Part three of four articles by Panthers fan David Steadman. In this edition David asks what is important about watching Panthers and ice hockey in general.
Moving on from the players, I’ve been thinking about what is actually important about the Panthers, Ice Hockey and Saturday (Sun, Wed, Tue, Fri) nights. Is it winning, enjoying yourself, the whole experience, catching an errant puck, getting a bunch of flowers (seriously?), being acknowledged by the ref that you are shouting abuse at (just me then), having a few beers, catching up with mates, reminiscing, winning the league or cup, getting into Europe. The answer has to be all of the above, yes different bits for different people but there is an enjoyment level for everyone but we don’t all want the same thing. Some happy clappers (I don’t mean that in a derogatory way) will be happy no matter what the result, some moaners will always moan not matter how we’ve played win or lose. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. If I’ve seen a great game then I’m happy, if we’ve been cheated then not so much, but that is all subjective. I read the forums and @NPhockeylive (great service by the way) and sometimes I think I’ve been at a different game but is that important? Everyone sees it differently, it went in, it didn’t, it hit the post, it hit the bar, it went straight through the net. It’s all instant, we don’t have the benefit of replays (it’s getting there).
Let’s pick one at a time and I’ll start with the perceived biggest prize, the league title. In Britain we are geared to having the league as the most prized possession but in North America this is slightly different and alien to them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making any excuses for them not knowing what’s important in our game, but and it’s a big but, having watched for 35 years it has become ingrained in me that the last game (the play-off final) is by far the most important game. Back in the day when we were getting hammered by Streatham and Durham or demolishing a university side, with people having to hang out of the hole in the wall to put a 2 in front of the scoreboard (I use that term very loosely), any league (if you could call them that) was not important It was just about winning games and beating the living daylights out of the opposition. As the structure of the game over here started to take shape then, to me, the league didn’t seem that important, it was about getting into the play-offs and actually making it to Wembley. If your team won then that was ALL that mattered, that was all that was remembered, nobody cared who finished top of the league.
As a comparison, and I only use football because that is the biggest sport in Britain and most people can relate to it, with all of the money involved with football now, what is important is finishing in the top 4 or 6 or 8 or 12 (you get the idea) to get into Europe and get more money. In Ice Hockey, it is generally going to cost money for a team to enter Europe (just my opinion) with the extra travel, higher wages and logistics etc. Anyway, several years back, the FA cup was actually important and teams cared about winning it. It then went into decline because the big boys didn’t give a chuff and played the juniors to get them a game. Now it’s come back into fashion a little, maybe because the big boys have been shamed into making an effort, but the league has always remained at the top of the tree. I know that the British mindset is that the league is the most important but we have taken on a North American game and mindset and that has been transferred down through one of the oldest teams for many years. The league wasn’t that important in the structure of Ice Hockey. Newer teams like Sheffield and Belfast don’t seem to have that culture or history that keeps them tied back, the Panthers do. I would be delighted to win the league a couple of years in a row, or 2 or 3 times over a ten year period. Would I want to win every year, no I wouldn’t. You may find that strange but having watched us lose virtually every game (as a group singing, we’re sh*t and we know we are, during an away game in Hull didn’t actually seem embarrassing at the time) during a season as well as rolling over smaller teams by at least 10 goals, I would much rather watch a competitive game. Yes, I want us to win but as long as the players have tried, I can’t ask any more. it may have been a bounce, a call or the other team may have just been better, it doesn’t really matter. What matters (to me) is the experience and what I enjoy and that goes for everyone else too, it’s about what they enjoy.
Being as I dragged the play-offs into the mix above, I’ll continue with a little bit of that. Is it just me or is that fact that the final is in Nottingham boring? It’s not an experience, it’s just another game or two that you happen to be sitting somewhere else in the Arena. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be but I’d much rather be back at Wembley for the final, it was an event, an experience even if your team wasn’t there. You had to make the effort, you get a weekend away. I’d actually like the format to change too so we could have more of a series type scenario to the end of season. Whether that would help the league title situation or not I don’t know but I’d prefer a 12 team league split into 3 conferences of 4 (possible if London gets going when Milton Keynes join). Play your own conference 3 times home and away, cross conference 2 times home and away, top 2 from each progress and 2 highest losers in to the play-offs with a 4 game quarter-final series and a mini game at the end to decide if tied. I’ve worked out that the maximum or minimum number of games a team would play would not be vastly different to last season if you take into account play-offs and challenge cup games (doubling up as necessary for fixtures clashes and ice time etc.). Just a thought!
Europe, good, bad or indifferent? I think it’s good, it raises the profile of the country, the league and the teams in the league. Did anyone ever expect the likes of Cam Janssen to be playing over here and actually caring about it rather than just a pay check? Did anyone expect us to beat Hamburg or even get close for that matter? Am I bothered if we are playing Europe? Not really. Is it good for the League and team? Yes probably. Does it cost too much money? I don’t know but that’s why I don’t travel to the away games. League title, CHL; Play-off winners Continental cup is about right and I think that holds more weight with the extended playoff series above, but as I keep saying all just my opinion.