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Monday, October 01, 2007

NHL Premiere - London 2007

Like many hockey fans in the UK, I got my hockey fix this weekend not watching my own team, but at the O2 in London where the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks kicked off the 2007/8 season against the LA Kings.

First, what a great cross section of fans not only from all over the UK but from all over Europe as well as those from the Canada and the US. The majority were there as neutrals, keen at the chance to see some of the worlds best players live in the flesh rather than on a TV screen in the early hours of the morning, which led to a rather strange atmosphere. Out of the rest, the Ducks had a much bigger following than the Kings.

As far as the hockey went, two decent games of hockey. Saturdays match saw the Kings take the honours with a 4-1 win. The Ducks were the better team when both sides were at full strength but failed to make the most of their chances, while Kings Rookie goalie Jonathan Bernier was impressive in his NHL debut. The Kings looked good going forward with some inventive play in the offensive zone and unlike the Ducks took their chances well. Mike Cammalleri was the standout player and well worth his 1st star selection.

Sunday saw a reverse of the previous night with a 4-1 win for the Ducks. The game started a little scrappy with the Kings looking a shadow of the team from the previous night. The Ducks took their chances better than the previous night and were 4-0 up in less than 25 minutes off just 11 shots, Corey Perry standing out with 2+1. Mike Cammalleri pulled one back for the Kings but Ducks rookie goalie Jonas Hiller stood firm as the Kings played more like the team of the previous night.

The biggest cheer of the weekend came part way through the second period. Having had a few minor scuffles that had quickly been broken up by the officials throughout both games, George Parros and Scott Thornton decided to give the fans the entertainment they had been waiting for. A good tussle in which I'd give Thornton the edge.

As a venue, the O2 is superb and other than a small hitch with the lighting before the first game, did a great job of hosting the games. The choice of quality restaurants in the venue is superb, though clearly some better communication is needed somewhere as the restaurant I ate in on Saturday had huge queues and tables not in use because they didn't have enough staff as they didn't think they would be that busy. Perhaps they thought 17000 hockey fans wouldn't be hungry before the game.

For me there was only one negative aspect to the weekend (other than the problems with London's tube system) was the number of empty seats. In the upper tier there were just a handful, to be expected as things like illness do happen. However in the lower tier there were rows of empty seats in prime locations. I would guess these were corporate tickets where people chose not to turn up. Their loss in my opinion as it was great hockey, great venue and an all round great weekend.

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