It was a cold, wet December evening in 2011 when my boyfriend bought me to The Odyssey Arena in Belfast. I was there to witness my first ever ice hockey game, the Belfast Giants taking on the Dundee Stars. Being from the UK apart from hearing and knowing briefly about the sport it was a whole new world to me. Here, we're constantly bombarded with football, cricket and rugby none of which really grabbed me imagination and pulled me into the game. As a high school student I played in my schools netball and field hockey teams (winning a county bronze medal in the latter) and that was pretty much my general experience of sport. My Dad and Granddad are into football and some other sports, I owned a Birmingham FC shirt but honestly, I never classed myself as a sports fan. Until that fateful day in December.
My boyfriend, Jonathan, was already a dedicated fan of the Giants and I went along worried I wouldn't enjoy the game he is so passionate about. Within the first few minutes I was hooked. With the General Manager ex-Giant Todd Kelman warming the crowd up and really making newcomers like myself feel at home I was ready to see what the fuss was about.
Hockey is fast. Hockey is brutal. Hockey is unforgiving. Hockey is an amazing game. The talent these guys possess amazed me, the violence of the game left me fired up and by the end of the game I was shouting and cheering with everyone else in the crowd! I left wanting to go straight back, it was the same exhilaration I feel about a live gig; that electricity. I felt like an addict wanting nothing more but to hear that puck being shot across the ice.
|Our view from every game.|
The Belfast Giants are one of the younger teams that form the Elite Ice Hockey League in the UK. Honestly, I didn't even know the UK had any ice hockey leagues! Compared with the standards in Europe we are not top but during championships over the last decade in particular we have improved our world seeding year on year. More people are starting to know and fall in love with the game, I now understand why sports fans hate the off season so much! The Giants have had former NHL'ers, European stars and some of the best British players don their teal jerseys; they are a force to be reckoned with. My first season 2011/12 we won the league. I got to watch us win at home and be a part of the celebrations, the pride I felt was unknown to me not being a sports fan before.
Jonathan bought me my first jersey this Valentines Day just past with my favourite player, the Northern Irish Graeme Walton's name on the back. He's now since retired (yes, I am still sad) but I wear his jersey with pride. I almost started crying when he got it me, the sport has come to mean so much to me that I keep in touch with the forums, talk to anyone and everyone about it and even have my own fantasy team battling it out! I've even branched out to the top league in the world, the NHL, supporting the Philadelphia Flyers. I am in one word hooked.
It's hard being in England when my team play over in Northern Ireland. The nearest place I could see them play is when they take on the Cardiff Devils in Cardiff, and that's an hour and a half train or car ride and I have health concerns. My first game for the 2013/14 season will be next month when I'm in Northern Ireland and we take on the Sheffield Steelers. As one of our main rivals I cannot wait for that clash! Hockey cheers me up, it gives me something to focus my energies on and it makes my Northern Irish trips even more special.
My gratitude though goes out to the Giants themselves, and not just the players. Every single person who works as part of their team has worked hard not just to showcase hockey but to create an enjoyable night out - for all ages. Of course the players are the heart of the team and they put their all into every game, and it shows. Their dedication (especially after a bad situation last season) has shone through recently. I am proud to call myself a Belfast Giants fan and I am so thankful for Jonathan (and his Mum) for taking me to that game that December evening (and every game since!).
|The guy I have to thank for bringing hockey into my life. :)|
Anyone wanting to check out the game itself please go to the Elite League website to find your local team and details.