The atmosphere is electric. Fans who’ve dragged drums from their homes stand proud amidst the roaring crowd, banging the heartbeat to the chant ‘Allez Morzine, allez allez!’ Kids and grandparents cheer together as the players smash their opponents mouthguard-first into the surrounding glass. Welcome to Morzine’s Ice Hockey home games, a modern amphitheatre for gladiator-like battles on ice.
It’s a confusing spectacle to someone who has never seen 10 men glide with furious grace like lycra-clad ogres on ice. I’m fascinated by the contrast of their hulking figures and the agility they demonstrate on skates and start comparing their figures to say, the imagined offspring of a hippo and a gazelle. Uncanny similarities.
I am delightfully unaware of the rules. There’s an offside rule apparently, though why and for whose side is beyond me. I just know a lot of players seem to break it and get sent to sit in the naughty box for two minutes, where they shake the sweat from their dripping hair and occasionally wink at the opposing fans (I may have blushed, oh you tease 89 Depardieu you).
Despite a complete lack of the games’ knowledge, you can’t help but get sucked into the drama of the game. I found myself yelling all sorts of things that sounded as if I actually knew what I was talking about:
GET IN THE BLOODY GOAL!
WHAT KIND OF PASS WAS THAT?
YOU’VE DROPPED YOUR STICK DO YOU KNOW YOU’VE DROPPED YOUR STICK??
The game is split into two thirds, with a DJ keeping up the energy every time the game pauses for a penalty or reshoot or whatever. There’s even a Kiss Cam to warm the crowd up – always an amusing spectacle to watch a man pick his nose on a giant screen beside his bored-looking girlfriend.
And if you’re really lucky, you might witness a fight, as the one rule I do know is it’s entirely legal for a player to beat up another, so long as he’s taken his helmet and gloves off first. For a game like this, it only makes sense.