Illini Hockey experience: baffling and amusing for spectators

By Scott Green

I’m a big Illini sports fan, and my passion has been rewarded this year by the Illini hockey team, ranked No. 1 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association polls and undefeated deep into the season at 32-0. It’s the most exciting thing to happen to University athletics since the football team went to the Rose Bowl in January and exerted some sort of effort.

The hockey team plays its final two home games of the season Friday and Saturday against Adrian College, both 7 p.m. faceoffs at the Ice Arena. Tickets are $5 for students and $7 for non-students, though if you mention this column, they will still make you pay full price.

My enthusiasm for hockey is dampened only slightly by the fact that I do not understand the rules. My friend Jason, who goes with me to games, can’t believe I don’t get how hockey works. He is always explaining easy-to-understand rules, such as the one for offsides, which has baffled me for years. Offsides is simple enough that everybody understands it, Jason informs me with the same incredulity he would express if I said I didn’t believe in gravity.

“So the players can’t cross the blue line until the puck crosses,” Jason says, “but they can cross the other blue line whenever they want, unless they’re defensemen, and if the puck gets passed across two lines the goalie gets a free kick, unless it’s opposite day, in which case everything is reversed.” Somehow this does not make me understand. Possibly because I am an idiot.

But it doesn’t matter that I can’t comprehend the game. I don’t watch hockey because of the blue lines; I watch because athletically fit, highly aggressive undergrads beat the tar out of each other for my amusement. The one thing I do know about the rules is that it’s completely legal for a player to slam someone from the opposing team against the boards at a ludicrous rate of speed.

This is called “checking,” and despite its violent nature, it is not grounds for a player to spend time in the penalty box. On the other hand, players get a two-minute penalty for “holding,” which sounds like a tender expression of affection, and of course is impermissible in a manly sport such as hockey.

Often checking leads to fighting, and fighting can lead to harsh exchanges of words. Even from the balcony you can sometimes hear the players exchanging a specific colloquialism that I cannot repeat here, though it involves many of the same letters as the phrase “Firetruck You.”

But if you really want to experience the fight up close, you can stand behind the plexiglass boards near the goals and let the aggression come to you. It’s also the best place to be if you want to distract the other team’s goalie by yelling his first name, though this is an unsportsmanlike method of taunting. I therefore do not endorse doing this to Adrian College’s goalie at the games this weekend, even though, thanks to me, you now know his name is Bryan.

The players need downtime between random assaults, so games are split into three 20-minute “periods,” also called “quarters.” During the breaks between periods, players go to their locker rooms, where they have 15 minutes to try to remove enough of their pads to go to the bathroom.

Meanwhile, the die-hard fans leave the arena to walk two blocks to the Illini Inn, where they quickly re-beer themselves before heading back. Less serious fans do not join them, of course. This is because less serious fans have snuck in flasks.

The resulting crowd behavior often leads to the following loudspeaker announcement: “Do not throw things at the Zamboni driver. Doing so is grounds for ejection.” His is an unreasonable request – there is a legitimate scientific question as to whether or not a cup of beer will freeze when it hits the ice, and it’s not your fault the Zamboni driver’s head was in the way. I am sure that if you explain it this way to the security guards, they will try not to punch you so hard in the kidneys.

So make time to head to the Ice Arena the next couple of nights to cheer on the Illini hockey team. It’s your last opportunity to see them play at home this year, and your chance to yell things at Bryan.

Scott Green is a second-year student in the college of law.