Sports: Ice Hockey 2

The Continuing Chronicles of Mark and Ice Hockey

I went to see the Houston Aeros play the Binghampton Senators at the AHL; for those who don't know, the AHL is the lower league in professional Hockey in North America, with 30 teams and the same league structure. Indeed, the AHL teams are all affilated with a NHL team. The Aeros are linked to the Minnesota Wild and the Senators are linked to the Ottawa Senators. The differences between the NHL and the AHL kind of end there, as the rules and set up are pretty much the same - think Premier League to the Championship.

It also turns out that there are shit loads of other hockey leagues in North American and they all offer something for anyone. I don't know why it hadn't dawned on me before, but it has now. It's pretty cool.

The sport was, as always, brilliant. We also got these cool thunder stic- wait!


They are pretty cool. You blow them up and then trash them against each other to make noise and piss off anyone sitting next to you. This is what they look like:

They make a racket. We were also sitting very close to action, which is quite different to the seats we had in the Shark Tank in San Jose - literally, the last row in the stadium, at the back. The proximity to the ice made for some hair raising moments when you momentarily forget that there is glass stopping the puck from ripping your face and beard off, and you flinch when it smacks upon it.

There was something wrong with the game though. No, it wasn't the fact that the Aeros lost (the first time I have been to a Hockey match and the team I am supporting have lost, natch) because, seeing the Texans and Dynamo fail, I wasn't expecting the Aeros to win. No, it was the lack of respect the fans had.

When the officials skated onto the ice there was suddenly booing - from all corners of the arena. They hadn't even made a decision yet! And, as the game went on, a few strange decisions that went against the Aeros meant that this inherent booing just got louder! And, from the fans sitting around us, it was clear that most of the teams' fans expect some miraculous hockey to be played by guys who, whilst playing some great hockey and what really was a pretty amazing game, can't be expected play better than the NHL teams. That's like expecting an SPL team to play Barcelona style football.

At any rate, the game was fun, and I ate a brilliant steak. So all in all it was a very good night.

Sports: Soccer

The last time I spoke of the American Sports was away in the dark distant past of November 2010 with Baseball, Hockey and American Football. Since then, however, I have not only played American Football (albeit, the Flag version) but I have also been to see my first and second NBA Basketball games. It might be telling that I have yet to blog these escapades because, really, the sport dulls me to my core. However, for posterity, they will be blogged at some point, if not to vent and rant, but also to pinpoint the problems that I have with that particular branch of sport.

Instead we will delve into the prickly topic of the advent of Soccer in the United States of America and Canada. You see, soccer's had a rough time of it in the North American state with the countries being few in the entire world not to have the sport as their national pastime. Indeed, so reluctant they are of soccer and it's world-busting appeal, they have four major sports to take up instead, as well as a marked disdain for the actual use of the feet in a sport. I have little desire to follow soccer in it's weekly enthralling matches due to lack of entrenched enthusiasm whilst growing up so I decided that the visit to the Houston Dynamo would be a limited experience mostly there to just tick it off the list.

Sport: Soccer - MLS
Team: Houston Dynamo
Stadium: Robertson Stadium
Cost: $20 (which included free beer and food at the tailgate before the game)
Opponents: Colorado Rapids (who are the current MLS Cup Champions)

The game itself was atrocious. I mean, beyond purely funny and actually moving into digracfully bad territory. In a strange way, it was worse than I had expected, joking to Connie that her true first game would've have been a Pollok Juniors game at Newlandsfield, but the quality of these young men playing in that league were barely under that on display in a televised professional league that is supposed to compete with the other sports in the nation. It is woefully back ward, missing skill, power, venom, and any sort of drive. The lack of force by most of the players in their style was confusingly put against their utter lack of patience when playing - rarely was there ever a tackle needed due to the multitude of missed passes, dreadful touches and even more embarassingly, random ricochets of heads, legs and chests. Do you know what it looked like?

My school playground.

In saying that, it was fun, a good night out, and the set up was typically American, with a fly-by of a US Coastguard Helicopter, confetti explosion at the only Dynamo goal, and the chanting and dancing of the multitudes of Latino supporters that the game has in this country. All in all, a very enjoyable game and night was had even though it was mildly disappointing. The MLS has a long way to be worthwhile investing in it, but there's the catch 22 - to be able to have a product worth selling they need investors, and David Beckham and others might be the first generation, but it will start to build up.

Soccer here gets a D rating. However, I think I might be a Dynamo fan after all.

Own Goal

I rarely talk actual sport on this blog because I am partial to not paying attention to exactly what is happening all the time, meaning I miss out on some big calls and big events very frequently. As for being entrenched in the North American sports for the last 5 months I have also been keeping a watch on the strange beast that is association football, from here on called soccer*. The biggest news in recent days has been my pleasant shock and happiness at seeing a female linesman take charge of the Liverpool game at the weekend. My joy was that maybe, someday, soccer will be forward thinking.

For all that is said of soccer, it is the world’s sport. Apart from the strange American fixation with pig skins and plastic discs on ice and the Indian and Pakistani love of that bore fest Cricket, soccer is truly a global sport, and this causes problems. The main problem is that even though in sport we pretend that the world agrees with each other, it doesn’t. For example, Iran were banned from soccer for two years because they refused to play against Israel, a country that they don’t officially recognise. This is a prime example of something being silly but impossible to ignore.

Now we have the problem of Qatar and the 2022 World Cup. FIFA talk of soccer breaking boundaries and creating equality, but instead FIFA have endorsed poor women’s rights and most inherently problematic, homosexual persecution. All you have to do is wonder if there are any gay soccer players. The answer is of course there are, and statistically, there should be two on the field on each team at the very least. The problem with the sport is the fans, or the vast majority of the hardcore fans, the ones that make the noise, are not tolerant of anything different so due to this environment, homosexual players have to hide their feelings and true identity. Of course, there might be no homosexual soccer players, but come on, who believes that?

Would it make a difference if there were gay players? Not to me, but I am the learned minority, the youth. This will change, as it has done in the rest of society, but it won’t happen until the people in charge take it as seriously as it should be. The inclusion of a female official that, under pressure, got a call perfectly right, makes me happy but I still shook my head when I heard that two of the most prominent soccer pundits made sexist remarks about her not knowing the offside rule – this is the problem and it will take a long time for it to be bred out.

*Soccer is not only the most used term for it in English, it is actually the correct name for it. Early on in the sports life the distinction had to be made between the two types of football – Rugby and Association. Rugby football became rugby and Association football became “Association” which was shortened, by an Englishmen, to Assoc, and then Soccer. It was only in the 1970s that the term was appropriated by the British press to mean solely the American Soccer teams of the laughable league out there, and since then has been looked down upon by anyone from Britain.

Also good to read:

Sports: Football Part 1 - The NFL

For some context for Football Part 1 and 2, read these:
Football / Football (Part 1)
Football / Football 2: Superbowl XLIII
Football / Football 3: Mark Learns to Speak American

I like American Football. I have tried, and then succeeded, in finding my voice within the footballing world of the United States. So, one of the greatest things that I am able to whilst here for a year is go and see some football matches and get to experience the real feeling of an American football game. In the flesh. In their home turf. I know the rules to an extent so it was going to be less of an educational experience, but more an actual fan experience - going to see my first American sport that didn't recquire me to sit with Wikipedia or asking Connie every second line what was happening meant I could focus on the game more.

Sport: American Football - NFL
Team: Houston Texans
Stadium: Reliant Stadium
Cost: $50
Opponents: San Diego Chargers

The first thing I realised was that no one really cares about the kick off. The reason for this is that very little happens in the first 2-5 minutes of the game, because the game clock hasn't even really started. Once the first team kick it in and the returning team stops, there's a time out for adverts and everyone start talking. I missed the kick off and actually missed the first touchdown because I was buying beer.

This is the second thing I noticed about the football experience at Reliant Stadium - the drinking of beer, eating of food and chatting to friends is something that comes naturally to the sport because of the stop start nature - when comparing it to the constant play of Soccer* and Rugby* I find it strange not sitting rapt watching every second of play. In fact, being able to step out for a beer or pizza during play, or having space to turn and chat to the person you are with, was something that I really enjoyed. And, not to mention that the beer and pizza was good, too.

The experience was very good and I got very drunk. The Texans lost the game and started their spiral into a losing season. Neither of my teams (the Cardinals being the other team) will make the post season this year unless... well, no, they won't. I now have two jerseys for two teams that are rubbish. But that's not the point. The point is that I really enjoyed watching the sport and seeing the fans and the stadium and, happily, once again, managed to share the experience with Connie.

I give NFL an B rating.

Sports: Ice Hockey

After the slightly dismal showing that Baseball afforded me, Hockey seemed to be a good trip up an alley that I might enjoy. The reasons were obvious:

- Close relative of Football (Soccer) in terms of design.
- My girlfriend loves it more than me, what with her being Canadian
- I am a proficient ice skater.
- I loved playing NHL '94 on the MegaDrive back in the day. So, this weekend, a bunch of us (Connie included) tripped up Interstate 45 to Dallas to see the Dallas Stars.

A good thing to point out here is that Houston doesn't have a Pro hockey team. The NHL doesn't come that easily to the Texans being primarily a winter sport and one doesn't easily experience winter as Hockey knows it here in Texas often, if at all. Dallas are my closest team. HOWEVER, as part of the American tradition, I am also supporting a team from each sport and my team is not the Dallas Stars - nope, I am a Boston Bruins fan by default, inherited from my Canadian girlfriend, whom I have already mentioned.

Sport: Ice Hockey NHL
Team: Dallas Stars
Stadium: American Airlines Center
Cost: $6 (note: normal tickets are around $30, we got a special deal where they were $free apart from the fees and taxes therein).
Opponents: Buffalo Sabres

Ice Hockey is simply fantastic. The speed, skill, and drama that is allowed to take place on the ice is simply breathtaking and, to be honest, is more fun to actually watch in the arena than on TV. The reason for this, and probably the reason why many wouldn't like Hockey at all, is that on the TV you get no appreciation for the nonstop nature of the game. The rolling subs and the offside rules are easiuly missed and not understood - but more importantly, you can actually SEE the puck flying around the arena.

Once the rules have been settled into by myself and the rest of the watching friends (four of the five there were NHL virgins) we all rapidly realised that the game is as much about scoring the goals and getting the plays as it is delivering the hits on the players. Yes, there were fights, and some absoultey spectacular hits on players caused gloves and sticks to go flying all over the rink. It really was a fun night and, I think, it will the first of many NHL games I go to. I am looking forward to my first ever Bruins game already.

I give Ice Hockey a A rating.

Coming up:
NFL - San Diego Chargers at Houston Texans
NCAAf - Nebraska at Texas A&M

Sports: Baseball

A goal I have set myself for the year living in the American States is simply to go to a single sports game of each of the big four sports out here - Baseball, Hockey, Football and Basketball. I'll forgo the need to go and see their Soccer team just yet, hopefully making that trip with some friends and a few beers so we can heartily laugh at the subpar football masquerading as professional sports.

My first sport that I have attended was the Houston Astros.

Sport: Baseball MLB
Team: Houston Astros
Stadium: Minute Maid Park
Cost: $25
Opponents: Los Angeles Dodgers

My level of experience with baseball is limited to say the least. I played rounders and softball in my youth only as a back up to when the majority of my friends didn't want to play football. The shocking surprise of Baseball is how much like cricket it actually is and, despite much lampooning by the Americans, they don't even see this likeness. Innings, pitchers, a bat, runs... it was as boring as cricket is to my untrained Scottish eyes.

As much as I wanted to enjoy it, the whole game was a bit boring, but the day was amazing fun - drinking, dancing, karaoke and a trip to a brewery can't and shouldn't be included in the scoring and review here, but I don't care.

Baseball gets a C rating. Poor to watch, slow to unfold, and not enough contact for me to even consider it above pool or snooker. Baseball is not for me. In saying that, the food at the "juice box" was excellent.