As I opened my eyes from my snooze in the car I was astonished to see the silhouette of a sofa with tree-trunk legs trudging awkwardly towards me. I thought I was dreaming about The Incredible Hulk or some kind of giant from Harry Potter but as my eyes got used to the light I realised that it was an ice-flyer as they like to call themselves. An ice hockey player fully clad in a helmet and face cage, toughened shoulder pads, thick chest protector, padded shorts, hard plastic shin pads and reinforced gloves. If you’ve ever been to an ice hockey match, you’ll understand that the armour is not for show, it’s for protection against the multitude of safety hazards that put the players at risk of serious injury such as the solid puck that shoots across the ice at 90 miles per hour.
John and I were sat on the front row behind a floor to ceiling window of fortified shatterproof plastic and witnessed another safety hazard that seemed to befall many a player. I lost count of how many faces were squashed up against that barrier because after the third one I winced and shut my eyes every time there was a skirmish. One of the bravest guys on the ice had to be the referee whose only safety equipment was a helmet and who was regularly slammed into the sides of the rink during play. But fear not, no cats were hurt during the game and only a few sprains and bruises were sustained by the players who were all willing participants in the match. In fact, judging by the wonky smiles and animated man-hugs, they quite enjoyed it.
The same could be said for the crowd who hollered and cheered at the slightest hint of a clash on the ice and were enthralled whenever the puck was shot through their opponents’ goal. Even more baffling than the blood-thirstiness of the onlookers was the bizarre off-the-rink contest that appeared to be going on to see who could tolerate wearing the least amount of clothes. Considering we were in Kitzbuhel (Austria) at the time and the weather outside was snow and -4°c, the urge for the men to take their tops off could only be explained by some hormonal imbalance or the human desire to compete. Luckily John did not succumb to this urge otherwise I would have been most embarrassed (because of the hair on his chest, not the size of his tummy!).