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.
J.

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