Many moons since I have been able to voice some opinions on the "new" NHL because very few people know about hockey here. Spain is not exactly a world hotbed of "hockey hielo" (remember, when you say "hockey" here in Europe you have to clarify-- "hockey hierba", or field hockey is very popular and Spain made it to the semi-finals of the recent world championship), but things are slowly percolating here.
I recently read in a local sports magazine that there is a local ice hockey club league with teams from Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona areas. Because of my schedule, I haven't yet gone to the local arena (right next to the huge F.C Barcelona football stadium) to see some crashing and banging, but I will.
But at least I have access to the NHL here in Barcelona as opposed to seven months in the desolate, savage, hockey wasteland that is Andalucia, or the south of Spain. While lovely and interesting with food, flamenco, and beautiful women, it is a hockey black hole that Gary Bettman should be sent to as punishment. But here, I have an occasional NHL game to watch at a local watering hole. Because of the 6 hour difference between Eastern Time and Spain, most hockey games come on TV between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. It would be easy to stay up in my own house watch the games on cable, but here cable is not easy to get. You usually have to sign up for a year and have a fixed phone line in your apartment or house. Getting a fixed line from the national telephone company, Telefonica is an epic exercise in futility. I know several friends that applied and still do not have a phone line after a year.
Therefore, one of the many Irish/English bars is the best option for NHL viewing in Barcelona. While there is an ice hockey league in the UK, the game is still largely unknown to a casual observer. Trying to get a reluctant bartender to switch the TV over from MTV or to watch hockey would normally require negotiations more delicate than those concerning the Israeli-Lebanese border. Luckily, I go to The Wooden Spoon, a friendly Irish bar in the old center of Barcelona (Placa Jaume I, near the Ajuntament, for those who have visited before). The Irish bar is run by two Frenchmen, and fortunately for me they hired a bartendress who grew up in Toronto and is a loyal Leafs fan. (I’ll take what I can get!)
On October 28, 2006 I saw my first "new" NHL hockey game live. It took a carefully orchestrated campaign to complete the plan. The only English local sports magazine, Sports Matters, prints the sports on TV listings two weeks in advance and what cable networks they are on. So I knew that the Leafs-Habs game was on TV and that The Spoon had the correct network. All the rest was appropriate persuasion and timing. I went into the bar about midnight and ordered a drink. The Saturday games in the various football (soccer) leagues were finishing up and I knew there wasn't much on except a US college football game. So after they changed the TV over to videos, I casually reminded the bartendress about the game. She was aghast, she had forgotten, and immediately told one of the French owners about the game. Paul agreed that we could watch it on the big screen, but with the sound turned down. I wanted to protest but he had a lot of other disinterested patrons to keep happy.
The Hockey Night in Canada broadcast was shown through NASN which has a contract on some British cable networks. So I watched the CBC feed just as your readers did, complete with (a mute) Ron MacLean and Don Cherry during the first period break. My first thought after not seeing Cherry for such a long time is that his spectacularly ugly clothes haven't aged a year.
As there were many French coming in for an after-hours drink, the word spread around quickly. I could tell there was few who followed hockey but there was at least one serious fan with them (with a Canadiens cap on). The rest of the French speaking crowd did get into the game singing songs about Quebec and generally rooting for the Habs, trying to get under the bartendress' skin. There were a few French hockey pretenders amongst the crowd, and which occasionally made the viewing from my barstool difficult. One very unshaven French pretty boy (complete wearing a wife-beater t-shirt with white scarf tied around his neck, despite the sweltering heat of the packed bar) repeatedly blocked my view while watching the game in front of me. I briefly considered a putting my left elbow into his mouth and seeing what happened next. However, I reasoned that he was probably one of Paul's friends and I simply moved my stool to a better viewing position.
As for the game, the "new" NHL is certainly fast and frenetic. I think a little too fast. I agree with some commentators that it looks too much like a NHL All-Star game at times, with too many "floaters" on the ice at times. I do like that there much more emphasis on skating rather than position. I think that teams have already begun their defenses to adjust to the faster speeds and play a more defensive style. From what I read, the Devils are winning games the same way they have been winning for ten years: tight defense and Marty Brodeur. I do have to say that Toronto was certainly the hungriest during the game, and dominated the Habs at times. Mats Sundin looks old and slow. I don't understand why Kovalev doesn't dominate on the ice; this style is tailor-made for him. Though not one of my favorite players, Darcy Tucker was flying and hitting all over the ice. But the Toronto defense is still shaky and the Habs simply hung around long enough to pop the tying goal in. The crowd was silent for a long while with the Toronto domination, but got into it again with the late goals.
Normally on the weekends, the bar closes at 2:30 a.m. Here in Spain, most everyone who wants to continue partying heads for the clubs which stay open until 7 a.m. With all the stoppages it was a long game (three hrs) and the bartender in charge was itching to leave. I tried to explain that there would be a shootout once the game got tied but he would have none of it. So I missed the dramatic, seven round shootout for the Leafs' win.
So, not a bad evening and more NHL to come. I do go to OLN's website and watch their summary of the night's scoring from time to time. Who knows? Maybe a fixed line is in my future. We'll see. That's all for now.
Love Mark Seitter