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,

No comments:

Post a Comment