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When I was a young girl I was very much into horseriding. At the place I used to ride as a teenager one of the family who owned the place was Canadian and had something to do with Ice Hockey in America and Bracknell. That was when I first heard of Ice-Hockey. Quite a few years later I was a happy regular listener of 96.4 the Eagle based in Guildford. The Eagle also just happen to sponsor the Guildford Flames and therefore often advertise their matches and give reviews of the team and how they are doing. Well I still occassionally went horse riding at the same place and Dave it seems used to coach the Bracknell Bees so one day while driving listening to the Eagle I thought I really must go and see what this Ice-Hockey stuff is all about, after all Stan Marple(Guildford Flames Coach) always says "we'll sell you the whole seat, but you'll only need the edge, it's awesome". So that was it when I next saw my boyfriend I said how do you fancy going to an Ice Hockey match and being a bloke he wasn't hard to persuade.
The following saturday evening we turned up at the fairly recently built Spectrum Leisure centre in Guildford and joined the queues(fortunately not too long but the nearer to face-off you leave it the longer they get and the more chance that you and your friends won't actully be able to sit together). The first thing that struck me once we had bought our tickets was that there were a large number of people in the bar wearing replica jerseys. They all looked so happy and excited. Not suprising really as that season the Flames were on top form and generally beating the opposition into submission. Even before we'd got to our seats which at the very beginning we're extremely hard to locate but then no-one seemed to mind where you sat or actually stood downstairs, I bumped into a former colleague of mine and her husband who had been supporters from the Flames very beginning. Of course both of these were in their replica jerseys. We found seats probably not actually ours but roughly in the area and started to watch the match. It seems downstair near the ice you don't actually sit but upstairs in the slight more expensive seats you do unless of course your in the back row which is very popular. It was very hard at first to keep up with the puck but I tended to know when the Flames had scored because there was a huge cheer form the fans. I also had no idea why the play was stopped at regular intervals. Nowadays I'm all too familiar with hooking, tripping, roughing etc. The feeling in the rink was tremendous there was this hugely excited and also very friendly crowd. By the end of the first period I was hooked. The scraping of skates on ice, the ambience of the crowd and the dodgy music all had me entranced. I dragged my boyfriend to find the nearest merchandise stall and bought myself a jersey. Each game is made up of three twenty minute periods with two fifteen minute intervals separating them. The twenty minutes can often be much longer due to stopages for penalties(hooking etc.). Stewart didn't get his jersey until the second interval.
We started going on a regular basis at the end of the 1999/2000 season and thoroughly enjoyed it and at the end of the season after the Flames had just won the play-offs we went and had a drink in the bar and I got autographs of all the players on the team. Including Chris Crombie a canadian player who hadn't played that night but had been on the ice for the team earlier that season.
The Ice Hockey season runs from the beginning of September to the end of march beginning of april and it wasn't until the following september that we went again. Unfortunately fairly early on in the start of the season Stewart and I decided to go our separate ways. This left me with a bit of a dilemma but the atmosphere in the rink on a match night decided it for me I would go on my own.
Well I haven't looked back at first I just stood on my own roughly where Stewart and I had done so previously which as it happens was not far from my former colleague and her husband. Anyway fairly soon they noticed I was on my own and asked me to join them. Being very involved with the team and on the supporters club committee they tended to know a lot of what was going on behind the scenes which was always very interesting. A large amount of gossip about the team, some based on truth does make it's way around the crowd. Everyone always wants to know if theres a new signing in the pipeline or why someone has left the team.
The team is made up of 17-22 players and there are six of them on the ice at any one time unless someone has received a penalty. The six usually consist of the Netminder, two defencemen and three forwards but may vary if there is one goal between the teams near the end of the match, when the netminder is often pulled and an extra forward put on the ice or if any other tactics are being played. As I said the team consists of more than six and this is because there is more than one line of players as they play for a few minutes at a time and then swap with another line so that none of them get too tired, that way the game can keep up it's extremely fast pace.
I have become the Volunteer Door Steward Supervisor and now organise a team of volunteers to help the spectrum staff check the tickets on the doors and deal with any problems that the spectators have. The spectrum rink can take up to about 2000 spectators and in the 2002/2003 season we actually had quite a few sellouts. Recently though support hasn't been quite so good but on average I think there have been around 1500 supporters at the matches.
Ice Hockey in Britain is obviously still quite a minority sport and started circa 1910 with a handful of teams but we currently have three leagues being the Elite, Engish Premier and English National Leagues. It looks like the sad demise of the British National League(BNL) has occurred this summer as some teams have moved into the Elite league and others have lost sponsors, for example the Bracknell Bees. The Flames spent last season in the BNL and were originally planning a move to the Elite League but they have not been accepted and are now negotiating with the English Premier League(EPL). The difference between the leagues is more or less the number of imported players they can have on the team alongside the british ones. The higher leagues such as the Elite league allow the inclusion of more foreign players often Canadian and therefore as these players have usually been playing a much higher quality of game in their native country the games tend to be much more technically correct and some people would say more entertaining. The opposing camp thinks that Ice Hockey in Great Britain should be played by british players. The EPL allows four imported players and only three of those may be on the ice at any one time. The rest of the team is made up of homegrown british players.
The decision of whether the Flames will be allowed to join the EPL will be made on the 11th June and will be posted on their website (www.guildfordflames.com) on the 12th of june. In a conversation I had with the financial manager of the team, he said that it was looking quite promising with the EPL, as they were keen to support the junior british players at the spectrum in the many teams of youngsters which are training there.
There is information on the website during the season about the matches and when and where they are being played. There is also a rink side view from all the different seating positions around the rink to help you decide where you would like to sit when you go along to watch a match. Ticket prices will probably be a little cheaper than last seasons' of £8.95 as there will be fewer international players on the team who can command a higher wage than the brits. Playing Ice Hockey does not make you rich but they all seem to really enjoy it. The players often have a job as well as there Ice Hockey training and playing schedule to fit in. My favourite british player who was with us for three seasons but was with Bracknell last season has been studying for a degree in law as well as playing Ice Hockey.
Throughout the season there is usually one home and one away match each weekend although on occassion they are held mid week but there are usually at least 30 home fixtures per season. That's where the season ticket fits in. For those that do get hooked it is possible to reserve the same seat for yourself for the first thirty matches of the season by buying a season ticket. This gives you an approximate 10% discount on your ticket price over the season. If you join the supporters club,at the cost of £8 for an adult which I heartily recommend you then get an extra 10% off the price of your season ticket as well as the opportunity to go to the pre-season meet the players barbeque, a couple of quiz nights where one or two of the players are on the same quiz team as yourself and of course the Christmas Party.
The players that you see on the ice are really just very average guys who love this particular sport and they will more often than not come up to the bar after a match for a drink. They are not at all opposed to signing programmes which are sold around the rink by volunteers or having their picture taken with you. At the end of each weekend fixture. Three of the players sit on an autograph table located at the entrance to the teams changing room and sign anything you happen to offer them. Usually its programmes, photos of them, which can be bought at the merchandise stall or probably the most popular your replica jersey.
Last season each of the programmes sold had a number on it, one lucky number was read out during the second interval and the lucky owner of that programme won £100. If it was not claimed it rolled over until the next weekend. Once it rolled over on three occassions and one extremely lucky person (oops that was me actually) won £400. Each match night there are volunteers selling 50:50 tickets, where half the money taken goes to the person whose ticket gets drawn out and half goes to the club. The prize for this more often that not exceeds £200.
Now as you know I bought a replica jersey when I attended my first match. The real hard core fans have original jerseys which the players have used during the season. Washed of course before you collect them. These are auctioned off at the end of the season. The home jerseys are auctioned off at the end of season dinner which is a very nice sit down meal and recently has been organised with a player and his partner sitting at each of the tables. I hadn't been to one of these until february this year and although I wasn't feeling 100% well at the time I did thoroughly enjoy it. Perhaps this was because I was lucky enough to be seated at a table with one of our star imports brought in at the end of this season, David Oliver. David usually plays in the fourth line for the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League (NHL) in Canada but as they are having a pay dispute in Canada, he came over to boost our chances. Even though he was only a fourth liner in Canada(ie not one of their best) his hockey skills did far outshine our brits and it was a pleasure to see him play over here.
The away jerseys are auctioned at the rink by posting bids in a box during the intervals at the last three or four matches of the season. The up to date highest bids are shown on a video screen during play.
The cost of these jerseys varies quite considerably from around £100 for the not so established players and for example £1000 for for example David Olivers home jersey.
I have never successfully bid on one of these jerseys but I was lucky enough to get a jersey of the kit they brought in for one seasons and used for the Findus Cup matches by sponsoring a player on the sponsorship grid. I was lucky enough to have my name drawn out of the hat to get his jersey (my favourite player) but then I did sponsor him four times. There are child and adult sponsorship grids and the kids that sponsor the players get to go up on the ice and meet all the players at the end of the season. The adults can choose whether or not to have a photo taken with their chosen player. The child sposorship starts from as little a £2 and the adults £10.
Well you've probably gathered that I very much enjoy Ice Hockey, so much so that I even demanded that my partner show an interest in it and coerced him into buying a season ticket last year. He thoroughly enjoys it too. Our first date was an away match between Bracknell and Guildford when an almighty brawl broke out. Needless to say he loved that and has been waiting for something similar to occur ever since. I can very much recommend it for absolutely anyone, guys, gals or families. Of course you might not live any where near Guildford but if you do make a trip to the spectrum next september and find out what it's all about for yourself. If you don't there is probably another club somewhere nearby that you could go and watch so why not try it.
For those of you who are wondering why I never went to support Bracknell instead, it really must have been all the adverts on the Eagle and it just seemed to be the local team but I must admit I was torn last season when my favourite player went to play for them so much so that my partner and I went a sneaked in and watched them as their supporters for one match when there was a double away fixture weekend for Guildford. Just don't tell anyone at the Flames I'll get the sack!!!!!
I just thought I'd bring this review up to date now as the Hockey season is in full swing and things are getting very exciting. The Flames we're accepted into the English Premier League thank goodness and have been playing exceptionally well all season. We are currently well above everyone else in the league having only lost 2 matches, drawn one ( all of these were away matches) and of course we have won all the rest. There have been some really good matches played at the spectrum this season with some of our opponents taken us right to the wire before we finally won. There is just one problem with the team playing so well, one of those rumours that is going round the rink is that we might get kicked out of the EPL and have nowhere to go because were just too good. I sincerely hope not.
Thanks for reading and rating.
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