Two towns, two hosts and two experiences – Ice Hockey WC 2012 in Stockholm and Helsinki, part 1
15.05.2012 - 18.05.2012 20 °C
Two years ago we said “enough is enough” and subsequently ended an infamous period of our lives now known as the “ice hockey dark ages”. This depravation was caused by the all too known tendency of the British to only air sports that they are actually good at. With ice hockey clearly not being one of them, I was forced to survive on online updates and phone calls from my dad, who took it upon himself to give me the latest and greatest during annual world cups and winter Olympics. All this changed two years ago when we moved to Germany (yes, not much better when it comes to ice hockey but getting there) and happened to settle just few kilometres from the 2010 world cup venue. Here I should say that my return to ice hockey was rewarded by a gold medal for the Czech team the very same year (just saying...).
This was not the first time we visited Stockholm. A few years back we came here for a pre-Xmas break and absolutely loved it. So much so, that I don’t remember that everything cost five times more than it should. This time it was slightly different. Whilst we both love the charming set-up of Stockholm over multiple islands with each island having something lovely and unique to offer, the overall experience fell way short of our expectations, not only because at every available opportunity we felt like being ripped off.
Sweden, just like Czech, is one of the constant forces in the ice hockey world. And so when it was announced that they will jointly with Helsinki host this year’s World Cup, we rejoiced. It promised to be a great event with adrenaline-fuelled atmosphere, making every ordinary ice hockey fan glad they spent the extra Krona for this unforgettable experience. Unfortunately, the reality deviated from our expectations on a number of points, and as it transpired, we were not the only ones. Even the home fans hung their heads in despair at the sub-optimal game attendance and extortionate ticket prices. But let me get to it.
It would be unfair to say that Stockholm is not worth seeing. On the contrary. The position of the town on a multitude of differently sized islands offers plenty of places to explore and relax, with the old town of Gamla Stan being conveniently located at the centre of it all and easily accessible by well run public transport. This reminds me that if you plan to visit Stockholm, it pays to invest in a season-ticket available for anything from a day to a week and more. We got a 3 days pass and loved the convenience and its admitable value for money. If you are a first time visitor you should get a Stockholm Card, as in addition to free transport it also offers free entry to all the great museums and discounts on other attractions.
But first cracks in our enthusiasm started to appear shortly after our arrival, when we excitedly called a competition “who spots the first ice hockey fan”. Based on our past experiences, we expected body after body in ice hockey jerseys from Swedes and imported fans alike. Ahemp. I can now tell you that I won the competition. It took several hours for us to get to the hotel, have a little break, get dressed to our ice hockey gear, all ready for the evening game Czech versus Germany, and head back to town and not seeing a single fan. Eventually I disappointedly declared The Duke to be my “first ice hockey fan”, knowing that a wait for another one might take several hours longer, perhaps even until we hit the stadium.
At least the game went well. For the Czechs, that is with a firework of goals crowning Germany’s exit of the competition with an 8:1 win. The fabulous performance secured Czech a spot in the quarter-final against who else, than the Swedes.
The Duke and I had a plan for our week of ice hockey tourism. Having planned the travel logistics almost a year in advance, we knew that there was no way we can afford to see all the interesting games or even just the games where our teams are playing, assuming they get quite far. So we bought only one ticket and that was the abovementioned Czech versus Germany. Everything else we were going to play by the ear. With a little help from ticket touts, we could look forward to a couple of other games. Our fall-back position was to retreat to one of the Stockholm pubs and join the masses of other fans that were equally unable or unwilling to pay for the overpriced tickets.
Luckily for us, even the Swedish organisers soon realised that by ramping up the prices, they alienated the loyal fans and opened the doors for price-indifferent Russian oligarchs, and so it came to pass that a couple of weeks into the games, some of the tickets were reduced to a third of their original price. Unfortunately for us, those tickets were like a gold dust and so we couldn’t get any. Instead, we were left to try our luck with the multilingual touts roaming the arena grounds. This is also how we got a couple of reasonably priced tickets for the quarter-final game against the home team, as we left the magnificent, but with just over 2000 fans almost empty Globe Arena, after the Czech vs Gemany match.
The very same evening, Sweden was playing Latvia and so we decided to put our fall-back plan to the test and find a cosy bar with a screen to watch the game. This proved to be harder than we anticipated and so after an hour walking around various parts of Stockholm, we ended up in an Irish pub with a dedicated live sports floor but a distinct lack of any ice hockey fans, including the home ones. So much so that we had the entire pub level for ourselves! If someone told me this was possible in Sweden, during an Ice Hockey world cup, when they host it and when they are actually playing, I would think they’re having a laugh. Laugh indeed.
Our day long wait for the quarter-final gave us the opportunity to see a bit more of the town. Having had a few demanding weeks behind us, we made an effort not to do anything in particular and instead, spent the day walking around the various greenery-covered islands of Stockholm, enjoying the sunshine and tranquil surroundings.This is unlike us as normally we are quite the tourists, but it was nice to take it easy for a change and not rush to see all the things we might have missed last time. It was so relaxing that I even remembered to buy, write and post (!!!) a post-card home. Continuing in this mode until the evening, when we tired of walking we skilfully located a cinema and settled in for a showing of The Avengers in 3D. Bliss.
Thursday was our last full day in Stockholm and there was one place I wanted to visit before the game and that was the Fotografiska – a large photography gallery / museum in the harbour. This proved to be a good choice and apart from a nice dosage of culture, we even managed to stay in the shelter of the museum long enough for the threatening rain clouds to disperse and the sun to come out again.
Having walked in most places the previous day, after our shot of culture we passed on the sightseeing bus (otherwise it’s a Duke’s favourite) and opted for a boat-trip around the islands instead. This was an excellent choice as we not only got the chance to enjoy the sunshine, but also to learn about the various housing development efforts introduced by the Stockholm authorities, making Stockholm a truly desirable location to live. This pleasant trip lasted until the late hours of the afternoon and once we landed, it was time to start thinking about grabbing something to eat and heading to the stadium. Wondering around the picturesque streets of the old town, we had a lazy dinner in an excellent fish restaurant in Gamla Stan, before taking a metro to the stadium.
Now, if I said I didn’t want Czech to beat Sweden, I would be lying. But at the same time, I was not a little sorry that we were the ones who, if we wanted to get to Helsinki to the semi-finals, would have to eliminate the host country, which despite the organisational shortcomings did a good job taking up the challenge of organising the games. Still, as soon as we arrived at the stadium I was fully in my role of a loyal fan and having joined the other handful of Czech fans who had to remortgage their houses to see this game, we put up a great show of support for our team. So much so that we victoriously outshot the three crowns team four to three, with a spectacular last goal twenty-nine seconds before the end of the match, sending us on our way to Helsinki. Hosi, dekujem!
Even the Duke confessed that it is so much more fun supporting a good team and cheering together, as opposed to me frequently cheering when the Czechs score and he helplessly watching his German team struggling to keep the puck. Our festive mood was only little bit dampened by the town centre once again lacking any obvious ice hockey fans and so we decided to quietly celebrate this great victory in one of the many Irish pubs, whilst proudly hanging our Czech flag across a couple of chairs in the bar for anyone to see – if they didn’t spot the Czech T-shirts we were wearing or the flag stickers on our cheeks. If it wasn’t for a friendly American guy by the door who congratulated us on this great feat, we were in danger of starting to doubt if it was in fact middle of the night and we in some bizarre way just shared a vivid dream of attending an ice hockey game, whilst the rest of Stockholm was blissfully unaware of the event.
Next destination - Helsinki.