I went to my very first ice hockey game here in Graz. On a lightly snowy Friday night 1500+ showed up to watch the Graz 99ers play Red Bull Salzburg.
The field was less than half the size of a football field with tiny little goals either side. I swear they had the biggest guys on the team blocking the tiny nets. From high up in the stands, and with my short-sightedness, it was at times impossible to see the small black put as flew up and down the field, a tiny black blur of movement on the clean white ice.
For anyone who has attempted ice-skating only to emerge from the rink bruised, battered and disgraced in one’s own lack of balance (as I experience every time I put on skates); it was just unfair to see these athletes speeding around the rink like it was the most natural thing in the world. I eagerly awaited a fight on the ice the entire game, having been warned earlier of the brutality of the game, but apparently you have to be at the play offs to see one. Not knowing the slightest thing about ice hockey and expecting a quartered game like the AFL games I attend back home, I felt jibbed when the game finished after only 3 rounds.
Unlike the sea of blue and yellow or purple you see at an AFL game at Subiaco stadium, only a few people were wearing team colours. I think those in the crowd were more concerned about keeping warm than sporting the right colours. It was a nice change to be huddled up in beanies, gloves and big jackets sipping on glüwein at ‘the game’. It can get chilly at some evening games back home in Aus but this was REAL cold… and it was kind of fun!
The small stadium catered for 4000; with plebs, such as myself, packed like sardines on one side and a VIP section barely 10 rows high occupying the entire opposite side. However seats were probably not even needed as the entire crowd stood for the majority of the game. Small bands situated amongst the said ‘pleb stand’, rolled drums throughout the game creating a suspense that just made you want to join in the incomprehensible German chants. The energizing vibes made the whole standing thing a bit more tolerable. I occasionally joined in with the one phrase of support I know: ‘Ich bin schmaltz auf dich’ I am proud of you. No doubt I did so with terrible pronunciation…
Austria’s cultural sporting traditions really became apparent in the breaks. Americans may have their semi nude cheerleaders entertaining the crowds at half time and Australia holds mini games for adorable little 5 year olds in oversized jerseys. But in Austria, during advent at least, huge hairy beasts with grotesque faces skate onto the arena each carrying whips and sporting a pair of giant balls on their lower back: This is the Christmas Krampus. Austrian advent tradition involves the gruesome Krampus visiting naughty children scaring them into good behaviour after which St Nikolas rewards the good children with biscuits and chocolate coated fruits (See my earlier Krampus blog post) . They skated around the field fighting and whipping one another, pushing each other over until only one Krampus remained. They even started attacking the 99ers mascot a black panther on skates, it was all very entertaining.
At half time the crowd spilled out to the food stands to fill up on Viennese schnitzel burgers and pretzels, the Austrian equivalent to the AFL’s obligatory Aussie pie or sausage roll. But of course beer, and lots of it, is an important sporting tradition both countries share.
Graz 99ers won the match 2 to 1.