|Battling it out on the ice|
I think I'm cheering at the wrong bits. Down on the ice, it's a blur of speed-skating, puck-chasing, stick-wielding, hockey-heroes. This game is moving so fast that half the time I can't see where the puck is. Kapow! A player crashes an opponent into the perspex rink side. Blam! His helmet smacks into the wall. How can there not be a trail of blood and broken teeth littering up the ice? In Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum, this isn't so much a sports contest as a gladiator match.
If I was going to take the tourist route, right now I'd have been across town, at the fancy Rogers Arena, watching the Oilers take on the mighty Canucks. Instead, we'd hopped on the bus to the 'burbs to to watch the Junior League; the Vancouver Giants battling it out against the Red Deer Rebels. I'd doubted the wisdom of seeing a bunch of under-18 year olds play, but how wrong I was. In Canada, hockey is king - and the juniors are as just as hotly-debated as the big leagues. The teenagers zipping across the ice in front of me could be the million dollar-earning champs of tomorrow and everyone wants to see how they got their start.
And just as the big leagues mean big money, so too it's the same for the ticket prices. Over at the Rogers Arena, you'd be lucky to pick up one of the $63.75 tickets, you'd likely pay a lot more. Over here at the Coliseum, tickets are between $18-$21. Things feel friendly here and the only violence is on the ice. Out in the stands there's a lot of good-natured cheering and burger chomping going on. Kids cluster close at the goal ends to see their heroes slam the other side. Everyone from grandparents to babes in arms is having a blast and even if I don't know what's going on, I can recognise a good time when I see one. And if that comes with a side order of Poutine (a devilishly delicious mix of chips, gravy and cheese-curds) then count this non-sports fan in.
Retro-rock and pumping 80s tunes play throughout the game; there are regular breaks when the players leave for the ice to be smoothed over. When that happens things take a turn for the weird; on the giant screens a kind of "Now That's What I Call Hockey Ultra Violence" video plays. Baffled, I turn to my companion, who explains that it's clips from previous games on-ice fighting. Punching, grappling, stick-clonking fighting. Everyone is whooping and cheering. Just when things can't get any odder, a buggy, manned by Johnny Canuck, a bearded lumberjack mascot, drives on the rink to shoot a T-shirt cannon into the crowds. Predictably, everyone goes wild. Van Halen strikes up and, yes, I can see air-punching. At the end of the night, the local team lost 3-1 but everyone seemed happy. And that's a good result.
More on the Vancouver Giants here