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RINGETTE – Helsinki, Finland

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What else do you do on New Year’s Eve apart from heading to Helsinki, Finland for the Ringette World Championships? After accidentally stumbling into and claiming media accreditation for the Junior Ice Hockey World Championships which were taking place in the venue next door we eventually were directed to where we were supposed to be. Ringette can loosely be described as a non-contact form of ice hockey played predominantly by female participants. The stick used is an ice hockey stick without the blade and a rubber ring is used instead of puck. We got to see the titanic clash between Canada and the USA. Unfortunately for the gallant Americans, the sport was invented by the Canadians and they proved far too strong for their neighbours. The one way traffic probably didn’t show the sport in the best light unfortunately, and being possibly the coldest ice rink I have ever been in, probably prompted us to make an appropriate exit not too long after the game! #ringette #wrc2016 #teamusa #teamcanada #helsinki #finland #worldchampionship

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ICE HOCKEY – July 25th – Canada vs USA, Rod Laver Arena Melbourne AUS

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Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena may seem like a strange venue for a collosal ice hockey grudge match. And it was fairly safe to say that no-one in the crowd was expecting Gretzky, Federov or Lemieux to be turning out either. In fact a Kane, Quick or Boychuck would have sufficed; instead we got to experience the talents of Zenon Konopka, Emerson Etem, Tyler Bunz and Andrew Gordon (a late replacement for the world renown Kyle Quincey). When I heard the line-ups for the two teams those immortal lines from Major League were ringing through my ears – “Not bad for a couple of has-beens and never-will-bes” – which is essentially what these two teams were.

The teams were playing for the prestigious Douglas Webber Cup. Yes; I’ve never heard of it either, or him for that matter. Upon further research it seems like the promoter of the series has effectively bought himself a Trophy and no doubt loves seeing his name up in lights. But in saying that, he must be doing something right as 12,000 people packed into a sold out Rod Laver Arena at a minimum of $ 89 a ticket! A 6.30pm “start” actually turned into a 7.30pm puck drop and in the intervening hour, we had fireworks, some interesting interpretive ice dancing, and quite possibly one of the worst emcees I’ve ever seen – a self proclaimed “Ice Rinkmaster” – and then the National Anthems. Both anthems were sung by the same person, which is never a good sign. And so it proved when she sang the wrong words in BOTH anthems – to be honest I didn’t actually realise until someone a lot more knowledgeable than me, pointed it out! I still don’t know what she got wrong, but rest assured she did!

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Now The Douglas Webber Megabowl is a 5 game series, and it currently stood precariously at 2-1 to Canada. Now, me being a complete sports sceptic says that it would be a great result for everyone (except for the Canadians) if the US managed to tie up the series here to go up to Sydney with everything to play for in Game 5. My scepticism was heightened when just 2 minutes into the game the first fight erupted. It was more a “it’s going to happen anyway, let’s get it out of the way early” type of fight, and it’s what was needed to get the paying punters fired up – and didn’t they lap it up!!! It was as almost as it was scripted…….

But to put salt in my porridge, only a couple of minutes later Canada had capitalised on some very leaky US defensive work to go 2-0 up. As the game took shape, there was actually a pause during the play to introduce Nathan Walker to the crowd. Yes – during play…. Nathan is the first “Australian” to be drafted into the NHL. Considering he is actually Welsh by birth makes this an even bigger achievement. Nathan also decided to incite the crowd further by claiming that the Melbourne crowd was good, but nowhere near what they would experience in Sydney…. If there is anything that Melburnians hate, it’s being compared unfavourably to Sydneysiders…..

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The USA managed to grab a couple of goals back late in the first quarter to level it up. The second of which was very soft, straight from a face off which the Canadians decided to do their statue impressions en masse – including the keeper! So we went into the 1st break all even and as the ice was cleaned came the first proposal of the night. Note that I say first,  because it just so happened that another couple decided to do the same between the second and third period! Now I’m not quite sure what is so attractive about a marriage proposal at an ice hockey game but clearly there is something in the (frozen) water….. The other amazing sight at Rod Laver Arena were the queues for food and drink – unbelievably long. I’m not sure whether the food outlets were understaffed or under supplied, but it was a blight on the success of the event. People were complaining about waiting over 20 minutes just to get food!!!!!

One of the unique food attractions was the 2 foot hot dog. However, even billed as a meal for four (or should that really be two ice hockey fans?) I would not be shelling out the $ 35 asking price. When I saw one bloke walking back to his seat with two of these buggers, I did make a comment to the missus that for what he just spent on those hot dogs, we could have had a decent meal, in a decent restaurant!! And she added “with a bottle of wine too!” – and get some change!!! I will dig out a picture, but to be completely honest, apart from getting into the atmosphere of the event, it’s not the sort of food that you are ever going to rave about is it?

The second period yielded another 4 goals which mirrored the same pattern. Canada went ahead and the US hit back to level. It was 4-4 heading into the last period. The play was getting slicker, but the script was thickening….. As we broke for more dance cam action, extreme queueing and some rather interesting ice dancing on the rink – guess what? We got our SECOND marriage proposal. What is it with ice hockey and the urge to commit the next 5 or so years of your life to the same woman……(hard hat firmly secured; cue outrage, backlash and onslaught…)

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At this stage I was expecting it to end up as a tie and we were going to see a penalty shoot out. The crowd had been fantastic all night. It was predominantly Canadian supporters – not necessarily Canadians too – the Aussies love giving the Yanks a good serve no matter what the sport…… But it all went very quiet when the USA took the lead for the first time. One of the most experienced and well credentialed players made a schoolboy error. When a soft, long shot from one of the Americans was only parried (for parried, read basted, roasted, served up with vegetables and delivered hot on a plate) to a grateful American striker who simply smacked it back past him into the net. After that incident, the USA never looked back whereas the Canadians never got going again. The Seppos ran out easy 7-4 winners in the end and sent the Series into a 5th Game decider (as scripted!), although I wouldn’t have minded seeing a penalty shoot-out!!!

All in all as an event it was quite entertaining. There was never a dull moment, even after the game was done and dusted the players were meeting punters and signing autographs well after 90% of the crowd had left the arena. The ice hockey wasn’t quite of “International” standard, but it was a good taster to the professional side of the sport. It may (or may not – you decide!) have been scripted WWE style, but it was competitive and ticked all the boxes for what anyone would have expected – unless you were Canadian of course. No matter whether it be ice hockey, curling or hot dog eating there is nothing more important to the Canadian nation than beating their southern neighbours – at anything, especially ice hockey!!!!

DOUGLAS WEBBER CUP GAME 4

CANADA  4 – 7  USA

SERIES TIED AT 2-2

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