Of all the things to remind me of home, I did not expect hockey to be one of them when I decided to study abroad on the French Riviera. In Nice, where the average temperature in January is 48°, where 300 days out of 365 are sunny. And now people want me to believe that the biggest sport in this city is the one that involves ice.
Well, I did. I believed them, gave them a shot, and went to my first French hockey game last night.
This experience was, without a doubt, a favorite so far in this trip. I’ve never watched hockey very regularly, but this game made me want to. Everything about the atmosphere, the fans, and those on the ice kept me interested and made me fall in love with Les Aigles de Nice. Let’s break it down.
Ça n’existe pas
When I arrived with Paige and Rachel, the first challenge was finding the ice rink, since it was in a general sports complex. In searching for the 5th floor, we and many other fans walked all the way up to the 5th floor only to find a heavily locked metal door that we were definitely not going to get through. So now I’m thinking, Ok Nice, you tricked me into thinking you had a hockey team, good one. Luckily, we weren’t the only ones that were lost and followed a very nice family to the 4th floor, where we took a different staircase to a passable 5th floor entrance! Ah, it exists!
The next thing I took note of as I stood in line for a ticket was the menu for game food. In my American experiences, there is a certain standard for what constitutes “game food.” France threw all of this out the window and said, “No, it’s ok. We understand sports.” This is what the French think game food is:
Hot dog 4€
Salade de tomates 6€
I can’t think of more types of salads so Salad #3 6€
Type of Salad #4 6€
Folks, I am not in Kansas anymore. They serve salads at sporting events. FOUR kinds. What would Leslie Knope say?? I don’t even know how to belong here. However, my confusion quickly turned into appreciation for the little things that made a sport reminiscent of my home school into a cultural experience.
You would think that, at a hockey game, the entertainment is pretty much limited to, you know, hockey. But that is where you would be wrong! Before each period, there was a cheerleading routine, wait for it…on the ice! The whole cheering on ice thing meant that they had to be extra careful, so what they did was mostly restricted to moving their upper body and taking very small steps. There were two additional elements to these routines that made them something I looked forward to in between periods.
The first addition was the mascot. Our favorite Eagle was out on the ice all three times, struggling to keep up with them and doing his best to make these subdued routines look cool while in a giant eagle costume. To add to the character of the mascot, he looked a little bit scary in a this-eagle-suit-has-been-in-a-closet-for-20-years kind of way. That only made me love it more. To say the least, the mascot was a highlight of the game.
The second addition to these routines was the zamboni, which had to refinish the ice at the same time that the cheerleaders were on it. Watching everyone shift their routines to avoid getting hit by a giant moving water deposit was pretty amusing.
The rink was filled with fans from and for Nice, which was very fun to be a part of. However, as individuals go, my favorite fan in the audience was the guy from Nantes, the city that we were playing against. Nantes scored the first two goals and the French did as the French do and clapped politely. (This was quite a change from the usual cursing and yelling that would likely ensue at an American game.) Those that clapped were Nice fans. And then there was the solitary man wearing a jersey from Nantes who stood up after the first goal with one fist in the air and just let out “NAAAAANTES!” even though he was the only one of his kind in attendance. I have respect for this man. Way to go on being unabashedly proud of your team, that’s how it should be.
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the main event. It was a great game! Nice won 5-3 and only one ref got hit with the puck! The first period of the game felt a bit more threatening, as the only two goals were made by Nantes. However, we made a quick comeback in the second period with three goals, taking and maintaining the lead for the remainder of the game.
And with all sports teams, this one also has traditions following things like, say, scoring. After each goal made by Nice, a Spanish melody played out of the speakers and everyone in the room cheered “Olé!” I can get used to doing that when I get excited about something.