Let me begin this latest column with a disclaimer: I know nothing about sports.
My only experience playing sport was a brief period during secondary school back home in the UK. I had lied to my parents, telling them I had joined the after-school Netball club when really I had to stay behind for detention.
To keep up the ruse and avoid raising suspicion I then actually had to join said netball club. I stuck it out for a few weeks before bowing out, citing - with complete honesty – lack of both interest and talent. I haven’t played anything since.
My sport viewing experience begins with the humdrum training sessions of a social cricket playing ex-boyfriend and ends with England Football World Cup Matches, both of which required alcohol to make tolerable.
And so, prior to my Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks game last Tuesday, my first-ever ice hockey experience, I wasn’t expecting an outing for the books.
It was a "when in Rome" manner of pursuit to be checked off the Vancouver bucket list, along with seeing a bear in the flesh and sampling the deep fried morsels at Deep Cove’s Honey Donuts.
But here’s the thing: I bloody loved it. Probably not for the same reasons puck bunnies or hockey fanatics or patriotic countrymen love it — serious sports journalists should probably stop reading here — but I loved it all the same, and here’s why.
The fun stuff that’s not the hockey
I know, I know, we’re here for the sport.
But honestly, there is so much prime entertainment occurring outside of the game that you could perch up solely for the intermissions and still leave the arena basking in the glow of a post-show high.
The DJ, whose playlist lingered in some absurd territory between child’s party and dive bar, sure knew his way around a karaoke anthem. There were vivid and enthralling homages to the Lunar New Year. Dancing dragons. Taekwondo performances.
There was a bit on the TV with that woman from the Marvel movies and How I Met Your Mother who is famous enough to arouse a cheer from the crowd, but not so famous that she is above being splashed across the big screen at a hometown hockey game.
At one point I overheard someone swear she's seen dog races hosted during the intermissions. Hockey side-dish entertainment, it seems, is like a fever dream you don’t want to wake up from.
Randoms on the giant television
There is a certain madness sparked within a person when they realize they are on the TV in front of the eyes of thousands, a madness that manifests into outbursts of screams, song, affection or awkward jigs.
Viewing this as a spectator is like watching that montage in Love Actually where everyone is hugging at London’s Heathrow Airport; it incites a feeling that starts in the chest and rises up through the body before erupting into a big, dopey grin on the face.
The jumbotron at last Tuesday’s game was far more respectful than its sex-pest cousin the Kiss Cam, and so there was more to see than just strangers snogging. The crowd was hugging and dancing and cheering and raising their preposterously overpriced beers to the camera.
At one point, the Canucks mascot – a half-human, half-killer whale chimera with fins and four limbs – pretended to chomp on the head of a six-year-old competition winner, who laughed maniacally into the camera lens. The crowd roared with delight, as did I.
The little drummer man
The man with the drum, apparently affectionately named Crazy P, is a hoot.
I now refuse to watch a hockey game – nay, a game of any kind – unless there is an overzealous percussionist present.
He darts around with such enthusiasm and seemingly ceaseless energy, materializing at random in stairwells throughout the stadium like the rodent in a whack-a-mole machine, that one can only wonder what substance he is consuming pre-game.
Pre-show rituals aside, Crazy P gets a 10 out of 10 for effort from me. Go Canucks Go!
Given my determination to see Dry January till its bitter end and my overwhelming fear of the cost of grub at Rogers Arena, I had adopted a "look don’t touch" approach to the tantalizing beers, buckets of popcorn, nachos, burgers and other greasy but gorgeous-looking plates that were floating around the stands.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the extensiveness of the offerings – my friend ordered a veggie hot dog and I even managed to score a non-alcoholic beer – and so next time, when my bank balance is healthier and my liver is not, I will be making full use of the vast and varied menu.
I knew I was in for a jolly good show when the crowd began booing the Canucks coach like he was a panto villain.
I’d no idea who the man was or what offensible act he had committed but neither seemed to matter when mob mentality had me in its grip.
By that point I was already enslaved to the higher powers that be, jeering, yelling, clapping on cue. I should buy raffle tickets, you say? Sure, sign me up for 50! I would have run laps naked around the rink if the man with the microphone on the big shiny screen had requested it.
More theatrical still were the fights, given the frequency which they occurred.
So often would a spat break out that I couldn’t help but think they were planned, so philistines like myself would remain engaged and noisy in the stands. I was greatly amused, not least because when the players grapple when wearing their stuffed, oversized padding they look like two plump teddy bears coming together for a cuddle.
The actual game
It turns out the game itself isn’t half bad either.
It’s quick! Three, easily digestible 20-minute segments flanked by breaks for snack buying, bathroom visiting and dancing dragon watching. It’s (relatively) easy to follow! Similar in objective to football, it is simple to determine who is winning and who is not, and that’s really all that matters – isn’t it?
Bar one moment towards the end, where the goalie completely disappeared from one team but the game continued on as normal (?), I felt as though I genuinely knew what was happening. Even when I was confused I was still entertained, and that’s more than can be said for netball and cricket.
I’ve already bought tickets to another hockey game in February. Perhaps I am a sports fan after all.