It was with great excitement that I sat at the kitchen table on the 12th February, waiting for the Early Bird tickets to go on sale for the Playoff weekend.
Having been following the Blaze and the Bruins for a few seasons, we felt the time had come to make the pilgrimage to Nottingham to attend Playoffs for the first time. 10:00 came, tickets were bought and it was a done deal.
I catalogue here, my confessions of naivety, underestimation, embarrassment and all round newbie mistakes made;
1 – I was daft to think that one day is enough.
We had been warned that we should go for the whole weekend, but in an attempt to be savvy, we booked tickets to just Sunday with hotel on the Sunday night. What we found on arrival at the Premier Inn was no fresh faced, ready to hit the cliché corporate meetings you see on the tv adverts, but a hoard of jersey wearing zombies that had a colourful night beforehand. We were fearful that we had missed the fun! As the day progressed, and the games went on, it was clear that one day of playoff hockey was not enough. The atmosphere was electric, the fans were incredible. The whole event is addictive. I know now!
2 – I learned the value of military manoeuvres & double parking
It took a whole 2 periods for us to realise that there was not enough toilets to cope with the number of people, and the amount of fluids been consumed… which then meant that there was little amount of time to go to the bar as well as the queues… sorry, the loos… so come 2nd break in the bronze medal game, a full blown military manoeuvre was performed, one to the loos, one to the bar. We had also naively thought that one beer was enough for 1 period. Silly us. This did however then require sheepishly asking for 4 of the playoff beers and then having to juggle the cups through the crowds. I am not sure where they get them from, but I am surprised that they retain liquids they are so thin!
3 – I failed miserable dealing with the wise owl conundrum.
I was lucky to sit next to a chap who had travelled to the playoffs on his own as his friend had gone to some football game…. Ouch. This gent, who I never got his name, had been following the Coventry Blaze since the Solihull Baron days… well before I was born. It was obvious that this man had a vast knowledge of the Blaze, the clubs history, and hockey in general. It was awesome, in the correct manner of the word! I learned a lot from him and was very grateful. However… my confession been – I had the conundrum of not wanting to sound like a total novice, but without inviting conversation that was clearly out of my depth. Well I failed miserably, agreeing to all his comments and trying to respond with any comment I could muster that sounded remotely knowledgeable, regardless of how far distant it was to the previous statement or question (such as going from the days of Russ Cowley, to trying to impress with my knowledge of current squad). But thankfully, this very kind guy took it in his stride and continued non the less. For which I am thankful.
4 – I hadn’t practised punching a giant beach ball in a while
There’s beach balls – they get knocked around the arena in between games. I can tell you now, there is nothing that prepares you for the total embarrassment of totally screwing, what you think was a well-timed and aimed punch at the beach ball, only for it to skew out of control and hit someone in the back of the head, spilling their beer. Then when it mysteriously comes back your way, you try to right your wrongs and end up hitting it with such ferocity; it flies directly into the path of the oncoming Zamboni to the laughter of an entire area….
5 – I totally underestimated the power of social media
For the weeks leading up to the playoffs, and the playoff final there is obviously a flurry of activity on fan pages, and fan groups. What I forgot, I confess, is that I spent a lot of time typing and not really much time seeing who people were. So throughout the day, I had total strangers, so I thought, coming up to me and saying hello to me like they knew who I was. Well they did. As they recognised my ugly mug off my social media accounts. What followed was the “oooooh hi… you. How are you?” all whilst pulling that huge Cheshire car grin… pulled it off. Maybe.
6 – To the embarrassment of the other half, I showed the scar…
After the final, we went to the bar, that everyone seemed to go to, naming no names! Well. In short. Got chatting to some absolutely amazing Blaze fans, who we chat to for the majority of the night. However, whether it was the beer, or the general scar comparison situation that I seem to get myself into. Proceeded to show scars off to what the next day, felt like the whole of the pub, and the street…. The passing cars… people on the bus going past…. Ye. Total newbie. Lost his cool. Your guess where the scars are.
7 – I was not prepared for the chants.
There is nothing quite like the atmosphere I experienced during that day. The chants were totally incredible and put all the other sporting chants to shame. I had “Cardiff Cardiff give us a wave, Cardiff Cardiff give us a wave” stuck in my head for weeks. The chants, the mascot dancing and the general hilarities often were so entertaining that you had to snap your focus back to the hockey game going on below you!
8 – I was not expecting to meet the amazing extended family
Prepare for the cliché – I could not have even imagined the total welcoming environment that is rolled out by the extended Hockey family. As a Blaze fan, I am enamoured by the welcome we receive at the games at the Skydome – but to be standing in the queue for the bar, chatting with a Devil, a Flyer, a Storm and a Clan chatting about the day, about moments we recall from the season and just general banter was amazing. Again, at the pub at the end of the day, it was all mixed. It reminds me of the first time I took a firm Football fan to see a blaze game, and went for a beer at the Wetherspoons which at the time was full of Panthers and Blaze fans and he stood if shock horror that we weren’t all fighting… “keep it for the ice” I said!
9 – I cant do handshakes.
When at the pub, post final, and your fellow fans introduce you to a new face, shake the hand that they aren’t holding their drink in. Which is what I didn’t do. I proceeded to extended my right hand to to shake hands with this man, with such vigour that i knocked his JD out of his hands and all down his trousers and shoes. It wasn’t until he went to clean himself up, that I was informed he was an EIHL ref… not naming names. Needless to say, we left promptly…. apologies to all Blaze fans out there… no doubt we may get some unfavourable calls next season….
I hope these amused and served useful for future first timers… keep your eye on the puck at all times… more like, the giant beach ball.