We received company tickets to attend the final match of the 'regular season' between the Alaska Aces and Stockton Thunder. The atmosphere inside the Sullivan Arena was out of this world. Honestly, Loftus on a warm day with the smell of boere rolls in the air doesn't even come close! It turns out the old adage is true - everything in America is bigger and better. Even though it was just a Minor League match, the crowd stood for the national anthem, before taking up the chant of "Drop the puck!"
Suddenly it was all action! Within the first minute, while we were still getting to grips with the speed and skill of the players on the ice, two players (for no apparent reason) took off their gloves and helmets and starting circling each other like boxers in a ring. The rest of the players cleared the field, the referees went to supervise, and the two started to fight! Apparently it's legal until one of the players falls down. This was achieved quite quickly, but the refs seemed to go down with him. Then it was all over and the two players were sent to the sin bin, only to be replaced from the bench. Bizarre!
The subbing system accounted for another unique and crazy learning curve for us. Players on the bench just pour over the side into the arena as the others skate off the rink. Sometimes all five players come off and a new team takes the field. It seemed to be superbly-choreographed, organized chaos.
We soon worked out that Ice Hockey is all about the entertainment. Matches run for three 20-minutes periods, with a 20-minute break between each period. But with all the stoppages for fighting, ad-breaks and time-outs, the game took 2 1/2 hours. An extremely biased warcry leader provided a running commentary over the loudspeaker throughout the game. There were raffles, pot luck draws, a 'chuck the puck' competition, galloping mascots and more! Even the restarts are action-packed, and the scene after a goal is scored is simply sensational.
In the end, the Aces won 4-1 to finish second on the log and qualify for play-offs. What a great game!
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