You just know what they are about to say. The conversation goes "What are you up to this weekend?" "I'm going to an ice hockey match." "Oh, that's where people fight all the time, isn't it?" Most people seem to think that Ice Hockey is just a kind of Punch-Up On Ice (you'd never see Torvill and Dean doing it).

This reputation of big men fighting on ice seems to be all that most non-hockey fans know about the sport, and you’re lucky if they know that much. You tell some people you’re an ice hockey fan and they look at you like you’ve just confessed to a fascination for the Shropshire Open Pig-Tickling Championship. You can almost see the thoughts running round in their minds - "I have no experience of this. I don’t know what to say."

Of course the fact that ice hockey does have a profile in this country and is occasionally seen on TV doesn’t help - it’d be all right to admit to a total ignorance of the finer points of pig-tickling, but it seems some people think they’re expected to know something about ice hockey, "’Cos it’s on TV."

It might be that all they've seen is "Slapshot" on late night tv, but if nothing else they do know that the players are sometimes allowed to "settle their differences on ice" as someone once put it (much like the Second World War which gave Japan and the US a chance to "settle their differences in the Pacific"). They therefore trot out this little pearl of wisdom; possibly out of a desire not to appear totally ignorant, possibly just to keep the conversation going, or possibly ‘cos they want to find out if it’s true. Is the ice strewn with gloves, helmets, and the odd ear at the end of every match?

So what do you do then? Try and explain that there’s more to it than that - skill, excitement, tension, entertainment, it’s the fastest team sport in the world, friendly, indoors etc. or do you just give in and admit that yes, it’s where people fight all the time. You can’t win - if you try to explain the finer points of ice hockey they still think there’s a lot of fighting involved (‘cos you have to start your explanation with "Yes, but.."). If you give in and admit it you’ve just confirmed their opinions (and also given them the idea that it’s probably the only reason you watch it in the first place).

Let’s face it, if you tell someone that you’re a hockey fan they immediately think you’re on a par with those old grannies who bay for blood at World Wrestling Federation matches and try to hit the players with their handbags (if it’s in the script that week). That’s why "That’s where people fight all the time" is heard so often by ice hockey fans speaking to the un-initiated. Mind you, we once heard a different response - he seemed very knowledgeable - and he trotted out the names of some of the greatest stars of the NHL. We started feeling we were in the presence of a real hockey devotee, but it turned out all he’d seen of it was a game he’d just bought for his home computer games console (I wonder if there’s an Andy Carson mode for really bad refereeing). We were tempted to tell him to get a life and a ticket.

That’s the only way to deal with people who think that hockey is all about fighting. Take them to a match and let them see the speed, the skill, the excitement and let them make their own minds up.

You never know, if you’re lucky there might be a good fight as well.


Photos by people who dont even know we are using them!