Through the eyes of a fan

My CHL experience is over, and what can I say? Having heard about the past and how the Devils played in the European Cup, experiencing it first-hand has been incredible. But knowing that the Devils weren’t the only British team competing was an extra.

Let’s have a look back on my experience as a fan with a few words from some others:

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For those of you who’ve kept up to date with the CHL news, you might recognise my name. I am a one of two-fan ambassador for the Cardiff Devils. Our job is basically to promote our team, and advertise the CHL from a fans perspective. You might think “well that’s easy”, but trust me it’s harder than you think.

When I applied, I thought it would be simple, tweet a bit, take a few photos and just post them, but it takes dedication. My photo stream is full of photos and videos from different games, and my boyfriend has become my personal photographer for a few months.

There were so many different things I hadn’t considered, and when I received the terms and conditions I must say I was slightly shocked. But despite the stress of trying to tie everything together, it has been an amazing experience. I’ve learnt so many things over the past few months, not only about Ice Hockey but about my own skill set. Of course, the job came with a few perks, I got my own jersey, which arrived with the teams (I thought that was cool), I was able to go behind the scenes and see the production van (which literally made my day as it’s what I want to do in the future) and also you get recognition from a lot of people you didn’t know in the past, not only from your team but others around the league.

We didn’t have the best of starts, we lost 10-1 to Davos away, which didn’t give us a lot of confidence going ahead, but we’ve pulled back since then and showed everyone that we deserved to be in this competition. After losing against Davos and Liberec away we thought it would be an advantage playing at home, but they put us to the test. Liberec was an unfortunate loss. We played well but they were the stronger team.

IMG_6276The 3rd of September came, and history was made in Ice Arena Wales. We, The Cardiff Devils beat a team who’ve won the Swiss League 31 times! I don’t think I’ve sat through a more nerve-racking game than that day, if regulation time wasn’t hard enough, overtime took it over the edge. When Drew Paris slap-shotted that puck…I hadn’t heard such joy since the league win last year. The atmosphere was unforgettable, it was electric. But it can’t go without commenting on the Davos fans, there’s no words to describe how incredibly energetic they were, constant singing, massive banners, flags, the whole shebang! If only we were allowed such things…

IMG_6145So, I touched a bit on the Davos away game, but haven’t said enough. I travelled out to Switzerland with my family and boyfriend two days
ahead of game day to make a holiday of it. First, I must say, it’s a stunning country, I would move there tomorrow if it wasn’t so expensive. But back to the point…hockey…I’ve been on many away trips and have done since I was a little girl, and I can’t comprehend how insane it was. We went into the arena expecting to lose, obviously not as badly as we did, but this didn’t deter our spirits. Devils fans are known for being loud, the Red Army can’t be silenced and nothing could stop us during that game. We sang, we drank, we laughed, we sang some more, we made the most of it. We didn’t let anything put us down.

I don’t think Davos fans knew what to expect when we arrived, it was the first CHL game of the series and they haven’t experienced British (Welsh) fans in a few years, but I think we made a good impression as did they on us. We sang our hearts out, us Welsh people are a tad mental. But if you listen to the CHL interviews you can hear us clearly in the background.

Unfortunately, we (my family and I) didn’t continue the European tour like many others, we travelled home the following evening arriving just in time to watch the Liberec game on Premier Sports. Which despite losing didn’t disappoint.

I spoke to a Devils fan, Chris Herbert,  who attended the game in Liberec. He was given hospitality in Liberec with food and drink included, he spent the game sat next to the general manager of Bili Tygri Liberec, which is pretty surreal. He said that when we scored the first goal everyone went nuts, and when we scored the second it was just crazy. I asked him what it was like watching his home team play in the CHL his response was:

“It’s been a brilliant experience seeing us play against top European clubs.”

After a month’s break, we were more than ready to restart, as a Devils fan it couldn’t come quick enough. We haven’t had a lack of hockey in that time though, with league games during the break the teams haven’t had much time to rest. Personally, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing, we (the Devils and Panthers) have learnt a lot from these teams. We’ve developed our skills, not only as a team but as individuals. It’s fair to say we haven’t had the best results so far, but every team has had their moments, but we can’t forget that we’ve had our good ones as well.

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So, October 3rd arrived, we welcome the Vaxjo Lakers, one of the better teams in our group, our expectations were as expected, to lose. But we were all put to shame by our home team. They made history once again, after a tremendous 5-1 win over the Lakers.  As expected the Swedish team weren’t impressed with this result. The result of this match spread across Europe, with controversial articles written by major Swedish newspapers. From a Swedish point of view the game was described as “the most embarrassing, sad and humiliating loss in Lakers history.”

Despite all the bad press, it didn’t dampen Vaxjo determination. They regained their reputation after a successful win (3-2) over the Devils in their home arena. But like us Red Army do best, we celebrated our journey with the legendary song “Don’t Take Me Home.”

While all this was going on in Cardiff, we forgot about the other team making British history. The Nottingham Panthers have been outstanding, winning 4 out of 6 games in the CHL group stage. Playing some of the best teams in Europe, Nottingham have proven that the Elite League is just as professional as them. With a few obvious differences in pay and age, it hasn’t had a drastic impact on either team.

As a fan ambassador, I was able to contact other fan ambassadors from across the competition, so I got in contact with Ben Straw one of the fan ambassadors for the Nottingham Panthers. I asked about his experience and what it’s been like for him to watch his team qualify for the next round.

“It’s been a great experience being one of the Panthers fan ambassadors. The opportunities I’ve been given have been great, for example helping the CHL media with interviews in pre-game morning skate against SC Bern. I travelled to Switzerland and the Czech Republic to watch them play, where I had the chance to meet the fan ambassadors from the Hradec Kralove.

The atmosphere at the games has been good, even if not sold out. There was a lot of tension around the arena when we played against Bern and Mountfield. We didn’t expect to walk away with the win, but when we played against TPS Turku we were more confident that we could win, in fact get through the group.”

Nottingham qualified for the next stage after their win against TPS Turku. For all Panthers fans this was a fantastic result, Ben said:

“Once the final whistle went there was a sense of disbelief and celebration. Hopefully there will be more celebration to come from the next round.”

British Ice Hockey has been classed as a minority sport for a long time, but since the Panthers and Devils success (more Panthers than Devils) we have gained a lot of publicity, we are finally getting noticed. We need to continue to prove ourselves. Prove to Britain that we are a successful sport, that we have a large and supportive fan base. If we carry on as we are, who knows what’ll happen, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Being a part of Devils/British history has been a fantastic. Knowing I was helping promote the Devils and the Elite League is a feeling I’ll never forget. I hope to do it again in the future. Thank you Champions Hockey League for this opportunity.

Our CHL journey is over for now, with a few unexpected wins, the future looks bright for the Devils, while Nottingham’s journey is just beginning. Show them what we’re made of!

My final words are “I was there.”

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