About three quarters of the seats in Hartford’s XL Center still reveal their blue color. Taking in the atmosphere in the wide round, I find it to be quite similar to previous hockey experiences. A multi-purpose arena of respectable size, spectators clothed in hockey jerseys, the ice down below, safely guarded by scratched Plexiglas, and the mild chill that makes me hold on to my jacket for the moment.
I meet an old friend this evening. People around me are relaxed. Engaged in friendly conversation, they follow the action on the ice. They overlay the game with a comfortable feeling of coziness like a swarm of hummingbirds on a Sunday morning stroll through the forest.
Those who are not talking have humanities best friend at the ready – the smartphone. Good luck finding a public event where people don’t showcase their love for this tiny (well, sometimes not too tiny any more) marvel of technology.
The day I started my trip to the U.S. General Consulate, the place where I would have my visa interview a day later, began in the cold air of Oberhausen’s train station. The train was delayed so I walked up and down the track to keep warm. Head down, eyes fixed to a small screen, headphones over their ears, fingers flying over the thin glass layer, the people I passed looked out of place. Or am I out of time? They notice nothing. I wonder what they would do if someone would collapse right next to them. Would they even notice? Everyone around me was standing in the same position, enslaved by a piece of technology.
After nine hours on board of an Airbus A380, the two hours of standing during the train ride to New Haven were a nice change. People came and left during the ride, they had all one thing in common. They all isolated themselves from their environment through their smartphones. Heads down, ears closed, hands busy. I’m trying to find a pair of eyes; it’s impossible.
I can’t even count the screens I see around me. For some people, it appears, the game is being played on their screens. Others play a game of hide and seek – whipping out their devices in-between two sentences and hiding it just in time for them to lead the conversation once again.
By the way, the Hartford Wolf Pack are playing the Hershey Bears – an American Hockey League (AHL) game, also referred to as minor league.
“Hit ‘em!” someone around me shouts. Whoa, something exciting must be happening on the ice. This outburst of emotion elicits a flashback.
My dad had taken my brother and me to a football game in a neighboring city. If desired and weather permitted, it would even be possible to ride the bike to the stadium. The team is called MSV Duisburg and that day they played 1860 Munich, the smaller out of the two big teams based in Bavaria’s capital.
For a reason unbeknownst to me, we stood with the Munich supporters. I don’t recall any of the game, but I do recall one incident. “Bring him down, it’s not your brother!” I heard a man shouting out in his thick Bavarian accent. He had caught a rather silent moment and his cry for a foul echoed through the stands. His fellow Lions supporter approved, letting out compliant laughter.
“Punch him in the nose!” someone sitting near me shouts out and summons my concentration back to the here and now. Although the atmosphere is still so similar to my first sports encounters in America this year, there’s a certain level of aggressiveness in the air.
A group of young men in the row behind me add to that. “Fight, fight, fight!” I can’t even count how many times I hear them rallying for a little extra performance. But I also hear that people like that are not a typical part of a hockey night. Thanks, Joe. I was beginning to think that hockey was just an excuse to punch one another.
Another part of the hockey experience seems to be eating. Let’s be honest, a visit to almost every sports event is connected with eating, the same thing on both sides of the big pond. But there’s a difference. Hot dogs are prominently advertised. A couple sits a few seats to my left. They’ve just finished their menu and the trash-filled tray that I see on the floor shows empty soda cups, popcorn remains, and ice cream.
Surprised by the variation in foods, a sudden noise draws my attention back to the ice. The howl ometer works as a wake up call that reactivates the Wolf Pack supporters. The cheering gets louder and the red indicator on the screen rises by the second; probably not really depended on the actual noise levels in the arena, though.
Intermissions change the atmosphere. As if they were the reason some people come to the arena, the level of excitement rises. Animated by the mascot, people go wild in the attempt to catch one of the few t-shirts thrown into the audience. Trivia questions are being asked. Dance performances, commercials, and a hot dog contest fill the rest of the break. I’ve never understood what fascinates people about such eating contests, but everyone around me stares towards the fast eaters.
The game – similar to both basketball games I’ve seen lately – heats up towards the end. While the first period went by with few highlights, the final seconds see the Wolf Pack trying to seal the game after they had been down 0-1. Nothing much happens during overtime, so a shootout has to decide the game.
No… I must be bad luck. Everywhere where I turn up these days, the home team looses. But the shootout is not decided with the first missed penalty. People’s focus is now entirely with the players on the ice. We all see how they get back into the shootout, thanks to their goalie and a few nicely converted penalties. One more goal and the game’s theirs.
The player begins his move, lures the goalie, and fires the puck. Everyone is standing by now, waiting for the decision. The puck closes in on the goalie, passes him, and must have hit the net from the right side because people are in each other’s arms and celebrate the victory. Let’s go, Wolf Pack!