Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Wrapping it up

I had decided to cut my trip short somewhat, as I really wasn’t feeling going back to Switzerland today, so I would cancel the last two games on my trip and head home from Bratislava today.

I was up at 6:45 in Munich in order to get the train to Bratislava in time to meet my good friend Michal, who hooked me up with my job at Slovan Bratislava. The train ended up being around forty minutes late which messed my connections up somewhat, but I was in Bratislava by mid-afternoon, and met Miko outside the Petrzalka railway station, where I was soon whisked away to a pizzeria. An afternoon meal of pizza made with bryndza (sheep’s cheese) was on the menu, and it came highly recommended, and I sure can vouch for that.

I checked back in at the hostel I stayed at when I was in Bratislava at the start of my trip, and I soon met Miko again at around half four, where I got taken to the arena two hours before faceoff, and given a whirlwind tour of pretty much everywhere in the Slovnaft Arena. The head offices, meeting all of the PR staff, going down to ice level and the press room and things like that. It was awesome seeing the behind the scenes workings of Slovakia’s biggest club, especially as there was a great panic within most of the staff as they were expecting a sell out crowd, and a whole host of executives in from Gazprom for the game against SKA St. Petersburg. I had been gifted an incredible book, documenting the 90 years of history of Slovan Bratislava as a gift by Miko, and he’d had it signed by the majority of the team the day before. However, we decided to stand in the mic zone as the players came off the ice after warm-up, and managed to get the signatures of guys like Miro Satan, Jan Lipiansky and Milan Bartovic. The child in me was on cloud nine being up so close with players I’d only watched on crappy online streams before. However, our presence wasn’t appreciated by some of the security there, as the suits were out in force and we got barked at for trying to get the autograph of Michel Miklik. After the game finished, we even got the autograph of Lubomir Visnovsky, as we ended up sharing a lift ride with him, as he had just agreed to play for Slovan during the lockout.

Once again it was another game in the Sky Lounge, with free drinks and free food, and we had to rush up to the top of the arena in order to be there when the game started. It was a good thing we ran, as it didn’t take long for Slovan to open the scoring, as Mario Bliznak scored on the powerplay, firing a wicked wrist shot into the top corner which Jakub Stepanek flailed at but failed to stop. There’s no doubting that SKA were the more skilled side, and at times they were all over Slovan like a cheap suit. Maxim Afinogenov at times waltzed around the offensive zone like he was playing against kids, but fortunately, his solo breaks rarely amounted to anything. Alongside Afinogenov, SKA had NHL veterans Dmitri Kalinin, Alexei Semonov, Patrick Thoresen and Toni Maartenson, but Slovan were keeping pace with them. Jaroslav Janus was in incredible form, although he couldn’t do anything about Thoresen’s goal in the 8th minute which came on the rebound. Something was in the air that night at the Slovnaft Arena though. It was a sell out 10,055 in the stands, and they all rose to their feet late in the first period, when young Tomas Mikus, desperately playing for his place on the team, scored a wonder goal. He picked up a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, beat his man before sniping it top corner over Stepanek. It looked like he didn’t do what to do after he scored, but he was quickly mobbed by his teammates so it didn’t matter I guess.

SKA as individuals are such a good side, and it’s no wonder why they’ve consistently been at the top of the Western Conference. At one point in the second period, they were outshooting Slovan 26:11, and it didn’t take long for them to equalise. A shocker of a play by Ivan Svarny on the point whilst Slovan were on the powerplay gave SKA a 2 on 1 break, and Thoresen found Petr Prucha, and the former New York Ranger deked Janus to score. Janus, who would make a number of saves on similar two on one breaks was unlucky not to get a piece of Prucha’s effort. Still Slovan seemed able to absorb what SKA could throw at them, and then try and build attacks of their own. Late in the second period, Michel Miklik burst through the SKA line and was unlucky not to score on the breakaway. However, the refs, who really seemed to call the slightest infraction adjudged Kevin Dallman to have hooked back the former Kosice man, so Miklik had a penalty shot. His effort was… well it was shocking. Tried to go five hole from the hash marks, and it was easily knocked away by Stepanek.

In the third period, Miko and I moved to the VIP section, where we were really surrounded by luxury. The Slovak President was only a few rows in front, and after the game he passed me on the stairs and gave me a nod. In the row behind me, there was the GM of Slovan, the president of the SZLH (Slovak ice hockey federation), a host of Slovan legends from the 70s and 80s, plus Ernest Bokros, the coach of the Slovak U18’s and U20’s. I certainly felt out of place wearing a t-shirt and shorts surrounded by such high company. The VIP seats were incredible, and it was much better being in the actual arena bowl. The third period saw more of the same, as SKA piled forward, but Janus saved everything. Hearts were in mouths in the 47th minute, as SKA thought they had scored after a point shot went straight in on the powerplay. However, after an eternity, the referees adjudged Gleb Klimenko to have tapped it in with a high stick. It only seemed fair, as Klimenko first went to celebrate on his own after he scored, before realising half a second later that he had to rush to the point to celebrate with the defenceman, otherwise it was clear it was a high stick. This decision was key for Slovan to turn the game around, and step forward Slovak legend and club captain Miroslav Satan. Slovan were getting chances, and Bliznak was unlucky not to get a second, but with under five minutes left in the game, Miro, who always looked like he was playing in slow motion, ghosted through the slot with the puck on his stick, made it past two defencemen, before firing it across Stepanek and into the top corner. Euphoria. Even the Slovak president was on his feet to celebrate that one. Ninety seconds later, and Milan Bartovic sealed an incredible and historic win for Slovan Bratislava. Stepanek didn’t even see the shot, which bounced off the back bar and out. It was reviewed but eventually given.

Practically all 10,000 fans stayed at the end of the game to cheer off their team, who had just picked up their first regulation win at home in the KHL, and the racket was deafening at times. I hadn’t experienced such an adrenaline dump from a hockey game since the Blaze won the league in Edinburgh in 2010. After the game, I went with Miko down towards the locker room, where we met up with a couple more of the office staff, and somehow, Miko and I managed to get permission to enter the locker room. It was packed with press, mostly wanting to get a word with Satan (as always) and Janus, who had made 44 saves in the victory. I’d never thought I get to experience something like that, standing next to guys like Michal Vondrka, Libor Hudacek etc. Thank goodness that the locker room was air conditioned though, as I braced myself for ‘that’ hockey smell, only to be thankful when there was barely a whiff.

After a quick detour to Ruzinov, Miko and I headed into the centre of town for a beer after the game, still beaming after seeing an incredible game. Soon though it was time to head home, as Miko had work and I had to be up early for my flight back to the UK, which now closes this chapter, as well as finishes the blog that I’ve been writing for this trip. It’s been a remarkable trip, taking in five countries and eight games.

7th September: Zilina vs Dukla Trencin 1:2
8th September Slovan Bratislava vs Dinamo Riga 2:3 (PS)
9th September: Vienna Capitals vs SAPA Fehervar 3:1
10th September: Lev Praha vs Donbass Donetsk 1:0
14th September: HC Davos vs EHC Kloten Flyers 2:3 (PS)
15th September: EHC Kloten Flyers vs ZSC Lions 3:4
16th September: EHC Red Bull Munich vs Dusseldorf 2:3 (OT)
17th September: HC Slovan Bratislava vs SKA St. Petersburg 4:2

Only one game saw a victory for the team that I wanted to win, and I was incredibly disappointed that my white glove watch turned out to be really quite in vain, however, I got introduced to the world of Swiss hockey, which I loved when standing with the Davos fans in the Ostkurve, whilst I was also acquainted with the worst hockey fanbase I’ve discovered so far in the EHC Munich fans. I got into half of the games for free, and saw some remarkable goals, from Tony Romano’s strike for Vienna, to Walser scoring a brilliant goal for Kloten to tie their game in Davos. I saw countless NHL players, and numerous young prospects for the future, and it’s safe to say that it was a brilliant two weeks on the rails. Just a shame that the travel was so wearing.

I’ll post the pictures link on here when I’ve uploaded them to Flickr, but that’s all for now for this blog. Be sure to check my main blog, www.velvethockey.blogspot.com during the season, which will have all your Czech and Slovak hockey news, especially as the NHLers begin to flock to the Extraliga.

Thanks for reading.


EDIT: Pictures can be viewed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39311233@N03/sets/72157631568380069/

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Two games, Two countries

I am going to condense two gamedays into one post here, as there’s not a lot really to talk about apart from the games, as travel has taken up a lot of my time over the last two days.

After the great game in Davos, it was time to head north to the biggest city in Switzerland, Zurich, for the big derby between the Kloten Flyers and the NLA champions, the ZSC Lions. After a lie in (praise the lord for the 11am check out time), I made the trip to Zurich, dropping my things off at the hostel and had around an hour and a half to nose around Zurich for the first time, and I must say that it didn’t really take my fancy. It was nice and all, but it was really crowded, and reminded me of a less nice London, so I think I’ll pass on Zurich in the future.

Soon though it was time to head on the S-Bahn to the north of the city, to Kloten, to a rink that was situated in the middle of a park it seemed like. It was a good ten minutes through a thicket to get to the arena, which really was in the middle of nowhere. Still, there were private security guys decked out in full riot gear in case the Swiss kicked off. I had already bought my ticket, and by the time I got to the arena it would have been too late to get a good place in the standing sector, so I was seated at the top of the side blocks towards the goal Kloten were shooting at for two periods. Strangely I thought, both of the fans standing sectors were next door to each other, with only a couple of security guards minding the plexi glass that separated the bitter rivals. Kloten also lost out to Davos in both the beer prices (4.50Fr for 300ml of beer!), and also their outdoor ice rink had melted. It seems I chose wisely.

Kloten, who almost went bust in the offseason are in stark contrast to their city rivals ZSC. The Lions like to splash the cash, and have created a pretty decent AHL all star team, as they picked up Ryan Shannon, Gilbert Brule, Jeff Tambellini and Matt Lashoff from NHL clubs, whilst they also had Roman Wick, who made the switch following the money problems to ZSC. Another interesting player for ZSC was 1995 born Phil Baltisberger, arguably the best Swiss prospect over the next couple of years. I did find it odd that he started out in defence and then moved to forward, but getting a regular shift for such a good team in the NLA at his age is quite remarkable. Kloten, who had to scrape as much money as they could get just to start the season, came out of a giant inflatable Toyota holding a banner which said “Kloten lives, many thanks”. The thanks of course being to the fans who reached into their pocket heavily to back their team.

In a strange twist of events, just before the game started, a group of kids sat in the seats next to me, and I overheard them speaking in perfect English. Turns out I was sitting next to some kids who were living in Switzerland and had English blood in them somewhere. One of them was especially eager, as it turns out he was a Davos fan too, and he kept asking me about the game I saw the night before. The parents were sitting in the row in front, and one of them started talking to me, describing how he’d been in Hockley Heath in the morning. Small world eh.. I ended up with a free packet of Malteasers though, as they had bought one too many! I also talked sporadically with the woman sitting next to me, a die hard Kloten fan, who shouted “Scheisse” so many times I couldn’t count.

The game didn’t really hot up until a six goal second period sent the teams into the second break tied at 3:3. Kloten turned on the style early on, as Felicien Du Bois scorched the twine with a rocket of a slapshot on the point. Soon after Du Bois turned provider, as another of his slaphots caused a rebound off Lukas Flueler, and Marcel Jenni, in his top scorer’s helmet and jersey tucked in the rebound. However, Roman Wick was going to prove to be a thorn in his old team’s side, and ten seconds after Jenni’s goal, he burst through the middle of the Kloten defensive pair, and roofed the puck on Rueger to the delight of the ZSC faithful, who seemed to have burned out after their flashing of dollar bills at the Kloten fans resulted in a chorus of whistles and boos. Micki Dupont made it 3:1 Kloten with a weak goal from the point, but then ZSC came rallying back. Kloten kept taking stupid penalties, and ZSC’s powerplay was white hot. First Ryan Shannon tapped in a rebound, before Wick bagged his second after ZSC had killed a whole two minutes of 5 on 3.

The third period was tepid in comparison to the blockbuster second, and as the time wound down, it was always going to be a mistake which ended up costing the game for either side. However it turned out that it would be Rueger who would drop the clanger, as after gifting a juicy rebound off a weak shot, the follow up effort ended up trickling right through his five hole. So Kloten would go down 4:3 at home to their rivals, and it was now six games and six defeats for teams that I wanted to win on this trip.

Sunday saw me leave Zurich early and head for Munich, where I’d be at the mid-afternoon game between the new look EHC Red Bull Munchen and Dusseldorf. EHC were also spared collapse in the summer by being taken over by the evil Red Bull company, who have changed their logo and ruined their brilliant looking old jersies. In comparison, DEG had the best looking jersies of any team on this trip so far. The definition of vintage done right. One thing that the DEL does right: prices. It cost me €12 as a student to get into the standing places at the Olympia Eishalle, although they may want to start charging more if they are only getting 2,610 through the door. A shocking number of people. Still, the price was so cheap (I was expected nearly double that), so I treated myself to a beer and a bratwurst! Result.

However, the one thing that the DEL didn’t do right on this showing was the hockey. Dear oh dear it was a grim game to watch at times. Even the first game I saw, the pre-season game between Zilina and Trencin was played at a better tempo and with fewer mistakes. DEG opened the scoring early in the first period, after a defensive mess gave Nikolaus Mondt all the time in the world to deke past Jochen Reimer and score with under ninety seconds on the clock. Note: German’s love hanging things on anything to make their place known. For example, I showed up to the standing block with 45 minutes to go before face off. It took me a good few minutes to find a spare space as 90% of them were taken up by scarves on the handrail, in the same way that Germans in Majorca put the towel on the sunbed at 6:30 in the morning.

The second period finally saw some good hockey starting to be played, and Martin Buchwieser tied the game up for EHC. He cut from the left hand wing and managed to backhand it past Bobby Goepfort, a player I’ve always wanted to be Trevor Koenig’s replacement ever since he left the Blaze. EHC’s choice of goal music: Nellie the elephant. Thankfully when they scored again two minutes later, they played Rocking all over the world by Status Quo. It was Toni Ritter who got the goal, backhanding the rebound after the puck hit the crossbar.

DEG were the better side in the third period, and they equalised soon into it, as Carl Ridderwall one timed a slapshot on the edge of the zone which flew past Reimer into the top corner, a wicked shot. Then things began to get feisty, so feisty that a fight broke out. Soren Sturm and Bernie Ebner both went toe to toe, in a scrap then resembled wrestling more than anything, and received 2+2+10 for their troubles, whilst two minutes later an even worse state of affairs broke out. Ulli Maurer got caught up in front of the DEG bench, and soon he was pounced upon by Jannick Woidtke. Woidtke dropped both his gloves and started laying into Maurer, who wanted nothing to do with it and was patiently waiting for the referees to step in and do something. By this time the Munich fans were livid, and started hurling their beer mugs at the netting. There is a one euro deposit on each of the mugs, so one smart kid from the sitting sector ran down the stairs and soon ended up with around fifteen mugs in his hand. Good work lad. This pretty much summed up the EHC fanbase, who were without doubt the most annoying fanbase I think I’ve seen. Firstly, they complained every single time an EHC player fell over, even when checked fairly. Secondly, they really don’t sing well at all, and the group of teenagers who thought they were god’s gift to ultras at the front really didn’t impress me. Ho hum.

The game would go to overtime as both teams really failed to put anything decent on net as time ran out, but then Ridderwall would get his second of the game and the overtime winner which sent the fifty or so DEG fans loony. It was a shocker for Reimer, as an innocuous shot went right through him to seal the game with two minutes gone in overtime. So yeah, no buys on the DEL for me. The NLA seems to be the only new league I’ll follow after this trip!

Jon Rowson’s white glove watch: Awful. None at all in both games. Very disappointed. 0/10 Marek Ivan’s.

Next stop: Bratislava (again).

That’s all for now:


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Three days sightseeing and a new love.

Greetings readers. It's been a couple of days since I updated, as it's been a couple of days without hockey. When I left you, I was on a night train bound for Vienna, after a remarkable evening at the Lev Praha game against Donbass. Now I write to you from a hostel in Zurich, the night after seeing the best hockey game of my trip so far, and a new love for Swiss hockey, and namely, HC Davos.

Zermatt delivered.
However, there's a large gap to fill in between me going from Prague and then arriving in Davos. So what have I spent my time doing? Good question! The day of the 11th saw me travelling endlessly. In total I spent 14 hours travelling from Prague, to one of the most western points in Austria, as I spent the night in Bregenz. This wasn’t for hockey, but to meet a person who I met through hockey. David was one of the Austrians that I met out in Slovenia at the World Championships in April, and he kindly offered me a free night in the hotel that he worked in when I said I was hoping to come through and meet him.

After the incredibly warm weather of the past couple of days, things turned drastically as the temperature plummeted to a mild 15 degrees, with the promise that it would drop further over the coming days. I got given a whirlwind tour of the town, as well as a quick stop on Lake Constance before it was time for dinner. Schnitzel, oh the schnitzel. A simply gargantuan portion kept me full for the rest of the evening and most of the day after, washed down with a wheat beer of course. Next stop was the rock bar on the other side of town, as it was time for the ‘match of the year’. The Landespiel between Austria and Germany. The clientele were an eclectic bunch, with my favourite being the incredibly angry bloke sitting to my left, who at the start of the game proclaimed that the Dutch referee was being paid by Germany in Nazi gold. The Germans got a penalty and hung on for a 2:1 victory, much to the chagrin of the Bregenz faithful.

I was up at the crack of dawn the day after, as it was time for me to head to Switzerland, a country I’d only visited for a morning last year. I said goodbye to David and lugged my bag through the rain to the train station, on the way to Interlaken. On the way I made a detour to Basel and strolled around for an hour. Basel was nice enough, but there really wasn’t a lot going on there. The reason why I woke so early was to try and get to the Interlaken, and up on the Jungfraubahn that day, but it turned out that the weather wasn’t playing ball. Clouds and rain in abundance made going up the Jungfraubahn a fruitless task, so in the end I meandered my way to Interlaken, eventually arriving at around half five, cursing my luck that the two days I gave myself to get up to the Eiger were being undone by the temperamental Swiss weather.

Freezing up there though!
However, in other parts of the Switzerland the weather wasn’t nearly as bad, so after a tip from Fergus back home, I checked the weather for Zermatt, and the possibility of going up the Gornegratbahn to the doorstep of the Matterhorn. I made my way to Visp, and took the train up to Zermatt, wowed on the way by the scenery, but due to the cloud, no real sight of the Matterhorn. I was trying my best to snap as many pictures as I could from the train windows. I switched to the Gornegratbahn (praise the lord for the InterRail discount!), and the train, like a pack donkey, huffed and puffed its way up to 10,000 feet and dumped us out at Gornegrat. Dear lord it was cold up there. The readings were that it was -5 up the top, but only in a hoodie and jeans it felt like I was in the middle of Siberia in January. I shivered and waddled around like a penguin, trying not to slip on the snow due to my lack of hiking boots. I was still frustrated by the clouds obscuring the main sight, but the glaciers and other peaks were basking in the early Autumn sunlight.

After an hour and a half of walking to different peaks near the train stop, I decided to head back down and explore Zermatt. Thankfully on the train down, the cloud slowly started to dissipate, and rising above the ski town, the Matterhorn appeared in all its glory. All of the old jiffers on the train tried to cram to the side of the train I was on to snap pictures, and the train stopped so people had their chance to view it. The common theme of my train journeys in Switzerland is that I bring the average age down to around 74. I made it back down to Zermatt by mid-afternoon, and wandered through the town but found nothing really of interest, so I went back down to Visp and back to Interlaken, where surprise, surprise, it was still raining. The hostel I was staying at was rather odd, as it was around 90% Korean, and I certainly felt a bit odd being unable to communicate with anyone there. Ho hum.

The next day saw me leave Interlaken, disappointed that I never made it up the railway, but there’s always another time. I took the ‘Golden Pass Panorama’ train to Luzern, as I had to make my way towards Davos for the fifth game of my trip. The two hour slog to Luzern wove its way through the Bernese Oberland and towards the east of Switzerland. The sights meant for more photo snapping from the train windows. I made it to Luzern with around two and a half hours to kill, and after a quick wander around the immaculately kept old town (although frustrated by the amount of midges there), I stumbled upon a hiking path, and decided to make the walk to Sonnenberg, which was around 700 metres above sea level. It took me around forty minutes up and thirty minutes down, and it was highly rewarding when I got to the top and saw the incredible view, with the snow capped mountains in the background, and Lake Luzern in the foreground. Again, Luzern was nice, but the cost of everything was meaning that I wasn’t really staying around. For the past three days all I had been living off had been bread and paprika crisps, and even one lot of those was costing me around £5.

Three more hours on the trains, including the Rhaetische Bahn with it’s awesome HC Davos painted locomotive, and I finally arrived in Davos, home of many many rich people. I was staying in a guesthouse right by the station, and was once again praising the lord for my own bedroom to myself. I only had an hour or so before the game started by the time I made it to Davos, so after a five minute walk down the main street, I finally got to the Valliant Arena. I was originally planning on sitting in the stands as I had no real allegiance to either team, plus I am visiting their opponents Kloten on the 15th, but after seeing the prices, I decided to try my luck and stand in the Ostkurve. Only £17 for a ticket seemed pretty reasonable to me! One of the amazing things about the arena complex is that there is an outdoor rink next door to the arena, and one of the junior teams was practicing there before the game.

East Curve banner
I took my place on the right side of the standing section, thankfully with one of the metal rails to lean on, although there was a giant “Ostkurve” banner obscuring the view during warm up. Switzerland does have the honour, along with the EIHL, of having terribad warm up jersies. Also, playing for Kloten was half Scot Ronnie Rueger, and boy did he have a good game. The Valliant Arena is one of  the best rinks I think I’ve been in, as it’s all made out of wood, and looks simply incredible. Shame that only 4,165 showed up for the game, but when they play in a tiny village, it may be understandable. However, when Nottingham can get 7,000 to games, it highlights what a difference playing in a country which embraces hockey makes.

Finally the game was about to begin, and the two megaphone men were soon perched on the precarious ledges in front of the fans, trying to get everyone to sing. There was one huge bald dude that was getting incredibly angry with the fans on the edges of the curve for failing to sing. Another thing that Swiss fans love are flags. There were countless flags of all different colours waving bout at random times, obscuring the view of the game. Swiss fans (as with most German speaking fans) love their chants, especially when they are more rhythmic than actually having meaning. They did the Amarillo chant, and their favourite one was where they hummed for ten seconds before chanting HCD! With my limited German, it meant that it was easy for me to pick up on the chants, thankfully. However, the Kloten fans on the opposite side of the rink seemed well up for it, especially their man with the megaphone, who looked like a 118 man as he had a white vest with a red and blue stripe across his front. He was constantly jumping up and down like a man possessed. Well played that man.

I haven’t even got to the game yet, and there are more peculiarities of the Swiss game. One of these is the ‘top scorer’ helmets and jersies. The SM-Liiga arguably does it more tastefully, as the top scorer from each team wears a shiny golden helmet due to some sponsorship with a betting company. However in Switzerland, these players have to wear yellow helmets with flames on them, as well as their own jersey, which has more flames on the back, and “Top Scorer” plastered across it, instead of their name and number. Untasteful in the extreme. Even the refs jersies were horrid!

The Kloten players in front of the Ostkurve, including
Viktor Stancescu in the awful top scorer's outfit
So, finally, the game. Things started out perfectly for the home side, as Gregory Hoffmann opened the scoring with two minutes gone, pouncing on some terrible defensive play to go in alone on the left side of the zone, and sniping one top corner on Rueger to the delight of the Ostkurve. The player I was most looking forward to seeing was Czech forward Petr Sykora, known for his goal scoring prowess with HC Pardubice in the Extraliga. However, I was sorely disappointed at his seeming inability to do anything productive. He miscontrolled passes all over the shop, and was a liability out there. The first period was end to end stuff,  with the refs thankfully staying out of it, until Emil Lundberg was chopped down by a high stick, which caused him to bleed profusely on the ice, but surprisingly the Davos culprit only received two minutes!

Davos then had possibly the worst second period syndrome of any team I’ve ever seen. They were simply awful out there, and Leonardo Genoni was forced to make save after save, as Kloten were camped in the Davos zone for nearly five minutes. It was so bad that the Davos coach called a timeout with only three minutes gone in the period. Eventually the pressure would finally tell, and Robin Leone outfought the Davos defenceman and forced his way from the corner to the front of the net and backhanded it in. By this time the game was extremely feisty, with the top scorer for Kloten Viktor Stancescu coming in from a lot of stick from the Davos fans for all the commotion he was causing. This lead the fans to start singing “F**k you Stancescu”, although I thought they were singing “F**k you Ceausescu”, as I’d never heard of Stancescu before. The bad feelings continued, as with two minutes left in the period, and Davos having their first meaningful attack of the period, Dino Wieser ends up charging through the crease and rugby tackling a Kloten player into the goal, and holding him down for a good ten seconds before the referees finally blew the whistle and gave him a penalty.

Jon Rowson’s white glove watch: Extremely disappointed. None at all. Marek Ivan would be having nightmares. 0/10.

Perfect spot to view the game, and Davos' second goal.
The third period promised to be good, and both teams didn’t disappoint. Rueger made a string of saves early in the period, but eventually he was about to be outdone, as two brilliant no look passes behind the net set up Janick Steinmann who was crashing the crease, and he one timed the puck past the helpless Rueger to the delight of the Davos faithful. The game was poised on an knife-edge, and the referees finally started to take control of the game, dishing out a succession of penalties in the final couple of minutes. With a minute to go and the teams playing 4 on 4, the game was about to be changed by a brilliant piece of solo skill. Samuel Walser waltzed through neutral ice and gained the zone, cut across one defenceman, past another, before backhanding it past Genoni, in almost a carbon copy of Tony Romano’s goal for Vienna five days before. The game was now tied at 2:2 and heading for overtime. However, Davos fans turned livid as they thought they were denied two calls in the final minute of the game. So angry that beer began to fly down the stand as fans chucked their 4 franc beers in frustration.

Petr Sykora drew a penalty with 57 seconds to go in overtime, but the Davos  powerplay was simply toothless. No movement to speak of whatsoever, this meant that the game was headed for a shootout. The Swiss have it right when they have a best of five shootout (why oh why is it best of three everywhere else?). No-one scored out of the first two shooters for each team, but Stancescu stepped up and scored for Kloten with their third shot. Petr Sykora was the first Davos player to score with his sides fourth shot, as he sniped one top corner with a trademark strike. However Simon Bodenmann scored the fifth shot for Kloten, meaning the pressure was on club hero Reto Von Arx to find the net to keep his team’s chances alive. He couldn’t do it. Flags from disgruntled fans flew down the stands, and swearing was in abundance as Davos lost their season opener 3:2 in a shootout. It seems a common trend that the team I want to win ends up losing. I think that’s five times the team I’ve backed has lost.

Still, it was a thrilling game, and the best game of hockey I watched from a skill point of view and from an entertainment point of view as well. I loved standing in the Ostkurve, trying to join in the chants. Plus I had a great view of the action at a very reasonable price as well. I think it’s safe to say that I am a HCD fan now! If only Davos wasn’t only so far out the way….

Next stop is tonight at the Kolping Arena. The big derby between city rivals Kloten and ZSC. Bring it on!

That’s all for now,

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A host of new faces and a side of hockey

Yesterday was one of the first of what was to be a number of daunting travel days over the next week or so. Not only was it my last hockey game for three days, but it signalled the end of my time out East for a while, as my route winds its way towards Western Austria.

Home of Sparta and Lev. I felt dirty being there.
Thanks to two snorers at my hostel in Vienna, I really didn’t get a good night’s sleep, and I beat my alarm by around an hour and a half, which made for an incredibly frustrating start. At least the supermarkets were open though, so I could pick up some water and some crisps for the journey that awaited me. There was no time to sightsee in Vienna, as I had to make my way to the Praterstern station, and begin the five hour journey to Praha Hlavni Nadrazi, where I would be watching my second KHL game of the trip so far, as HC Lev Praha took on Donbass Donetsk.

It was an incredibly strange journey though. I had to change trains in Breclav, which was nothing untoward, but the train from Breclav to Prague seemed racked with problems, notwithstanding the fact that it was around an hour late getting into Prague itself. On the side of the train it said that it was stopping at Ceska Trebisova and Pardubice, but we never made it to those stations, instead, spending around half an hour stuck at the provincial backwater of Caslav, seemingly waiting for nothing at all. The train was deserted for the whole trip though, as I had a whole six person compartment for myself.

With the game starting at seven, I eventually got into Prague at just gone four, so I hopped onto the underground and headed for the Novotel hotel, where I’ve stayed once before, and where I know the WiFi password. I bought the cheapest drink on the menu and hoarded the free wifi for around half an hour before making my way up towards the Tipsport Arena to meet up with Canadian and fellow EuroHockey colleague Derek O’Brien. After about half an hour that seemed to cover every major issue in world hockey, it was time to walk the short distance to the rink, where I was introduced to every Czech hockey journalist in the country it seemed. Names I’d heard about but were now finally meeting, including a writer from Orli Znojmo, who gave me the full rundown on Mike Danton. Thanks to Derek being able to pull a few strings I was able to get into the game for free as well, although my ticket wasn’t actually there, the guy giving out the tickets just seemed to be fed up so gave me a ticket out of sheer apathy.

Lev Praha won a dire 1:0 game.
Whilst vainly trying to find out where my seat was, I was introduced to a writer for Slavia who was my age called Betty, and after first off failing to try and sit with her and her friend Venca. I eventually made it down there in the second. Being where they were, a Czech guy who had far too much pivo started trying to talk to me about football, which seems to happen wherever I go in the Czech Republic. Was a really nice guy (he brought me a beer!), but I could barely understand what he was saying. He also spilled half of his beer down the rows in front of him, so he was far gone.

So that all happened, and I haven’t even covered the game. Although to be honest, there’s not a lot to say. It was a really tepid affair, with Lev scoring in the first period through Jakub Klepis, whose one timer was far too hot for Erik Ersberg to handle, and after that, Lev just seemed to be content with clearing the puck to the neutral zone as soon as they came under any pressure. Donbass were incredibly blunt going forward though. The only good thing about the team on the ice was their jersies. The most interesting things for me were off the ice, such as the hilarious music choices by the DJ at the game. Not only did they play Kalinka numerous times, but a techno version of Katyusha, as well as Ruslana. They also played Tarzan Boy, which in my opinion is the greatest goal song ever since the Slovakian side had it as their goal song at the World Juniors in Alberta last Christmas. The Donbass coach was also amusing, as he started pulling hilarious shapes whenever he wanted to signal a line change.

It was 1:0 in the third period, and with the game having no real atmosphere, the three of us decided that we would go and support Donbass for the third period, and go and stand with their 10 or so fans in the away end. To be fair to them, they tried their best to support their team, but they did need some motivation to start singing. Venca was incredibly good at either getting them to shout Shaibu or Vpered Donbass. The game would finish with Lev taking it 1:0, of what was the worst game of my trip so far.

Вперёд Донбасc!
Jon Rowson’s white glove watch: Yet another disappointment in the white glove stakes. The only player that had white gloves was none other than Marcel Hossa, probably my least favourite Slovakian player due to how bad he is when playing for the national team. He didn’t even have proper white gloves, just more white detailing than anyone else. 2 Marek Ivan’s out of 10.

So the game was over, and I still had around three hours to kill before my night train back to Vienna left from Hlavni Nadrazi, so I was asked if I wanted to go to the tea room. I was quite bemused at first, but something was obviously lost in translation, as it turned out to be quite a hip place which also did shisha. A good two hours there chatting about anything and everything was a really enjoyable way to spend my evening, which I had not expected at all, and with even better company.

From there, it was back to the station, time to say goodbye to Betty and Venca, and then board my six hour night train to Vienna Westbahnhof. Precariously placed on a mattress around 2/3rds the width and 2/3rds the length of a single mattress, I can unequivocally say that it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, but I’ve no complaints really. From there, it was onto the Railjet to my next destination, Bregenz, right on the Swiss border, where I will hopefully be catching up with some of the Austrians I met out in Ljubljana for the World Championships in April.

And then Switzerland awaits.

That’s all for now,


Sunday, 9 September 2012

Who's the Wiener now? A brief sojourn in Vienna

I despise hot weather. I know I am English in that regard, but once the mercury tops 25 or more then I’m out. I’ll trudge around like a moody teenager just wanting to get back in the shade. However, Vienna is a different kettle of fish when it comes to sightseeing. Last summer I spent three nights in Vienna and loved every minute. I’d never been in a city where there were simply so many anonymous buildings that were architecturally staggering. My hostel this time round was in a different part of the centre, so I easily spent two hours wandering streets I had never seen before, and uncovering treasures such as the Soviet War Memorial which was hiding around a corner near Karlsplatz.

So, I don’t like the weather, and another thing that I don’t like about Austria is how respectful they are to Sunday working hours. For example, within 50 metres of my hostel there is a Billa and an Aldi. Therefore, I dumped my bag at the hostel at around two, after having eaten nothing all day, and was desperate for some bread, salami and some crisps. Oh how pissed off I was when I found that they were closed. Barely anything was open. It took me around fifteen minutes to find a café which was open and did reasonably priced food. I managed to get an Austrian take on a full English for around £6, but ¾ of the plate was made up of baked beans.

Vienna never ceases to amaze
I’d left Bratislava after three nights, and I knew that I’d seen all that I needed to see. However, even now, I still feel that I have so much of Vienna yet to explore, and will definitely have to come back again. I only had two hours or so before I had to head off to the Albert-Schultz-Eishalle. A long ride on the U-Bahn finally got me there with about 20 minutes to spare before faceoff. I’ll say it now, it was the perfect arena for hockey. It is what the Big Blue Tent in Cardiff should have been like. It is clear that it was made with sightlines in mind, but they’ve used as little space as possible to create a 7,000 seater arena. If any rinks are built over the next twenty years, I really hope they use the rink in Vienna as a guide.

So, the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga. Or, as I know it, the Pan Austrian-Czech-Slovenian-Hungarian-Croatian League. Or, the PACSHCL. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? I didn’t really know what to expect from the game to be honest, and I didn’t know much about either team, so I was fairly ignorant to what was going on to be honest. The only players I recognised were a couple of players who I saw playing for Hungary at the World Championships. Guys such as Csaba Kovacs, Istvan Sofron and the incredible vintage JOFA helmet wearing Balazs Ladanyi. They also had Bence Balizys in goal, who I thought was very good for Hungary at the worlds, but he was on the bench as the back-up, to North American Adam Munro.

Could it be a glorious season for Vienna?
I was surprised at first to see this, but once the game got going all of that went out of the window, as Munro but in one of the best performances I’ve seen from a goalie in a long long time. He kept SAPA in the game, as it turned out to be the EBEL equivalent of the Nottingham Panthers vs Fife Flyers. The Capitals pushed everything at the net, but he seemed to get his pad on everything. Saying that, his goal did live a charmed life for the best part of two periods. Matt Zaba, in the Vienna goal was also solid, but nowhere near as spectacular as Munro was. Another thing I didn’t appreciate was that Zaba, and his backup Weinhandl both have identical Ottakringer masks on. Ottakringer, an awful, awful Austrian beer had both provided the designs for the masks, which is ironic as the Capitals jersies are plastered over the front with the name of another Austrian beer, Steffl. There were so many sponsors on the Capitals jersies, that the primary logo was on the upper sleeve of the jersey.  Even Czech Extraliga teams TRY and get the logo on the front, no matter how small they make it. Still, the Capitals engaged in the rock, paper, scissors mini game at the end of warm-up which I’d previously only seen in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It’s where the loser has to carry the pucks off the ice after warm-up.

The first period was mainly Vienna chucking the puck at the net, and somehow Munro saving it. The video scoreboard at both ends of the ice was having awful difficulty keeping up with the game though, as it kept cutting out, and for around five minutes thought that SAPA were Finnish SM-Liiga side JYP Jyvaskyla. SAPA were offering very little in terms of the game, but in fact they were the ones who took the lead late in the first period, as Andras Horvath tapped in the puck when unmarked in the slot on the powerplay to the ire of the Capitals faithful. The bald guy with the megaphone at the front of the East end fans was not too happy at all.

The second period was even more of the same, but thankfully I didn’t have to turn my head as much, as the Capitals were shooting at the end where I was sitting. I was still bemused at the fact that they had a seat on the zamboni for a member of the “Caps-Rookies” to sit on during the period breaks. Also, the Vienna fans were actually chanting “let’s go Capitals, let’s go”. I was also left questioning what was going on when everyone started standing around me, but that seems the norm when there is a 5 on 3 powerplay. However, despite all their pressure, the Vienna forwards were having an awful night in front of net, whilst SAPA were denied twice by the post, Zaba beaten all ends up.

They huffed, they puffed, and eventually
blew the SAPA Fehervar house down.
The Capitals fans were now restless, and there was much angry shouting from behind me every time a puck bobbled off a skate or the puck left the SAPA zone. However, a piece of magic by trialist Tony Romano sent the fans into raptures. He picked up the puck in the neutral zone, danced his way past four players before cutting the other way and backhanding the puck into the net. Not a bad way to try and earn yourself a contract. Saying that, he was clearly the best player on show tonight. He was reminiscent of how Shea Guthrie plays in the EIHL. Bursting through the centre of the zone which the puck on a string.

It was always going to be a case of one goal and then the floodgates would open. SAPA were clearly downhearted and their play suffered as a result. They also continued cutting ruts to the penalty box, and this would finally cost them, as Zdenek Blatny tapped home a redirected puck past a helpless Munro. This meant we could get to hear the campest goal song once again. It was like an Austrian American country-inspired song, but the home fans seemed to love it. As much as they liked using the bit from Amarillo during their chants. Francois Fortier added a third which closed out the scoring, and gave Vienna a win they ultimately deserved, but really struggled to get.

Jon Rowson’s white glove watch: The EBEL leaves me most disappointed in this regard. Every player had black gloves, with only white detailing. Marek Ivan would not be amused! 0/10!

So that’s my one game of EBEL done and dusted, and I must say that I could get into this league. It reminds me of an EIHL x1.5, and I might try and catch some more games, especially as they’re easily accessible stream wise. Means I have to pick a team, and IF Orli Znojmo keep a hold of the Slovakian hero that is Marek  Uram, then my allegiances will automatically go to the Czech side. Maybe Medvescak too.
I’m headed on a mid-morning train to Prague tomorrow for Lev vs Donbass, before a four day sabbatical from hockey and some Swiss sightseeing, so updates may dry up slightly over the coming days.

That’s all for now, I’ve desperately got to find somewhere serving schnitzel.

So I'm a VIP now?

Some times in life I really do think I am privileged. I headed on this trip expecting to live relatively unpleasantly, eating cheaply and getting the crap seats at the hockey. However, today was a day to savour. My work with HC Slovan Bratislava meant that I was always in contact with the main people there, and when I told them that I was going to be heading over for the game today against Dinamo Riga, I was hopeful of simply meeting the people who I write for, and the possibility of a free ticket.

A deserted Bratislava.
Imagine my face when I get given my ticket with entry to the SkyLounge on it. The comfy seats of the VIP area were a continent away from the uncomfortable plastic boards at Zilina yesterday evening. Not only was I sitting in awesome armchairs watching my second favourite team in the hockey world play, I was suitably watered and fed. I’ve been to some conferences for work this year where the food has been poncy crap. Schnitzels, sausages and rice. That is what I’m talking about for VIP food. Add in some Zlaty Bazant on tap? Well now you’re just spoiling me. The even better news is that I’m heading back on the 17th, so hopefully I can experience the same hospitality once again!

The game wasn’t one of the best KHL games I’ve seen, but it was incredibly enjoyable none the less. Dinamo Riga had brought along around eighty or ninety fans with them who were incredibly loud, and occasionally the 8,000 in the Slovnaft Arena stirred, sending a wall of noise onto the ice. It was an important game for Slovan, as it was the first time that they had Miroslav Satan and Jaroslav Janus in the lineup following the cock-up made in not registering them soon enough before the opening game against Donbass Donetsk, which they lost 4:2.

However, my positivity was rocked somewhat after just ten seconds, as Riga took the lead to the delight of the travelling faithful. A terrible neutral zone defensive play let Riga walk right in on a 2 on 1, which Miks Indrasis buried. Slovan were awful in the opening period, truly terrible. They looked like they had never met each other, and the people who I were with said that they looked a shade of the team that played against Donbass two days before.

Jon Rowson white glove watch: Boy was I in for a treat tonight. It’s part of Riga’s away uniform to have white gloves, although a little too much burgundy for my liking. The best ones were on the hands of Aleksandrs Nizvijs. Well played sir, a finely deserved 6 Marek Ivan’s out of 10.

The Slovnaft Arena blew me away.
The second period began in earnest, and finally Slovan looked like a team that could play at the NHL level. Things got better when they were given a 5 on 3 chance. Stajnoch passed down the line to behind the goal crease to Michel Miklik, who quickly found Mario Bliznak in the slot, and the former HC Sparta Praha forward buried to the delight of the home faithful. Still, Slovan looked shaky in defence despite Janus’ best efforts. I was reliably informed that Janus has a two year deal with Slovan now, but for all the different agreements I’ve heard with a number of different players, I’m taking that with a truckload of salt. Another shocking defensive lapse allowed Martins Karsums to break in alone whilst on the powerplay, and the Latvian national team made no mistake finding the top corner. Slovan were being outshot 2 to 1 at this stage in the game.

However, with the players at their disposal you can never count Slovan out of a game, and the pressure began to build. In a play very similar to the manner in which the first goal was scored, Miklik turned provider to scorer as he buried the chance after the dish from Michal Vondrka. Vondrka would then go on to have a golden chance on a 2 on 1 with Jon Sigalet in overtime, but he waited too long and Maris Jucers (yes, the awful goalie who played for Liepajas when the Blaze played them) managed to save it.

Sadly Dinamo Riga blew Slovan away...
The game would go to a penalty shootout, and Miklik and Vondrka both missed their efforts. Riga and their mediocre North Americans would go on to take two points from the game, although Slovan have finally got half the monkey off their back by picking up their opening point. For some of the players on their roster, Riga really did not look that good. Ivanans was anonymous, Mathieu Carle was solid yet unspectacular, the best thing Alexandre Giroux did all not was nearly get into a scrap with Martin Stajnoch, and Youtube hero Rob Schremp scored a lovely goal in the shootout but apart from that contributed little. Still, they did enough to win.

After three nights in Bratislava, it’s time to hit the rails, as tomorrow I head an hour down the line to Vienna, where I’ll be watching EBEL regular season action between the Vienna Capitals and the Hungarian side SAPA Fehervar.

That’s all for now.


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Remembering the fallen, and the tale of an EPL star.

So I’m starting this blog a little later than planned. I hoped to be able to right up the past couple of days last night, but I was far too tired after coming back from Zilina, and headed straight for bed. Also, I stupidly forgot that my netbook doesn’t have a memory card slot, so I won’t be able to add pictures to the blog, which sucks. Might go have a look round to see if I can get a usb card reader in the Tesco not too far from my hostel.

Bratislava isn’t the most welcoming of cities it has to be said. Standing in a bus shelter that reeks of piss, getting accosted by Roma trying to sell the Slovakian version of the Big Issue, and seeing a rat almost as big as a cat scurry past my feet while waiting for the bus from the train station to the hostel. Still, I wouldn’t change any of how the last couple of days have gone.

Outside the Trencin
ice rink
There’s not much to say about the 6th, as after a few mishaps such as waiting at the wrong bus stop at the airport, I finally made it to the hostel at around 23:30, where I made small talk with a couple of Austrians and had a first taste of Zlatý Bažant in a long while. It sure goes down easy. There’s not much to say about my hostel really, apart from the fact that the mixture of different people here is ridiculous. You have dreadlocked dudes who have been on the road for nearly a year, as well as middle aged couples sharing space.

After a rotten night’s sleep, in part due to the being right next to the window where the trams start at 5am, I managed to get out at around 7 and make it to Bratislava Hlavna Stanica, where I headed out east, going an hour down the mainline to the city of Trencin. The main reason of my visit was to head down to the ice rink, recently renamed after the cities adopted hero, Pavol Demitra, who perished in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy a year ago yesterday. It was a shame that when I got to the rink, at around 11am, there were very few people outside, but I lit a candle in front of an old game used stick by Demitra which acts as a shrine to his memory. Demitra wasn’t born in Trencin, but he played for the team many a time, and his birthplace was only 20km down the road in Dubnica nad Vahom.

I trudged back towards the centre of Trencin, a city I hadn’t visited before, and was relatively impressed with what I saw. There’s a castle carved into the cliffside which is very similar to the one at Lake Bled, and it’s the only thing which rivals the gaudy floodlights from the football teams stadium in terms of height. After walking up and down the main square and winding through the narrow cobblestone streets, I decided to walk up to the castle, which was short but extremely steep. I followed the tour around for a bit, but it was mainly weapons on show, although the view from the balcony at the top of the tower was marvellous. Hills on one side, new apartment blocks on another, and then you could see the river and the old town from the other two.

It was about 1pm by the time I headed down from the castle, after stopping to read in the sun for a brief period. I went down into town, desperately finding a place which would serve strapacky. In the end I made do with a chicken in a spicy sauce, which surprisingly the Czechs and Slovaks seem to do quite well. That and a beer (Pilsner-Urquell, even) for €3.20? Can’t say fairer than that.

Trencin: Understated yet underrated.
Back to the train station and onto another of the mainline trains, as I headed another hour up the line to the provincial city of Zilina, famous for… well, not a lot. The train ride was painfully slow, as the train seems to go at 20mph for a large part of it, although it did skirt the vast Vah River, which was shimmering in all its glory in the afternoon sun. It was the first time I’d stopped in Zilina, and if I’m honest, I don’t think I’ll be going back again, although I didn’t give it much of a chance. Via the main square I made it to the hockey arena, located at the back of the train station, and went into the sports bar to have a pre-game pivo. There was barely anyone around at around half four, and when I asked at the counter if there was a game on today, she just told me to go through the door. To my surprise, after paying £16 for a Blaze pre-season game, the club were just letting people in for free. I had all the seats in the world to choose from, although none of them were comfortable. Their method of putting seats in is just bolting boards of plastic onto concrete banks. No wonder people were bringing their own cushions to the game. Also, the rink was playing ‘Call me Maybe’ in the warm-up. Simply wrong on all levels.

EPL fans, WARNING. Be prepared for a large amount of praise directed at former Guildford Flames netminder, Miroslav Hala. The veteran shot-stopper was starting for Dukla Trencin last night, and I must say did mightily well. Far better than Marek Laco in the Zilina net that’s for sure. As I sat shivering in my seat, after being accustomed to the twenty-five degree temperatures outside, the game finally got underway, with barely a couple of hundred people in the stands. Although, that’s understandable considering they started the game at 5pm on a Friday. I was still amused by the brilliant Czechoslovak tradition of rock, paper, scissors to see who has to carry the puck bag back. Trencin had a good fourteen players competing this time round.

Trencin took a very competitive game 2:1
Zilina got the game off to a good start, but it only took 90 seconds for Trencin to take the lead, which was unfortunate as none of their fans had arrived yet! Ondrej Mikula wired one from the left circle which beat Laco all ends up. The Trencin fans, due to delayed trains, only showed up in the final minute of the first period, although they did bring a drum and people to sing. They were also carrying roses, which left me slightly bemused at first, but all made sense in the 38th minute, as the referee blew a stop to the game and the Dukla fans all threw their roses onto the ice. The players all stopped as well, and joined the fans in a minutes applause for the man better known as Pal’o. It truly was great seeing the Dukla and Zilina fans come together to sing and remember arguably the best Slovak player since the split in 1993.

Jon Rowson’s white glove watch: This is going to be a common theme of this blog.  Only the finest ice hockey players wear white gloves, with the finest being former Nottingham Panthers and Newcastle Vipers forward Marek Ivan. The winner from this game was an as yet unnamed #71 for Zilina. Unfortunately it wasn’t his night, as he was held off the scoresheet and took a slapshot to the nether regions. As a result, he can only receive 4 Marek Ivan’s out of 10.

The game came to life a bit in the third period, as Zilina finally beat Hala. The former Flames goalie had been in fine form, making a number of great desperation saves. He also tried the Dominik Hasek move when Miro Lazo had a breakaway. Hala got called for tripping, but it was a vital intervention. The goal came from Zilina captain Igor Rufus, who blasted one from the point. However, it wasn’t to be Zilina’s night, as Dukla would get the winner with three minutes to go. Peter Sisovsky did remarkably well as he burst with speed across the front of goal. He was hauled down, but managed to get a shot away while on his knees which trickled in. He turned to celebrate but forgot that momentum existed, and then faceplanted into the boards, leaving him looking very red faced as he skated back to the bench. There was a post-game shootout which was a bit of a non-event, but all in all it was a very enjoyable game. The Extraliga has gone down in quality over recent years, but it was clear that there is still some skill and some depth to the league.

Quick notes from the game:

  • When chanted, Dukla sounds an awful lot like kurva.
  • There are some strange, strange people at Slovakian hockey rinks.
  • Bringing a white fluffy dog in a handbag to a hockey game is simply wrong. Although it did start barking manically when the Dukla fans showed up.
  • Just whatever happened to Miro Lazo? I can remember the days when he was simply unplayable in a Slovan jersey. He was awful out there.
  • Miro Hala still has the same dirty white pads that he had when he was over here.

So with the first game in the books, it was back to the train station, with a stop off at Lidl to buy blackcurrant juice and biscuits before a 45 minute wait for the last train back to Bratislava. Two hours later, and I’m at the piss stenched bus stop just desperate for bed.
Thank goodness I was knackered, as it meant that I caught up from all the sleep I missed last night.

It’s a second free game in a row tonight, as I’m headed to the Slovnaft Arena for Slovan Bratislava vs Dinamo Riga. This time instead of sitting on plastic, I’ll be in the VIP area. Can’t complain can I?

That’s all for now, dovidenia.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Stoking the embers.

One side of my rail pass last summer
Another summer, another list of endless possibilities. This time last year I had just come back after a five week backpacking trip which took me from Rotterdam in the north west to Dubrovnik in the south east, and although work and finances have kept me from embarking on a trip of a similar scale, I simply couldn't go the whole summer without satisfying the traveller in me.

Summer is coming back to a close, and soon I'll be heading back up to Nottingham, but I wanted this summer to go out with a bang even though for the most part it has been a damp squib. At April I made the leap to head over for the World Championships in Ljubljana on a whim, and once again this trip has gone quickly from being something which I thought "Oh, that would be neat to do" to becoming concrete. I've got a flight out to Bratislava on the evening of the 6th of September, and a flight back from Zurich on the 21st. From there, the whole of central Europe is my oyster.

I've been trawling fixture lists, trying to get an idea of the sort of games I want to go to, and making sure that I'm not spending all of my time on the European rail network, and after a couple of hours looking at endless club websites, I may just have drawn up the perfect fixture list for myself. At the moment at least. The only place where I "may" go on a detour to is Košice in Slovakia, which would be for non-hockey purposes, but apart from that, hockey is my motivation. I'm hoping to find a couple of great walking routes in Austria or Switzerland to punctuate my time too.

So, my fixture list at present stands as:

8th September: HC Slovan Bratislava vs Dinamo Riga, KHL regular season

9th September: Vienna Capitals vs Sapa Fehérvár AV19, EBEL regular season
10th September: HC Lev Praha vs Donbass Donetsk, KHL regular season
14th September: HC Davos vs Kloten Flyers, Swiss NationalLiga A regular season
15th September: Kloten Flyers vs ZSC Lions, Swiss NationalLiga A regular season
16th September: EHC Red Bull München vs Düsseldorfer EG, DEL regular season
17th September: HC Slovan Bratislava vs SKA St. Petersburg, KHL regular season.
19th September: EHC Bülach vs "Basel" (No clue which one), Swiss third tier pre-season game
20th September: ZSC Lions vs SC Bern, Swiss NationalLiga A regular season

I'm slightly disappointed that I so far haven't been able to find any games from the German 2.Bundesliga or the Oberliga to fit into my schedule, but I realise I'm in the middle of DEB-Pokal season, which is being played on the 16th. I was also hoping to possibly nip down into Italy for a game or two, but then again, their fixtures have been extremely slow to be revealed, so maybe I'll get to drop down into the Italian Tyrol for a game or two.

That's only the provisional schedule, and I'm hopeful to fill out the gaps with even more hockey! I've also got some Austrians to meet on the Swiss border who I met out in Slovenia during the World Championships.

That's all for now, but I'm hoping to keep this updated, at least with every game that I attend during my trip.