GLADIATORS OF THE ICE ARE WINNING THE CITY OVER TO A GREAT NEW SPORT !
Ice hockey has hit Peterborough in a big way ! It is a sport which has captured the imagination of the ever-increasing numbers of spectators who turn up at the East of England Ice Rink every Sunday evening. There could hardly be a more diverse comparison than watching warrior-like men bumping and barging one another with frightening ferocity in one of the most non-stop sports there is after enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon walking the dog or watching the telly.
Everyone, front the smallest toddler to the most level headed parent, becomes totally engrossed in the action, screaming and cheering like they used to do at football matches. When I paid a visit one recent Sunday, over 600 people turned up to see Peterborough Pirates out-hit, out-skate, out-score and totally over-run their Deeside opponents. The 20-7 result was no more than the crowd either expected or deserved. It is not at all hard to see why the sport has taken off in the space of a few months in Peterborough. Spectators are guaranteed 60 minutes of solid action because the clock only moves when the puck (that's the ball) is actually in play.
At first I could see no logic at all in the sport and it seemed that the only thing either side seemed interested in was pinning their opponents to the boards and upending them. Not so. Players are only allowed to barge their opponents when they are in possession of the puck - although at times that rule did seem about as flexible as an elastic band. Pirates had 17 players on the bench - the idea being that ice hockey is extremely tiring so quick team changes ensures the game remains at a constantly pulsating pace. Players are padded like Roman gladiators and incredibly, despite all the bumping and barging, they seemed to come off the ice more or less in one piece. The sport is not all about brute force though.
To the uninitiated - like myself - it is difficult enough simply to stand up on the ice, never mind skate like demons, weaving in and out with a stick controlling a tiny object and at the same time trying to look where you are going. John Lawless, a Canadian import, is to Pirates what Kevin Keegan is to Newcastle United - a cut above, or that was the impression I got watching the Deeside Dragons National League Division Two match. The goal is so small and the keeper so big it seems almost impossible to believe there can be a gap left to penetrate - Lawless didn't have much trouble, he repeated that feat seven times ! He twisted and turned with the puck so close to his stick, it could have been stuck on with glue.
Then there is the other Canadian - Rob Carnegie. He is the big number three with the bullet-shot. He scored one goal against the Dragons from way out. Everyone - including the Deeside goalkeeper - knew what he was going to do when he started steadying himself for a strike, but it made little difference to the end result. The puck simply tore into the back of the net !
The players are entertainers as well as talented individuals. When they score a goal there is a good minute's celebration and each player has a certain habit when scoring. John Lawless turns his stick round and guns down the opposition in the box. Like any sport, it can become violent but the 'sin-bin' awaits any perpetrators of such acts. They are taken out of the action for various lengths of time according to the infringement. It is instant punishment and certainly saves on administration.
Crowds at the ice rink are building up week by week as word spreads about the entertainment. Rink manager Paul French wants to reach the 1,000 mark and feels it is a real possibility. "I am looking forward to the day we can put tiered seating up one end of the rink because that will be the day when we will be fulfilling the potential," he said. They are not hollow hopes but distinct possibilities, and while Pirates keep winning in the National League and serving up the entertainment they did against Deeside Dragons the numbers will continue to rise.