I am a sports junkie. I love sports, all sports, but I especially love hockey.
I love to watch athletes who put everything on the line in the search of glory. I love to see athletes who refuse to give up when they are down. I love to feel the exhilaration of renewed life when momentum swings in a game and the fight is back on.
I love the atmosphere of being in a sporting venue where everyone feels they are a part of the game and not simply spectators. I love to cheer when my team scores and when we win.
But probably more than all this I love it when a game is so well played that it doesn’t really matter who wins because everyone wins in these situations. I witnessed this last night.
Saturday night the CBR Brave hosted the Melbourne Ice. There was a lot of excitement built up locally for this weekend’s games because the Brave had a chance to take an equal share of first place with the Ice if they swept the weekend’s double-header.
The Brave have put together an enviable record so far this season, one that sees them in the top four with games-in-hand on everyone else. However, tonight’s game would be the true test to see if the team belonged with the big boys, and the Ice are the big boys so far in this Australian Ice Hockey League campaign.
Last night proved that the Brave are one of the big boys in a game that has to be considered one of the best games ever played in AIHL history. It was that good.
The first period was one to tell the grandchildren about. It took 18 minutes to complete because there were so few stoppages in play. There was one stretch when play continued for 9 minutes without a whistle. It was spectacular. The speed and flow of the game was something to behold. Each team went back and forth, attacking and counterattacking. Passes were crisp, shots were hard, saves were scintillating and the skating was breakneck and effortless, and it kept going back and forth all period.
The crowd was enthralled and you could tell the players were loving it. Both teams were rolling all of their lines simply because everyone was exhausted by the pace and the mental effort required to keep up with the other side. There could not be a better advertisement for what AIHL hockey is and we witnessed this non-stop during the first period.
During the intermission fans were all talking about what they had just witnessed. Everyone knew that this was something special. Everyone was hoping for more. When play resumed we all got our wish as the play continued back and forth with minimal stoppages and it continued like that for the full three periods. This was seriously fun to watch.
The Ice scored first in this game and when the Brave equalised the score there was a one minute standing ovation. Given the nature of the Canberra crowd one expects a loud cheer of appreciation for the home team but this was different. It was in recognition of the goal, yes, but even more so it was an opportunity to cheer for a game that was simply the best ever played in Canberra. The fans knew this and they wanted all the players to know it and to thank them.
As good as the hockey skill on display was there were also a number of other factors that added to the spectacle of this game. The players played hard, really hard, all game. But when plays were whistled down there was no jostling for position or for proving who was tougher. Players simply dispersed and set up for face-offs, getting themselves ready for the next flurry of play.
As a result there were very few penalties and the game was able to maintain its fantastic flow. Players on both sides recognised that self-discipline was going to be an important factor in the game, possibly a game turner.
The league should also be proud of how the on-ice officials reacted to this type of game. The speed of the game made it difficult for the officials to keep up, but they did. They were there to make the calls all game and they consistently got it right. Best of all, though, the officials read the type of game this was and they got out of the way to let the players play. This could only be the best exhibition of hockey ever for the AIHL because the officials were the best ever.
The scorecard will read that the Melbourne Ice defeated the CBR Brave in a shootout, 2-1. What the scorecard won’t tell is that this was quite possibly the best game in AIHL history.
Because of that, AIHL hockey won and I am damn lucky that I was able to witness it.