my view of the rink was much better than expected. And, if you want to see what’s happening more in detail, you can look at the big screen.
The fourth consideration concerns, indeed, the big screen. Since I was there in person, I compelled myself to look at the actual rink as much as possible, and avoid looking at the big screen. The idea was that if I wanted to see the match on a screen, I could as well watch it from home or from a pub. But this idea didn’t really work: During the breaks—both between and within the different periods—the screen was showing fun things, such as people watching the game, people realizing they were on camera and waving, or couples invited to publicly share a kiss. This was, more often than not, more entertaing than the actual match—at least to me, and thus I ended up watching the screen more than intended.
The fifth point is about the entertainment. I had no idea that a hockey game could be so entertaining, also in terms of music! During the breaks, some group or singer—sorry, I don’t know their name—sang nice songs, mostly from the Seventies-Eighties-Nineties, i.e. the kind of music I enjoy the most. And of course, being a match, there were several stadium chants, along with people repeating Go Habs Go! and commenting on the actions (Shoot, shoot, shoot!, Oh, come on!, Boo…), and clapping for some good saves. But the best moments were, of course, when a team—preferably the Montreal Canadiens—scored: The red light at the back of the net would start flashing, many lights in the arena would start flashing as well, the music would begin, and half of the stadium would start cheering, singing, clapping and maybe dancing.
The sixth point was the most surprising one. Now, as I said, I am not acquainted with hockey. This means I had no idea players were likely to have fights. When the first fight started, I didn’t even understand what was happening, as the fight was at the opposite side of the rink, and I wasn’t watching the screen. Everybody was booing, and this made me realize that something odd was happening, look at the screen, and see. I was shocked, and I thought that what I was seeing was the exception. I think it probably was the first brawl I had ever seen in real life. It was funnily weird to see those two players, a minute later, on the bench, and I hope nobody will feel offended if I admit that they made me think of grounded children. But then, another fight happened… another exception, during the same game? I checked with a friend, and he told me that fighting is part of the game. Later, at home, I did some reading, and found out that while debated, fighting is indeed considered part of the game, that it’s a tradition, that it is done to intimidate the other team, and that sometimes fights are even premeditated. Wow, with a ticket for a hockey game you basically also get to see some boxing matches for free. They might as well put this in the advertisements. Part of me thinks I will never really like hockey, because I will probably never fully accept its normalization of brawls. But another part of me thinks that the feelings connected to punching—as well as to merely seeing a brawl and siding with one of the parties—are just human feelings that need to be expressed, and it’s better to have them expressed in a controlled way during a match, rather than to hypocritically hide them, bottle them up, and end up expressing them in an actual war. Well, I can’t make up my own mind about this, no wonder the topic is widely debated.
The seventh point is a tip. I wanted to stay until the very end of the match, when the three best players are called, and the top one is interviewed. This means that when I exited the arena, I found out that 1) Montreal Canadiens bags were being given for free at each exit, but 2) all the bags had already been claimed. So, if you want a free bag, don’t wait too much to leave the arena 😉
Oh, in case you were wondering, the Montreal Canadiens, or Habs, won 3-2. Congratulations!