Nottingham POFW - hockey’s weekend in the sun

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Whether it’s Wembley or Nottingham, play-off finals weekends are special.

It’s not just about the games. It’s a gathering - a convention based on a mutual love of this great sport that sustains tens upon tens of thousands of folk through the autumn and winter months.

A weekend in the warm Spring sunshine with a beer in their hands talking rumours, trades, and big, big games is their reward for all those nights scraping ice from the windscreen and making long journeys home through the darkness of nightfall.

We’ve all found ourselves several hundred miles from home late on a Sunday. We’ve all huddled together in those grim, lifeless service stations off the M6 and M1, often spotting a fellow hockey fan. Their team strips give them away every time ...

Nottingham 2014 was the sport’s weekend in the sun.

Two cracking semi-finals, a thrilling final that went to the wire, full houses, and a great atmosphere in and around the arena and across the city centre.

I’d put it on par with any Wembley Weekend I ever attended back in the day.

I have no doubts many hockey fans would jump at a play-off finals weekend in Belfast, but for me, Nottingham is as good as it gets right now, and by returning year after year it has started a new tradition that has taken the Wembley spirit of the 1980s and 1990s into the 2000s.

In many ways it surpasses Wembley - certainly for location.

Nottingham is a wonderful, vibrant city, and its bars, clubs, hotels and restaurants are all within an easy stroll - chuck in some top-notch hockey, seriously, what is not to like?

Eat and drink to your heart’s content, and if you really want to cane it then those touts handing out flyers for clubs open til 5.30 a.m. are just for you! The rest of us will be in our kip...

It was hard to find fault with the entire ‘show’ across the weekend.

It was slick and professional, the setting was perfect - the staff were all incredibly helpful - and it absolutely caught the mood of the occasion.

The wall of noise which thundered round the arena was magnificent - the fans were absolutely superb all weekend long.

Music is very subjective, but I thought it was spot-on, and went down a storm.

Ditto the mascots. I can’t abide the overgrown cuddly toys, but they got huge roars of approval, so who am I to knock their furry little heads off,d place them on the blade of a hockey stick and parade them like a trophy round the pad? Atually, that might be fun to do as well...

The brass band was a nice Yorkshire touch to balance the highly Americanised cheerleaders too. Chuck in some mugs of Tetley and we’d have been trading Brian Clough’s most famous sayings all night long ...

And did I mention Nottingham is a genuine a hockey city?

All of the above are good reasons to go, but it also has roots steeped in this sport from the days of the old rink in Lower Parliament Street.

To find that history you simply go round the back of the shiny new arena and step into Bunkers Hill pub. You’ll soon see why.

That and The Castle are traditional gathering points for fans - the walls are lined with team jerseys from across the country.

What I like about them is that they are inclusive - as open to newcomers as fans of decades standing.

Anyone attending their first finals weekend just had to turn up to find themselves at the heart of the party. That’s something we should cerish and celebrate.

Would I change anything about the finals wekend?
Just one. I’d bin the third place- play-off.

It ain’t called the Hangover Cup final for nothing - and that’s not just because of the beers the night before.

There isn’t a pro hockey player alive who wants to shoot for third place. These guys play to win - nothing else.

Forcing them to lace up the next morning when the crushing sense of a season-ending semi-final defeat has yet to disperse, when the adrenalin - yes, and beer - from the night before are still in their veins, well it’s just dumb.

No-one pays to see a third-place play-off - it’s an extra match only if you get up early enough and your head isn’t too fuzzy to make your way for breakfast in time to stroll to the arena.

Officials who endorse such nonsense clearly don’t understand sport or ‘get’ what these guys do to make the play-off finals.

So, for 2015 let’s get smart, bin it and come up with something different.

Fans forums have suggested a skills contest a la NHL, or reviving the junior international which used to precede the Wembley final.

Grief, stick Slapshot or Mighty Ducks on the jumbotron screens and we can sit and watch that instead - that’d be more fun!

Or plan C? Do nothing - just bring everything forward and focus solely on the showcase final.

But regardless, hockey has a fantasic finals weekend; one it should be proud of.

And Nottingham 2014 did it proud.