Through sports you can meet some amazing and inspirational figures, both on and off the ice (or field). This is true in Ice Hockey, where a communal atmosphere allows even rival fans to put their differences aside. During my work experience with the Champions Hockey League I had the pleasure of meeting one of these figures.
Upon arriving in Växjö, Sweden, for the CHL final, my colleague (Rachel) and I were both proud to be representing the Elite League and British ice hockey as a whole. We felt exclusive to an extent, confidently claiming to be the only Welsh people there and seemingly thinking that we were the only Elite League fans to be attending…we were wrong.
oh my gosh, there’s Panthers fans!”
Whilst browsing in the Lakers shop for some souvenirs, I was surprised to hear an outburst from Rachel claiming to have seen some wild Nottingham Panthers fans. Looking over, admittedly I was shocked to see a lady wearing a white jersey with that all too familiar logo on the front. She was pushing a man along in a wheelchair, who Rachel recognised (she knows everyone). As Brits abroad do, we approached them with the usual introduction that goes along the lines of “oh, we’re from the same island of over 60 million people” as we’re always ecstatic to see a familiar face, or team rather.
To our surprise they knew of us, probably thanks to this article on the CHL website. Our meeting was brief because we had to continue our duties however I was adamant to find out their story. Luckily enough we took a photo for them and were able to contact them after the event.
Nathan Bradley has followed hockey for years and was attending the event with Nicola, his aunt who he’d enticed into watching the sport. The pair travelled to Zurich to watch the first leg of the Panthers last 16 tie, which they lost, going on to crash out of the tournament. He described watching his team play in the tournament as a “terrific experience”. Without a team to support I questioned why they were here in the cold, below freezing temperatures of Sweden to watch an all Scandinavian final.
Before the game, we asked Nathan why he’d chosen to attend, to which he simply replied: “I love hockey!”. He wasn’t going to let the complication of being in a wheelchair stop him from watching the sport he loves, travelling for a total of 15 hours from his home in the West Midlands to get there. Despite this he gave credit to the companies in Sweden saying: “my taxis were waiting, the train guards and drivers were brilliant.”
After all the effort I asked him whether he enjoyed the match:
“I did indeed, from my seat by the glass, Jussi Olkinoura (goalie for JYP) was fantastic, I often wondered if he was actually made from elastic. The atmosphere was like nothing I have ever experienced before at a hockey arena. When I got to my seat before the game, Swedish TV were setting up for a piece to camera with the trophy, and asked me if I wanted a photo, so I ended up next to the trophy, which was a real thrill, Also, one of the stewards wanted to get me a puck, and after the game, I ended up getting to meet with Anders Ternbom, President of the CHL, who chatted to me about my travels and presented me with a game puck and lapel pin.”
And as for anymore hockey trips he’s going on…
“I am actually heading to Canada later this month to attend Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary for 8 NHL games and 3 WHL (Western Hockey League) games. I am also toying with a plan of returning to Sweden for the SHL Finals, as I enjoyed my time there so much. I also want to travel to Helsinki at some point to see Jokerit in the KHL. My ultimate trip of a lifetime would be to watch the Stanley Cup Finals across both cities.”
It’s safe to say that I was heading into the unknown when travelling to Sweden. If you’d asked me before I left about the possibility of encountering fellow Elite League fans, especially with a story like Nathan’s, then I’d have been sceptical to say the least. I learnt a lot out there however its people like him who I’ll remember when I look back on the experience. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and watch the sport I love and hopefully by reading this story you will try and do the same.