Hovet Stadium, Stockholm
Something new from someone new, to dubSteppery anyway. My fellow Hawk London Brancher Adam takes up the pen this week. It’s a good ‘un. Enjoy.
So, having been, to all intents and purposes, loitering on the Dubsteps bench for the past few years, it’s finally time to peel off the tracksuit and make my 1st team debut. Obviously, in an ideal world, this would be on a subject I actually know something about. However, as your regular correspondent so ably deals with the 3 main distractions in my life (live music, cricket and the continuing soap opera goings on down at West Leigh Park) I felt I should turn my attentions elsewhere for fear of not making the editors cut. As previous guest pieces have covered topics as diverse as sumo, football in Costa Rica and, erm, crazy golf tournaments in Jersey, the opportunity to cover a random ice hockey game in Stockholm seemed too good to turn down.
Ah yes, ice hockey. Consulting my mental reference card on the subject prior to the game, all that sprang to mind was “fighting”, “some fella named Gretzky”, “wacky scoreboards”, “that Playstation game my mate owns”, “biggest trophy in sport (the Stanley Cup)” and, naturally, “fighting”. Normally I’m not one to turn up to random events, however, as I was in Stockholm on business and with a free evening to myself, the choice appeared to be between watching grown men beat each other to a pulp or beating myself off in a lonely hotel room on my company expense account. Naturally, I chose the former. Some research on net showed that one of Stockholm’s 3 teams was taking to the ice that evening, and playing at a new arena just outside the centre of town – the Ericsson Globe. Having negotiated my way to the arena by using the usual trick of speaking very s.l.o.w.l.y. when talking to foreigners only to find they speak impeccable English I rocked up at the arena shortly before game time, ran the gauntlet of touts and secured myself a ticket in the corner section from the handily placed local Ticketmaster office.
It was at this point it became apparent that, rather than playing in the Globe itself, Djurgarden actually play in the “Hovet” arena next door. It seems that the original intention was that they would move to the 15,000 capacity concert arena, but that rather than play in a brand new half full stadium, they have returned to their own home alongside the football stadium and the concert arena. The Hovet stadium itself is a reasonably tidy facility, although hard to distinguish from, say, Wembley Arena if the floor was covered with ice. Settling into my seat I tried to glean what information I could from my handy free pamphlet. The form guide seemed to indicate it would be a close run thing. Although prior to the game Djurgarden were struggling in10th place of 12 teams, with Lulea still just in contention in 5th, further inspection indicated that Djurgarden had won both their home games against Lulea this season, and that Lulea’s high league position was entirely built upon their home form (2nd of the 12 teams looking purely at home games). Having established that players with the suffix of “sson” were likely to be the ones to keep an eye on I sat back ready for the opening period of the 3.
With the hardcore fans in good voice situated off to my left behind the opposition net for periods 1 and 3, I was encouraged by the fact that the songs all seemed somewhat familiar to me, as they were all largely adopted from the English football terraces (although I suppose it’s possibly the fans of Man U, Liverpool et al could all be eagerly watching Swedish ice hockey for new material) and therefore were largely of a variation on my own beloved Hawk dittys. Although totally unintelligible, bar the version of “Djur-gar-den” to the tune of “Here We Go”, all of my old favourites were there “We’re gonna score in a minute”, “Follow, follow, follow”, and my own particular favourite “Wooooah, Timmy, Timmy. Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, Timmy Pettersson” which was remarkably similar sounding to the Hawk anthem to our former midfield maestro Timmy Hambley.
The opening minutes of the game were largely dominated by the away team who enjoyed a period of sustained pressure, however, Djurgarden, obviously spurred on by the opportunity to impress the visiting DubStep jury raised their game and drew first blood through Kristofer Ottosson who had a simple tap in to take the home team into the lead. It also helped to vindicate my policy of keenly watching the “sson’s”. A second goal for Djurgarden through Henrik Eriksson followed shortly after, thanks to a fabulously determined run (or perhaps “skate”) from his own half. A rout seemed to be on the cards when after only 9 minutes of the 20 minute period, my own personal favourite Timmy Pettersson dribbled through the Lulea defence to make it 3-0. Clearly Djurgarden were a team where I would understand the ethos, with moments of brillance shining in amongst some absolute dross. I had clearly caught them on a good day.
The 2 minute sin-bin periods for “minor infractions” brought about elements of entertaining partisan support, where if the home team made it through a period with their player in the sin-bin without conceding a resounding standing ovation was given. If the opposition player was in the sin-bin then the crowd rallied round the home team in an effort to urge them to take advantage of their man advantage. As a neutral bystander, the sin-bin period seemed to largely resemble a cup tie between a lower league team and a Premiership team with one side dominating possession and the other taking any opportunity to welly the puck as far away from their net as possible.
As the period drew to a close, Djurgarden extended their lead even further with a Robin Figren goal taking the score to 4-0 at the end of period 1. At this point I was somewhat surprised to discover that the break between periods consisted of 16 minutes. With the regular rolling substitutions through the 20 minutes, and the gentle nature of ice-skating it seemed odd that such a long break was required. However, I did use the intervening period to purchase an “authentic” woolly hat and a cup of coffee so maybe it’s all a sneaky ploy to encourage additional purchasing.
At the start of the second period, it certainly looked like the Lulea team had been given the proverbial hairdryer treatment as they came out with much greater intent. The pressure paid off with a goal after only 3 minutes of the second period to reduce the deficit to 3. Attempting to follow the comings and goings of the players, who swap over at regular intervals, and are obviously all clad in similar looking safety gear, made it very difficult to establish who was playing well and who was having a stinker. Aside from the “similar sounding name to Hawk legends” emotional link to Timmy Pettersson the name that kept cropping up amongst the group of lads sat in front of me was “Falk”. After a while it became clear that he inspired a similar level of devotion and affection that legendary players in any kind of sport team do. Any time he got near the puck, a little indulgent chortle of “ahhh, Falk” indicated that it was exactly the kind of interception you would expect him to make and that it was never in any kind of doubt that he would snuff out the danger. Post-game research indicated that he was indeed the elder statesman of the team, having captained them for 5 season in the late-90’s, early 2000’s and he was still a first-team regular having missed only 2 games out of 47 up to this point. Despite the continuing Lulea pressure, they were unable to make any further inroads and midway through the half, Djurgarden were able to re-establish their 4 goal cushion.
After another extended rest for the players (and a chance for me to investigate the mascot of the Djurgarden team – possible nickname “The Mutant Badgers”?) the players came out for the 3rd period. The players warm-up routine reminded me of a municipal rink back home with everyone skating around in the same direction whilst Europop of indeterminate origin blasted out of the speakers. At this point it wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest to hear a 14 year old girl screech “Leave, it Gary, he ain’t worth it”.
During the 3rd period, Djurgarden seemed happy to protect their lead, but conceding just 1minute in certainly seemed to make the home supporters nervous. As the clock ticked down, Lulea continued to harry and press in an effort to drag themselves back into the game, but were ultimately unable to make further in-roads into the Djurgarden 4-goal lead. Having been spoilt with 4 goals in the first half, I was beginning to get a little restless, but, late on in the game, I finally got what I’d turned up for. Having been slammed into the boards, home team player David Printz finally decided he’d had enough and decided to get his own back by repeatedly smashing his stick over the head of a Lulea player. Bizarrely, this action resulted in exactly the same penalty as seemingly much more minor misdemeanours, a 2 minute sit-down in the sin-bin. Maybe only if a player succeeds in the drawing of blood results in a longer punishment. Djurgarden rode out the 1-man disadvantage and costed home to a celebratory, if random chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.
Travelling back on the tube on the way back to the hotel, I reflected on an entertaining evening. In a similar way to games of baseball I’ve caught in the US, the added live element of the partisan home support makes up for the complete lack of knowledge or emotion that I would normally experience when following a team. Although, unlikely to be a sport I will follow devoutly on TV in the future, it is certainly fast-paced and action-packed which make it ideal for a complete neutral with no idea of the nuances of what is actually going on.
POST GAME FOLLOW UP :
Having drawn and won the following 2 games, Djurgarden managed to pull themselves into contention for the playoffs, but failed to win in their final 5 games of the season, ultimately ending up in 10th place, 4 points clear of the relegation play-off. Lulea finished 5th comfortably in the playoff spots, where their opening opponents are Frolunda who they face in a best of 5 series.