Before we headed to Jasper National Park, we based ourselves in Edmonton – the capital city of Alberta. But more important to hockey fans, it is home of the Edmonton Oilers. The great Wayne Gretsky played for the Oilers. Don’t know who I am talking about? Clearly you don’t know a thing about hockey. Hockey in Canada is not really a sport so much as a national faith. Going to a game is something where people fall down and speak in tongues: you don’t have to believe to find the spectacle fascinating. Seriously, even the Canadians embrace the comparison with religion. If you want to talk the talk then please read below for a couple of the basics to help you fit in at a bar, or stay in a conversation on public transport while you travel round Canada…
We were very lucky to see a game live and knew that this was a must! The atmosphere is amazing- the crowd oohs and ahhs with every move of the puck.
Firstly, watch for any hooking. This is a player being held back by an opponent’s stick. Get ready to scream for a penalty. Likewise, if you see an elbow make contact without the rest of the body, this is evidently unacceptable. Fighting is ok though… So is pressing another player into the glass as long as you didn’t start this flattening directly behind them.
Don’t chase the puck with your eyes. You will get dizzy. Watch the players position themselves and you will keep a track of the game more easily. Apart from this, there are offsides, but really you just need to watch and scream for the home team with a group of die-hard supporters. This is really easy to find and in no time you will be on your way to fitting in and learning the game.
You have to get some food while watching as well. Like going to a baseball match and not ordering a hotdog, the food is part of the experience. We got ‘smoked meat and poutine’ as a snack and a neighbour looks over at the bowl of pastrami slathered in mustard and nods approvingly. “Smoked meat,” she says. “Good choice.” For a moment I feel like I really belong. Suddenly, a dozen players glide out onto the ice in a weirdly unsynchronised dance. They flex and spin, like 100-kilogram ballet dancers. I couldn’t believe how skilful they were. This must be the warm-up.
I can’t tell you what happens next. I watch the game. I scream and cheer and mostly at the right moments, but not altogether sure of why I am doing all this screaming. These guys move fast and can really hit the puck. The game is a blur. This is great entertainment and now I am ready to hit the bars and talk about the game, still with little idea but at least I was there!