Sitting cheering on my hockey team, singing loudly, wrapped up in cosy jumpers and a jersey, proudly clapping and cheering on my team.
Just like any hockey fan really. Except this isn’t NHL, or even AHL. This isn’t even college hockey, or junior hockey in Canada. This is Glasgow, Scotland, thousands of miles away from the self-proclaimed home of hockey. Do we care any less? Do we cheer any less loud, or feel any worse when our team lose? Of course we don’t. We are hockey fans, regardless.
Hockey in the UK is a minority sport, no doubt about it. In actual fact, there are some people who haven’t even heard of the teams, or even know that there is a league in the UK. Not surprising really, but what does shock me in the number of hockey fans who don’t know teams exist in the UK, or even don’t support their local team.
Don’t get me wrong, I love hockey as anyone who knows me will understand. I’m an enormous Pittsburgh Penguins fan, and part of the British Penguins Fan Club, a wee team of people who sit and cheer on the NHL team with pride, just the same as any Pittsburgher would! But I also love the Braehead Clan, team in the UK! I sit and cheer the same; I watch the games, travel the country to support the team. I simply can’t get my head around the number of hockey fans who refuse to watch games in the UK or support the teams.
I’m not naive or stupid enough to compare the league in the UK to the NHL, that would be like comparing Primark with Prada, but both have their positives, and both have negatives, but for me, hockey is hockey. And I love both teams!
The Elite league, as it’s known in the UK, has many issues, which anyone who is a UK hockey fan and is reading this will be able to point out, but its not without its charm, and for most of us in the UK it’s the only chance we will get to watch a live hockey game. Yes, it won’t be NHL standard but we have to start somewhere right? And getting the game popular and spreading the news is what we need to be doing, not dismissing the game in the UK as rubbish or not equal to NHL hockey. Of course it isn’t. Of course it won’t be. There is an world of difference between the two.
Nothing was more apparent than during the NHL lock-out last season, when NHL players took the chance to come and play elsewhere, including the UK. As a Braehead Clan fan I was delighted to have Drew Miller, from Detroit Redwings, playing with us throughout that period. He was a joy to watch, a pleasure on the ice and a gentleman off the ice, but it was clear he was a different standard to the rest of our boys, and this often hampered him rather than helped him! But Drew had nothing but good things to say about our team, our fans, and our league. Here we are, thousands of miles away from the NHL, and we are spreading the good game around, and recruiting fans and sharing the love of the game!
That’s whats important. The bottom line is money is what counts. Bums on seats. Paying fans help teams develop and without fans, and without support the sport will dwindle back into the void. Brahead is a fairly young team, only on their fourth season, but in this time, we’ve seen the crowd grow from 500 odd to over 3000. Pee-wee teams have been born, support the in the community and training camps for kids and players have grown, developing the sport in the youngsters. This isn’t unique to Glasgow either, this is over the country, where teams are developing and hockey camps for kids are available, which is something that was unheard of twenty years ago. This, certainly, can only be a good thing! Sharing the love of the game to future generations will only strengthen the sport, and can only be a positive for quality of the sport. If people want the sport to develop then the basic line is that there needs to be bums on seats and paying fans. I cannot for the life of me, understand why any hockey fan would be against the sport developing in the UK, and yes the quality of the game is a million miles apart, but who’s to say that this won’t change over the next twenty years.
During the Olympics I was asked numerous times by friends in America if the UK had a team. Yes, we do. And yes we compete. But right now its men against boys, lions against mice.
But this can change!! We have the power as UK fans to help this to change. We vocalise our support, we help our local teams develop and we share the love of the game. Who’s to say Team GB might even get a medal at some point. Dare we dream?
Love the game. Love the local teams. Help them develop. It can only strengthen the game that we all love so much.