What’s the Slovak for Zamboni?

Repping Vancity in Bratislava.
Repping Vancity in Bratislava.

At first glance there are few comparisons you could make between Canada and Slovakia but when you get down to it, we aren’t all that different. We are both have a self deprecating sense of humour especially about our country’s weaker points but are fiercely patriotic when push comes to shove. We are both huge beer drinking nations. We have diverse and rich landscapes. And moreover, we are NUTS ABOUT HOCKEY!  When I started working here we had a work induction and how to approach the students on in the first lessons, my boss said to us, “Kate, you are from Canada. You talk to them about hockey……Everyone else, learn about hockey”. The fanaticism is on par with Canada, even the apathetic hockey supporter in my class has said, “I’m not that big of a fan, I only go once or twice a month”. Slovaks are passionate about thier players. In an introduction breaking the ice class, they asked me where I was from, I replied near Vancouver and the response was, “Oh the Canucks……There are no Slovaks on the Canucks”. Oooops.

Finally, yesterday I managed to organise my schedule enough that I could go to a game. Dragging a slightly apprehensive and kind of unwilling coworker along with me. Outside the Slovnaft Arena was buzzing. Families, crowds of friends and the inevitable drunk 20 something men were all standing around the outdoor bars calmly having a pregamer. I was waiting in line to purchase tickets when a man approached me, he said something in Slovak and tried pressing season tickets in my hand. I shook my head that I didn’t understand and he repeated in English, “You buy tickets? I have good tickets. You take. 50 euro for two.” I’m wary of scalpers at the best of times but especially wary when I don’t know the language and don’t know the rules. He persisted “Good seats. You don’t pay now. After game, I wait here. You pay then”. I said thanks but no thanks and he wandered away. When I was buying my tickets he approached the man behind me and the man waved him away. I kind of smiled at the guy in line as an “Okay. I did the right thing”  I ended up paying 14 euros for a lower bowl ticket behind the goal. In Vancouver the same thing is around $150-200.  With seats found, we ventured out on a beer mission. Remembering Canadian arena prices I had nearly cleaned out all of my savings earlier that day but soon realised that unlike Canadian arenas; food and drinks are affordably cheap in Slovakia. A huge popcorn was 2 euros, hot dogs were the same. Half a litre of beer was 1.80!! That’s $2.65 Canadian for a beer at a professional sporting event! I love this country. I’m happy when I can pay for something with a single coin and get change.

Back at the seats, they were announcing the players and amidst the triple consenented Slovak last names, one stood out, “Barker”. Cam Barker used to play for the Canucks a few seasons ago he fell into obscurity while still on the team and I don’t think anyone really noticed when he wasn’t there anymore. Although it was nice to have a ‘little piece of home’ on the ice, being the only recogniseable name he instantly became my scapegoat for the game. You may think I am being petty but Barker (a defense man

) was on the the ice for the four opposing goals

I won’t bore you with the ups and downs of the game but it was really nice to finally get back into an arena. The crowd was fantastic. There were 8000-odd people there and they really put some NHL fans to shame. Bratislavans (?) LOVE their team. Something that we don’t really have in the NHL is an official fan section, although I am sure that some teams have them on an unofficial level. They led the crowd with their official cheers and chants and ever booming kettle drum. There was need to mention to the crowd that this was a family event and please behave accordingly. The crowd of couples, families and the bloodthirsty grandma screaming with glee when Barker (again) tried to start a fight. I’m glad that the language of hockey is universal where I had no idea what the fans were saying I never really felt lost. Maybe I can use this as a teaching technique in a future class, ‘Teaching English Through Hockey’?

Bratislava lost in the dying seconds of overtime to the dismay of the crowd and this hockey fan but I couldn’t have been happier with my first taste of the KHL. It’s a little bit slower and smaller. Less fighting but no less entertaining. The only thing that was really missing was Stompin’ Tom.

Peace K xx

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