I caught my first EIHL game last night in Cardiff. Now it was a preseason matchup with a Slovak Extraliga team, but I am still counting it as a EIHL game. I am hoping to attend a few more during my tenure in the UK, however, eight months ago I never dreamed I would be here, so I am not going to promise anything.
Ice Arena Wales is a very nice, modern building (see below) and a great rink. Reminded me of going to see Plymouth Whalers (may they RIP) games; small arena, but good crowd and atmosphere. It wasn’t full but the group that was there was into it for sure. One thing I kept reminding myself was they’re attempting to carve out a niche in a place where football/soccer and rugby have dominated for over a century. No easy task, but from the looks of it, they’re doing a fine job so far.
You walk in at ice-level and the stands go up. One nice thing was being able to walk around the rink at ice-level and at the top, so everyone was not crammed into one narrow walkway. Also, there were bathrooms at the top and bottom, once again not funnelling everyone into one place. Around the top there were four bars at each corner, with one larger spot with tables and chairs, perfect for between periods. Concession prices weren’t bad, but I am still not used to being ripped off at sporting events like in North America.
I dropped into the team store to check out the merchandise and saw a lot of NHL hats. The Red Wings and Maple Leafs had a whole rack of hats to themselves, and then there were a few other teams sprinkled in. The team had a lot of good local support and the shop was packed with people look for new jerseys and apparel. The NHL was well-represented in the stands too.
I ran into a guy wearing a Pavel Datsyuk, Stadium Series jersey, and it wasn’t the only NHL jersey represented. I saw a few Leafs jerseys, a Domi one even. The Lightning, Wild, Habs (including a Koivu), Kings, Stars, and Jets were all represented. However, the best one was a Henrik Sedin home jersey I spotted on the other side of the rink. I attempted to get over there and get a picture after the game, but by the time I got over there he was gone. Still great to see so far from Rogers Arena though.
The game itself was back and forth. Banska Bystrica came in with one of my favorite NHL Free Agent pickups in Ty Wishart, and fellow Michigander and former Whaler Jason Bacashihua, but other than that not any recognizable names. Cardiff sported a roster with quite a few Canadians, including player/coach, and Vancouver-native, Andrew Lord.
The first period was all Cardiff, as they went up 1-0 on a deflected shot. They were the more physical team, but the Slovakian club did not shy away from standing up for themselves. However, in my opinion, the second period was almost all Banska, as they dominated the play. Cardiff held strong, however, and both teams were scoreless in that frame, and the game remained 1-0 Devils.
The third period both teams came out fairly evenly and pushed the play. Three goals were scored in the final 13 minutes as the teams went back and forth. Banska scored to tie it, with Saskatchewan-born Layne Ulmer netting his first of two not long after. However, four minutes later Banska looked to steal a win away with another tying goal. Not to be reserved to a tie on home ice, Cardiff put the pressure on and played like a team possessed. With two seconds remaining, Ulmer’s second goal beat the goalie, and the arena erupted. Quite the finish indeed.
One thing I could not get used to was the constant advertising. While I did not mind the advertising on the jerseys as much as I thought I would (still vehemently do not want them for the NHL), one thing I just could not get used to. Each player was sponsored individually. When they did intro’s it was “Bob’s Auto Repair sponsored John Smith,” which ok, bit odd. However, it kept going for penalties and goals, which I thought took a bit away from the experience. I fully understand how hard it must be to get advertisers and fans, for reasons mentioned previously, but it was an odd thing to hear as you’re cheering a goal.
I would definitely say it was a good time overall. While it was not a sell-out, it was a good turnout for a preseason match. Concessions aren’t the only aspect about sporting events that are cheaper over here as ticket prices are always a flash point for supporters. Getting the crowd they did for a preseason game was good, and I can’t wait to come back for a regular season one. Cardiff is a great city as well. It’s large enough to have everything, but not overwhelmingly so like London. The people are great, it’s easy to get around, and they love their sports.