corders in the hague

It's like having the Corders round for dinner - except the kids don't smash stuff and Mike doesn't drink all your booze. And when you're bored you can get rid of us with a mouse click rather than having to start tidying up the house.

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Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hockey vs. hockey

Here's a blog I wrote for AP a couple of days ago.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia _ I play hockey (the field variety) and I sometimes _ when the canals where I live in Holland freeze over _ go skating. But do both at once? Forget it.
Before moving to Holland, I'd lived, in no particular order, in Australia, Hong Kong and Britain _ none of them exactly ice hockey powerhouses, so even though I'm a huge sports fan hockey has always been a bit of a mystery to me.
Sure, I've watched it on TV, but only during the face painting episode from the sixth series of "Seinfeld."
So taking in an Olympic hockey match was very high on my list of stuff to do here in Vancouver.
I finally got the chance today and went to watch the United States against Norway.
The first thing that struck me on taking my seat at Canada Hockey Place and reading the team sheet was how many American players are called Ryan. Is it obligatory?
Watching hockey when you're used to the game played on green artificial turf is tough. You never quite know where the puck is going next and which part of a player's body or equipment is going to be used to hit or control it. I saw hands, legs, boots. American goalie Ryan Miller even saved one shot with his head.
In my version of the game, you hit the ball with the front of your stick and a penalty gets called if the ball touches your foot or hand. Also, there are no boards _ the ball goes out of play all the time. At Canada Place, the puck only spiralled into the crowd three times that I counted (and in my genteel sport the fans would toss the ball back, not hold it up for the cameras and then pocket it).
As the game got underway, I was amazed by the agility and speed of not only the players _ but also the officials and the crew that dashes onto the rink to scrape up ice shavings every few minutes. Do they take that stuff up to the skyboxes to put in corporate margaritas?
The guys in the black and white striped shirts were unbelievably quick when they thought a fracas was about to break out. There was a disappointing (to me, at any rate) lack of fighting. I fully expected to see at least one bench-clearing brawl, but apart from a few minor skirmishes the whole game was as good natured as a sport invovling slamming one another into a plexiglass wall could be.
The match itself was over incredibly quickly. I'm used to American sports taking forever because of all the timeouts. There's none of that in hockey. I was amazed to see a couple of Norwegians skate off the ice after only 20 seconds of the first period. Surely they can't be tired yet, I thought. But I guess they were being swapped because there was a face off (which my version of hockey would call a bully off) and the coach wanted to bring on a couple more defenders.
In football (soccer), the sport I watch the most, substituted players amble off, touch the grass and cross themselves, blow a couple of kisses to their (or maybe somebody else's) wife in the stands and exchange high fives with the player replacing them. The whole process can take a couple of minutes.
Against all odds an American not called Ryan _ the stats sheet tells me it was Phil Kessel _ opened the scoring and the Americans added two more before their opponents unexpectedly hit back.
Maybe realizing that playing six against six on the ice wasn't working for them, the Norwegians had Tore Vikingstad sent off. The tactic paid off almost immediately as Marius Holtet broke away to score and make it 3-1. They nearly scored a second a few seconds later.
The Americans tried the tactic by having a player sin binned early in the third period, but they couldn't manage to turn their numerical disadvantage into a goal. Instead they scored a few more goals against the fading Norwegians with the right number of players on the ice. Final score: 6-1.
I headed happily out of the stadium still dizzy at the skill of the players and my ears ringing from hockey's signature sound _ the crash of fully-grown men against the boards.
My first live hockey match will defintely not be my last.


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