7 cool places I’ve watched icehockey in Europe – and the stories behind

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I am a hockeyfan as much as a travelooney and I love to catch a local game when staying in cities around Europe. I have even travelled especially to attend some games. As much as I love the game itself, I love to feel the different atmospheres and traditions around the clubs and their arenas. Each club has its own culture and connection to the city it belongs to, which is why watching sports abroad goes well with the general idea of travel experiences.

I have been following my hometown team, Odense Bulldogs, for 20 years now – but have also been lucky to get some cool hockey experiences around Europe.

Here are 7 European cities where I have watched the greatest game on earth:

 

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New York Rangers vs Anaheim Ducks, The Globe 2011

Stockholm, Sweden

Watching hockey inside a giant golf ball – that’s what it’s like to attend a game in ‘The Globe arena in the capital of Sweden. This is definitely still one of the most unique arenas in Europe, despite being opened back in 1989.

I have had the pleasure of watching a few games in there, 3 to be exact, and all of them featuring teams from the American National Hockey League (NHL). To promote the league several teams started off seasons in Europe from 2007 to 2011, and two times I went to Stockholm with my team mates to watch the games.

San Jose Sharks vs Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010 – and two games in 2011: New York Rangers playing against both the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings.

It was a treat to watch some of the world’s best players in one of the world’s great arenas – and also Stockholm is always worth a visit.

As hockeyfans know, the sport is very big in Sweden and other than the NHL games, I’ve watched local Swedish clubs play in Växjö and Linköping.

 

 

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“The Big Blue Tent” in Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff, Wales (UK)

Hockey was kind of the reason I discovered Cardiff and Wales in the first place – since it was a Welsh friend in connection with hockey that led me to know about the city. In 2007 I even chose to move there for a few months and naturally started following my new “hometown team”, The Cardiff Devils.

At that point the club’s home, Wales National Ice Rink, had just been replaced by a temporary arena later to be known as The Big Blue Tent (due to the “walls” being made of thick blue plastic). And getting a new permant arena proved to be problematic for the Devils, which caused that the “temporary” rink to be used for 10 years.

During this time-stretch I saw the Devils play several games. Most of them while living in Cardiff in through 2012 and 2013. Finally, early in 2016, the Devils could move into the new Ice Arena Wales and I can’t wait to get back and watch a game there.

Wales and icehockey is not normally connected in most people’s mind, but the passion for the game is surprisingly big and the club has been doing really well in the best British league for years.

 

 

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Hamburg Freezers vs The Los Angeles Kings, 2011

Hamburg, Germany

The German DEL league is among the best in Europe and being relatively close to the Danish border, Hamburg is a great place for us Danes to go to watch hockey on a big scale. The Germans are just amazing when it comes to anything to do with shows and sports events – and the fans are among the most colourful and passionate in Europe.

That makes it very entertaining to watch the local Hamburg Freezers play in their big arena, which is changing names after who is sponsoring it. At the moment it’s known as Barclaycard Arena and it has room for almost 13.000 fans for hockeygames.

The club was established as late as 2002, and I saw the Freezers play for the first time back in 2008. Since then I have watched a couple of games in Hamburg, one of them being a pre-seaon game between the local Freezers and The Los Angeles Kings.

And this club takes its name seriously, having snow-machines nicely springkling snow above the spectators before the players enter the arena.

 

 

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Eisbären Berlin ready to enter the O2 World in Berlin 2011

Berlin, Germany

Together with Hamburg, Berlin is the most entertaining place I have been watching icehockey live – atmosphere-wise. The fans there are just amazing, singing and dancing almost all the way through the games. Impressive.

Eisbären Berlin or Berlin Polar Bears are extremely popular in the German capital, and I saw them play for the first time back in 2007. Back then they still played in an old worn-out arena, but in 2008 they moved into their new O2 World arena, recently renamed the Mercedes-Benz Arena. An arena with a capacity of more than 14.000 spectators for hockey.

Since the first game I have seen a couple of games in their new home, and I try to catch a game whenever I visit the city in the season. Each time I have been impressive with the rousing atmosphere from the fans – not at least when they sing along to their cult-like club song which translates to; Hey, we want to see the icebears.

With 7 national DEL championships between 2005 and 2013, the fans have had plenty to celebrate.

 

 

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The biggest icehockey arena in Europe – The Lanxess Arena in Cologne

Cologne, Germany

In the western part of Germany, Kölner Haie (The Cologne Sharks) are often among the best clubs in the German DEL league, and they play their games in the biggest icehockey arena outside North America. No less than 18.500 spectators can attend the sharks feast on opposing teams in the impressive Lanxess Arena.

That the arena design looks a bit like a shark is really cool too, with its gigantic steel arch supporting the roof. This is definitely one of the coolest places I have watched an icehockey game.

I did so during an Interrail trip in the beginning of 2012, where I was lucky to catch a game while exploring this interesting city. Ironically Cologne beat Berlin 2-1 in that game, after which I went to Berlin a few days later and watched them play too.

 

 

Prague

The old Tipsport Arena in Prague, 2012

Prague, Czech Republic

Like Germany and Sweden, the Czech Republic is a great European destination for hockeylovers, so when I made it to Prague during my Interrail trip in 2012, I just had to catch a game. The capital has two rivalling clubs – HC Sparta Praha and HC Slavia Praha, and I came just as Sparta was in the playoffs.

The proud capital club was facing Brno from the southern part of the Czech Republic, and I was lucky to secure a ticket with help from the tourist office in downtown.

At that time the club was still playing their homegames at the old Tipsport Arena from 1962, with a capacity of 13.000 spectators – but it was a great authentic hockey experience even though the hometeam suffered a defeat.

Just this season the spartans have moved to the new modern O2 Arena. One of Europe’s most modern hockey arenas with a capacity of around 17.000 people. Their rivals from Slavia used to have their home-ice there, but moved out as they were relegated from the best Czech league.

 

 

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The Vienna Capitals entering their renovated arena in 2011


Vienna, Austria

I was lucky enough – by pure chance – to witness the opening-game of Vienna’s completely renovated Albert Schultz Eishalle. I was staying in the beautiful Austrian capital in 2011, when I by coincidence noticed in the local newspaper that the Vienna Capitals were to open their new arena the same night.

I wasn’t familiar with Austrian hockey, but decided to try to get a ticket, which sent me on an expedition across the Donau river – to the suburb of Donaustadt. After locating the club’s offices in what seemed like a regular apartment building near the arena, I was told it wasn’t necessary to buy in advance and that I should just show up at the arena in good time.

So I did, and got to see the local heroes beat the Finnish team Oulun Kärpät 3-2 after penalty shots. A game in the European Trophy tournament, and an exciting game in a quite unique arena, as daylight comes through in both ends.

I definitely wouldn’t mind catching another game there one day.


Have you had any cool experiences watching local sports teams when travelling?
Share your story in the comments below…


By Brian Schæfer Dreyer

www.travelooneyblog.com
travelooney@gmail.com

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