Can I Let You Into A Secret?

This week Paul Balm takes a personal look back at Play-Off Finals Weekend in his own unique style

Can I let you into a secret? I really wasn’t looking forward to this year’s playoffs. I’m not entirely sure why but I just didn’t feel it in the week building up to it. I think Panthers not being there had a large part to play in how I felt. The playoffs isn’t really about the sport that is played at the weekend (although that obviously plays an important part) but it helps if your team gets there. It gives you something to look forward to apart from emptying the contents of your wallet at your favourite watering hole. I wasn’t even looking forward that much to getting up on Saturday morning and going straight to the pub. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. This was the playoffs we were talking about, why wasn’t I excited?

So, anyway Saturday morning came around and I set off to The Castle with a heavy heart and a temporarily full wallet. I’d had a great afternoon in the Bunkers Hill the afternoon before and if anyone from the EIHL is listening I’ve got an idea for them. Instead of always making the playoffs the first weekend in April always make them Easter weekend. You’ll make people happy that way because the majority won’t have to take annual leave to be there or recover and they can use it for something else. You’ll have to pay more out in wages some years but there will be others where you will make it back when Easter is in March. Anyway, that Friday afternoon was a chance to catch up with people in a relaxed and quiet environment so unlike the rest of the weekend.

Did anyone else think The Castle seemed quieter this year? That air of excitement that is usually so prevalent on Saturday morning didn’t seem to be there this time around. I think to be honest though that could well have been that for whatever reason The Castle seems to attract a lot of Panthers and Devils fans and with neither team there this weekend there wasn’t much to get excited about.

One of the arguments that those who want to moan about the playoffs always raise is the lack of anything being done by those in charge to create any kind of occasion around what is, or should be, the culmination of the season. I’ve never really agreed with that point of view. The sport should be enough. All the people who constantly want changes year on year, I thought, were missing the point. I mean, look at the FA Cup final – a military band marches up and down on the hallowed turf, some opera singer sings Abide With Me and then get on with the game. Every year it’s the same but no-one complains about that. I’m beginning to sort of agree with those that want more, or at least don’t like what we’ve got.

The whole game presentation seemed lacklustre this year. OK, all the razzamatazz and hoopla in the world couldn’t have improved the second semi-final. How we ever managed to get four minutes of ‘analysis’ for this week’s Cat’s Whiskers Podcast is still beyond me. You can’t gold plate a turd but they could have tried. It felt to me like they didn’t and the atmosphere suffered. Where we the seat giveaways? Where was the confetti and the explosions at the end of the final? They won’t change the hockey but they change the experience. This year’s whole game experience just seemed tired, flat and cheap. I’ve no idea how to change it beyond the need to spend a few quid (it was Easter, give away a few eggs to lucky people). I’ll tell you one thing I do know though, I wouldn’t ask the announcer/DJ whatever he’s called (not Stef) where something was, the main stay of his increasingly irritating patter is to say In The BUILLLLDDDDDIIIIIIINNNNNNNGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!! at every opportunity between the same songs we’ve heard year after year. I don’t want to see him axed, just asked to freshen it up a bit.

So, you’re probably thinking that I didn’t have a very good time this weekend. I wasn’t looking forward to it, The Castle was quieter, the presentation was lacking and the second semi was turgid but you know what? I had a great time.

It’s one of the great truisms of this sport of ours that it’s the fans that make the playoffs and I’m not going to disagree with that mainly because I agree with it totally. Someone once said that there are more things that unite us than divide us and there is no better example of that than the playoffs. We went in The Bunkers Hill both nights and I’m pretty sure that there were fans from every team in there mingling and talking together without a hint of trouble. We stood by the door on Sunday night looking out at the hoards who filled the paved area in front of the pub (it’s a good job the weather was OK, we wouldn’t all have got in there if it had been raining) and we said that this is what it’s all about and we were right. We’re lucky to be fans of a sport where this is possible. We really are.

That’s it for another season and apart from the odd GB game if you’re lucky or following the NHL that’s your lot until August or September. We’ve all entered the second of the two seasons in our year. The meteorologists will tell us that there are four be we really know that the only seasons that count are the season and the off-season. Some of us are happier than others but we’re all in the same boat. The time has come to step away and recharge the batteries to prepare to do it all over again next season. Riding rollercoasters is fun but sometimes you have to get off for a while to appreciate how much fun it can be.

One final thing before I head off into the sunset, you know that rumour about Doucet going to Clan? I made it to up see how quickly it would get back to us. We do it every year but it seems that this year’s effort was more successful than usual. Of course, if it does come off (and I fervently hope it doesn’t) then I’m actually a visionary and you heard it here first. OK?

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