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Sunday, November 22, 2009

HYS The Hague vs. the Heerenveen Flyers (part 1): Hockey in Europe

HockeyZonePlus contributor Brian Pike is currently living in The Hague, Netherlands, working for a large international organization. As a Canadian hockey fan who's never been outside of North America before, he hopes to see games from as many nearby European hockey leagues as possible, time and travel budget permitting. First up is local Eredivisie team HYS The Hague, the defending champs of the 8-team elite league in The Netherlands. The game took place on November 13, 2009, against the Heerenveen Flyers. Here are Brian's observations as a non-Dutch speaking but passionate hockey fan from De Uithof, HYS's home rink,"live blog" style from his hand-written notes, starting with the pre-game warmups. All photos are taken by the author.

15:00 to Faceoff: Welcome to De Uithof! This rink is in the far west of the city, and man, is ever hard to get to. Still, hockey night tonight! I'm excited. Living in Toronto during the last NHL season I never actually got to a live game, so the last game I've seen in person was probably during the 2007-08 season in Calgary. Go HYS!

14:10: This is a pretty nice rink. There's only around 2500 seats, so it's small, and it has an amateur rink kind of feel, with just a small scoreclock at one end and no glass along the sides. It reminds me a little of the rink in my hometown, where I used to go see Heritage Alberta Junior B League games with my Dad. I like it here already!

13:30: Something else amateurish: the volume of the pre-game music keeps going up and down. "Beautiful People" by Marilyn Manson goes from screaming loud to whisper quiet. I guess Manson would just be happy he still gets played anywhere at all, at any volume.

13:10: The HYS starter is BIG. He's #49 in our single-page folded program, Tim Knudsen. The Internet Hockey Database reveals that he played 85 or so games in the UHL before coming over to Europe. So he's probably a better goalie than me, but probably not as good as Vesa Toskala, somewhere in that range. Wait, that's probably unfair. Nobody's as bad as Vesa Toskala right now.

11:15: The jerseys HYS are wearing are just AWFUL. They don't have names or numbers on the back, just a big circular ad for a local store. Hopefully these are just the warmup jerseys. The Heerenveen Flyers jerseys, meanwhile, are a rather ugly mustard yellow with blue numbers and a Comic Sans-like script for the player names. At least they have names and numbers, though.

9:55: Look, just outside the blueline! It's #77, HYS star winger Alexander Selivanov! Tampa Bay Lightning fans who followed the team in the mid to late-90's may remember Selivanov as the winger with the decent shot who scored 62 goals over three seasons from '95 to '98 before being traded to Edmonton the next year. He scored 27 goals as an Oiler in the 1999-2000 season, spent the next year with Columbus, then moved to Europe. In all he had 121 goals and 235 points in 459 NHL games. How does a 38 year old ex-NHLer fare in the Dutch League? We'll find out...

7:26: The pecking order in warmups between the starter and his backup has always fascinated me. I like it when you can tell who the starter is because he doesn't even try to stop half the shots he faces, or tries to glove every single shot because he wants to warm up the trapper, while the backup is trying groin-straining cross-crease lunges.

5:38: Apparently, you can't escape Nickelback by going to Europe. Damn. A song of theirs comes across the loudspeakers, and I recall the time I told a group of college kids they were "everything that is soulless and wrong in Canadian music." Oh well, at least it's not that Black-Eyed Peas song. You know the one I mean.

4:55: Man, does this ever seem like a long warmup. HYS look like they're running out of drills.

2:00: We must be wrapping up, it's semi-circle at the blueline shooting time. I think this is the last full team drill the world over in warmups.

The sound system issues continue, as a loud and lengthy blast of screeching feedback comes through the speakers for a full minute, then repeats off and on as the announcer, a woman in her late 40's who's probably one of the player's moms, tries to ask everyone if they're READY FOR SOME HOCKEY TONIIIIGHT. Or at least, I assume that's what she's saying. I don't know any Dutch.

The First Period: After a quick zamboni run, the rink is ready to go, the lights dim, and the Beastie Boys "Fight For Your Right" blares out of the rink speakers. A kid of probaby 10 or 11 in full gear walks unsteadily up the hallway to the ice. Sure enough, he's carrying a flag, and starts doing laps around the ice. Honestly, who started this particular bit of pre-game absurdity? I seem to remember seeing the Ottawa Senators do it on TV once or twice. As if to put an exclaimation mark on how silly the exercise is, after slowly taking three laps around the ice, the kid breaks for centre and falls hard on his backside while pretending to plant the flag on the dot. You can practically feel the tears of humiliation in his eyes as he leaves the ice. Poor kid.

20:00: Thankfully, HYS have indeed changed from their no-numbers warmup sweaters into a rather fetching dark red on a deep navy blue scheme. Superb. I like these jerseys so much that if I get into another game before I leave The Hague I will most likely pick one up. We go straight into the opening faceoff without any national anthem. After years of North American sports where the anthems always start things off, this feels surprisingly wrong to me.

19:31: We have our first whistle when the puck goes over the boards where there's no glass, and the second comes eight seconds later on an offside. Not exactly a roaring start. The eight-year-olds sitting in front of me are already restless.

18:35: The Flyers goalie is all over the place early. He looks nervous. HYS is clearly trying to get him going side-to-side and overcommit.

18:07: HYS's goalie, meanwhile, clearly loves to skate out and handle the puck. Knudsen has that kind of Roberto Luongo/JS Giguere look with the thick shoulder pads. His legs aren't as long, though. The Flyers goalie, Stephane Cesar, has more of a Martin Biron look; he's taller, but he looks smaller than Knudsen. Cesar is apparently from Ottawa and played in the OHL for a few seasons.

16:45: Nice breakaway stop by Knudsen as a Flyers player snuck behind the defense.

16:15: HYS answers that when a player breaks straight up the middle between the Flyers D, but his shot misses high blocker. I suspect things are starting to pick up.

14:57: Another nice stop by Knudsen on a Flyers player who walks straight out of the corner. Where's Derian Hatcher to drop a guy walking out of the corner when you need him?

14:07: Fifty seconds later, Selivanov misses on a breakaway. The hair on both coach's heads goes a little grayer from the lack of defense. Selivanov seems like he's taking exceptionally long shifts.

11:45: HYS had all the momentum early, but the Flyers are starting to carry the play now.

11:31: No sooner do I write that than HYS's Marcel Bruinsma of Abbotsford, BC, buries a wrist shot from the circles, shooting between the Flyer's defenseman's legs. Nice shot.

10:30: Selivanov, long known for his soft play in the NHL, pushes a Flyers defender off the puck in the corner right onto his ass. Lightning fans reading this won't believe it for a second.

10:17: Jan Bohac, #91 for HYS, skates right through the Flyers D on another breakaway. He's stopped, but Heerenveen's #10 is called for a slash. It's the first power play of the game. HockeyDB says that Bohac was a third round pick of the Senators back in 2000 but that he's never played in North America. He looks like a good player at this level, with size and skating ability. He also looks like he's missing the hockey sense to play at a higher level. I don't think Sens fans should be holding their breath waiting for him to make the show.

8:31: Selivanov finally leaves the ice with 14 seconds left on the man advantage after being out for the whole power play. Not too many good chances, but HYS almost caught the Flyers goalie going the wrong way once.

7:32: The Flyers come right back with pressure after killing the penalty and HYS defenseman Brian Mullally takes a tripping penalty.

6:53: #19 on HYS, Victor Ignatjev, has a filthy mouth. After missing a clearing attempt killing the penalty he fires off several f-bombs until the puck leaves the zone. I cringe on behalf of the parents who've brought the six eight-year-old boys sitting in front of me. They'll be hearing "f**k" repeatedly during the ride home, I just know it.

5:22: Just ten seconds after the HYS penalty ends, confusion at the Flyers bench results in a too many men on the ice penalty.

5:06: And just 16 seconds into the PP, HYS scores on a cross-ice pass from Bohac to defenseman Carl-Johan Johansson, who gets just enough of it to re-direct it into the net. 2-0 HYS.

4:30: The Flyers look like they've lost all composure, as they take another penalty during HYS pressure in their zone, this time for hooking.

3:50: Selivanov starts the power play, but doesn't get much done, so the second unit with Bohac comes on. Seems like the first unit just spends their time trying to find Selivanov, who's usually idling in the right side corner. Get in the slot, Selivanov, TAKE IT TO THE TOUGH AREAS. Somewhere, a Tampa Bay fan says "that's the Selivanov I remember."

2:08: After the power play, HYS's energy line comes on and promptly takes an offensive zone tripping penalty. HYS's coach tears out a chunk of his own hair. Andri Salomonson is the culprit, not to be confused with former Devils and Caps winger Andreas Salomonsson, who's currently playing for Modo, and probably tickled at the prospect of playing with Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund. And who can blame him? I've been looking at flights from Amsterdam to Stockholm and Modo's schedule myself...

:31: The best chance on the PP comes from a weak short side attempt that Knudsen easily gloves. And that ends a fairly entertaining first period.

Look for Part 2 of Brian's blog of this game to appear in mid-December.

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