Saturday, December 02, 2006

England Hockey Journal: Moose and Bison, Part II

Continued from Part I
Basingstoke Bison: not a household name to most Brits, including the Oxford graduate in our midst (he had never heard of the Elite Hockey League but was excited to witness his first hockey fixture), who are engrossed in cricket and football (a.k.a. soccer).

The Bison play in the Basingstoke Arena (a.k.a. Planet Ice Arena), which the Hanson brothers visited in early November, an anchor in the Leisure Park enterprise. A bowling complex, an enclosed water slide, an Internet cafĂ©, and Little Frankie’s restaurant surround the arena in this family-oriented activity hub.

Entering Planet Ice, we—the AMHL photographer, her friend (an event planner extraordinaire) who lives in London with her boyfriend, the boyfriend (the Oxford grad I mentioned), and I were greeted with all the staples exported from the other side of the Atlantic. Rock music blared from the PA system as the fans, decked out in professional jerseys, stood behind the Plexiglas to watch their teams warm up.

Lingering Zamboni fumes mingled with the smell of hot dogs as we walked to our Section D seats, which would cost $101.50 each had we been in the TD Banknorth Garden to watch the Bruins, and the air was electric.

“Are there any noisy Bison fans!” the Bison’s announcer, the quasi-equivalent to the Colorado Rockies’ Krazy George, stoked the crowd of about 1,100 Bison fans—a full house.

Boisterous blokes and birds (translation according to our American-British couple: guys and gals) of all ages—the father and son behind us, the grandmothers and twentysomethings to our right—greeted the home team, the guys wearing greenish gold and red (akin to the Minnesota Wild colors) with the buffalo logo (think Buffalo Sabres without the pink).

Daren Bavistar, listed as the Match Night DJ in the Stampede, “the official Matchday Programme of the Basingstoke Bison,” stood in his box above the sin bin. Sporting a furry, horned water buffalo headdress, the Grand Puba explained the rules for fan behavior, “This is a family event. No foul language…or sitting there with your arms folded like a bookend.”

Queen’s “We Will Rock You” pumped up the hometown fans, but the squad visiting from Cardiff—perhaps bolstered by the one hundred fans who had traveled from Wales to sing the Welsh national anthem (a cappella, no less) before the game, took the early lead.

When Bison forward Brad “the Shanker” Cruikshank, who was born in British Columbia, tied the game at one with a first period power play goal, the Bison brethren didn’t need the Grand Puba to whip them into a frenzy.

Between periods, the score tied at one, Bavistar took to hawking hockey merchandise by invoking the rivalry with the Nottingham Panthers, “Even a Nottingham fan would like it. That’s how good this stuff is.” Good to know for the second intermission.

Late in the second period, with the game tied at two, the Shanker slashed a Devil and then tussled with Tyson Teplitsky (the former University of New Hampshire Wildcat). The Bison killed the penalty, so the score remained 2–2 after two periods.

For three pounds (about six bucks) I purchased an opportunity for our organic chemist friend to make a hockey name for himself. I handed him a puck—not the soft foam puck AHL fans throw toward center ice to win a prize but a vulcanized rubber puck with the number 11 painted on it with what appeared to be nail polish. He chucked the puck like he had been doing it his whole life. Not quite close enough to center ice, though.

The Bison netted two quick goals in the third to lead, 4–2. Bison backstop Curtis Cruickshank (no relation to Brad; the last names are spelled differently), whom the Washington Capitals had selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NHL draft, surrendered a late goal. But, he withstood the Devils’ six-man attack in the last minute to earn the win.

After the final buzzer, tempers flared. Behind Cruickshank, opponents pushed and shoved each other (a Slap Shot moment in the making, I expected the Hanson Brothers to return any second). Cruickshank took offense at some remark or poke at a teammate and then sped from the crease to jump the offending Devil.

The referees eventually dispersed the combatants and then, as if these professional players had taken a page out of the AMHL protocol manual, they lined up the length of the ice to shake hands with their opponents.

I doubt they gathered for donuts after the game, though. Not a single Dunkin’ Donuts or Tim Hortons in the entire United Kingdom. Blimey.
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