If you would have told me in last April that I would be going to Lithuania to watch ice hockey, I would have told you that you need some help of the mental variety. But low and behold, April 2009 and I was in Siemens Arena in the industrial section of Vilnius, Lithuanian to partake in 3 matches. Below you will find a recap of my trip. There will not be much emphasis on the sweater aspect of this trip, but that may come in later posts. Now just sit back and read about the first part in a young American’s hockey odyssey in Europe.
I arrived at Vilnius Airport in the after noon the day before I was to go to the games. My first impression was that the surrounding areas were flat and grey, like any good communist city. It reminded me a lot of Berlin. After taking 40 minuets to find my hostel, I ventured into Old Town, which is a heritage site of some sort. It reminded me of a huge doll house with the pinks and yellows every where, but it was cool none-the-less. I just walked around and took some pictures to show to the family.
The next day I somehow found the right bus to take to the Arena, the good ol’ #26, which I am pretty sure back fired every time we started to moved from a stopped position. Arriving at the rink, the woman behind the ticket booth said they lost my ticket reservation, or something like that, but not to worry they still had seats left. So I went in to watch Slovenia take on Japan. I was fortunate to sit next to a man from Belfast and his young son, who had decided to expirence a hockey game for the first time. As probably the only native English speakers there, I talked hockey and answered his questions about the game. It was refreshing to see he and his son become excited everytime two players crashed into the boards or a 2 on 1 rush up ice. It was great to see that these things, which I over look most of the times because I see them on a daily basis, excite people of all ages.
With that being said, the one thing I noticed was the level of play at this level is different than say an NHL game or a World Championship game. I couldn’t put my finger on it until later in the day. It all comes down to passing. In the NHL every pass is crisp and hard. Even the ones that are errant or intercepted are rocketed across the rink. At this level, the passing is slower and more haphazard. The only team that passed extremely well was Kazakhstan, but more on that later. The game is played a bit slower at this level, but still enjoyable.
Slovenia won 2-1 in a close game on a nice short handed goal.
The next game was a blood bath, with my English speaking companions gone, I had to watch this one and make mental notes to myself. First off, Kazakhstan is not a Division I team, they are some where between a Division I and a World Championship team. Australia is also not a Division I team, they are a good Division II team. This formula lead to a beating of 13-2 by the Kazakhies. It must be said that the Kazakh goalie did look a little shaky on the two goals, maybe he was the back up. Got to give it to Australia though, they kept playing and stayed positive the whole game.
Finally, the game of the night, the hosts, Lithuania, vs. Croatia. If I had to describe it, the game had a soccer like atmosphere. Every time Lithuania made a rush up ice, the place would get loud. Likewise, every time Croatia made a rush, people would boo and whistle. It was fun to be apart of. To top it off Lithuania handled the Croats easily winning 7-2. I had to leave early to catch my bus, which was the wrong bus, but that is a story for another time. I will post more later one, including one of my new favorite possessions I acquired this week.