I’ve seen two international hockey games live in my lifetime, and both have happened within the last eight days. The games were very different affairs and I think I learned quite a bit in each of them.
The first was last Sunday, when Paul from Hockey Rhetoric asked me to go see USA/Finland. I was really excited about my first taste of international hockey and, with USA playing on home ice my expectations were pretty high.
Of course compared to the earlier Team Canada game the crowd was subdued and the atmosphere left many people wanting. I was certainly in that category (and stood next to Nick while we talked about just that) but I justified the differences in my mind.
I talked about those differences the next day when I saw Slovakia and Germany with Jon Campbell and we came to the same basic conclusions. I’ve mentioned it in a podcast before, but it’s obvious expectations are to blame for being underwhelmed. Add on the inevitable inferiority complex that comes from hosting a patently Canadian tournament so close to Canadian soil and it’s a recipe for a lot of people overreacting.
That second game I watched with Jon on Monday was also a subdued affair, but in the end it was a pretty awesome game. The teams matched up well, each goaltender put on a show and an overtime winner sent partisan members of the crowd home more than satisfied. As someone who attempts to make a living watching sporting events impartially, that was fun.
Experiencing those two games back to back taught me a lot about my perceptions when it comes to international hockey, but it also taught me a lot about how expectations alter results. A 3-2 overtime win on Sunday would please a partisan viewer just as it did on Monday night, but I had something else in mind for Team USA’s first game.
I wanted fervor and noise, that feeling you get walking into an electric building and knowing a good game is on tap. “Playoff atmosphere” is what most people call it, and in a tournament like this I expected it to be there from the get go. Perhaps I was misinformed, but I can appreciate that those two games taught me something.
Of course, tonight will absolutely be different. If I was excited about my first taste of international hockey last Sunday night, I’m thrilled to watch USA/Canada in my backyard tonight. I may have overestimated things last week, but I have a hard time believing the atmosphere will be a let down tonight.
This will undoubtedly be the last time I see a non-Sabres game in person for a while, so consider this the conclusion of the lesson plan. I’m not exactly sure what I’m walking in to tonight, but I’m extremely excited to find out.