The first time I tried it, I was addicted.
It started innocently enough, a hit here, a hit there, then before I knew it I was under the influence in a psychedelic state. The speed, the ferocity, the danger, it was all so overwhelming and exciting that I thought I was hallucinating. Nothing else mattered; all my worries drifted away.
It was back about a month ago in training camp that I first dabbled and little did I know that experience was just a gateway to needing something stronger, faster and harder.
No one warned me that working from between the benches at ice level would be so magnificently addicting; it’s the wonder drug of all wonder drugs and recently I had the opportunity to spend a Canucks game watching from this elite vantage point.
I took in Vancouver’s 2-1 win over Florida from between the benches trying to stay out of the way of Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick and Canucks cameraman Dwayne Mitchell. It was as eye opening as an experience can be and I came away with a greater appreciation for the game I thought I knew inside out.
Here are six things you should know about hockey from between the benches in the suicide box.
There’s a reason protective netting guards fans from wayward pucks, that black biscuit was once clocked at 190.4 km/h off a Bobby Hull slapshot making it potentially lethal. The NHL learned that the hard way in 2002 after Columbus Blue Jackets fan Brittanie Cecil passed away after being struck in the left temple by a puck. Without even glass protecting more than half of the suicide box, it’s easy to understand where the box got its name. It’s a remarkably dangerous area as Vinnick and Mitchell can attest to. Both spend countless games a year shooting from there and both have had the misfortune of being hit by pucks, sticks and players. I can now confirm that while exhilarating, being that close to the action without protection is a bring-extra-underwear experience.
Hockey’s a fast game and even though that's blatantly obvious, it’s easy to forget just how fast it is while covering the Canucks from way up in the press box or even watching practice from ice level. From level 500 you gracefully see plays develop at medium pace, almost as if watching a recorded game at half speed. Then you get down in the trenches and everything changes.
“From watching above, it’s a totally different game,” said Rick Rypien. “When you’re that high you can puzzle everyone together and see how it should be, but when you’re on the ice I don’t think it even compares, even to like a practice or any type of skate, it doesn’t compare to a game. When you’re on ice level and you see that it’s just like they say, it’s the fastest game on ice.”
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Even though panes of plexi-glass surround NHL ice, it’s more of an enclosed fish bowl than you’d think. It’s a shame that crowd noise drowns out the communication on the ice because there’s a lot of it. During play teammates are constantly scheming with one another, while on the bench it’s like a high school reunion with all the chitter chatter going on. It’s a bigger part of the game than I’d ever realized.
“The things you can’t see yourself out on the ice, obviously they point all that out,” said Jannik Hansen of the coaching staff on the bench. “When there’s more eyes on the play than just your own, it really helps you get a different perspective of things that go on during the game that you can’t address yourself. There’s a ton of chatter going back and forth on the bench. It’s very helpful.”
TWO FOR FLINCHING
In trying to make the most of my likely one and only brush with the suicide box, I multi-tasked. With my pad of paper and pen I took notes to remember the best moments of the night (like coach Vigneault busting a gut over Ryan Kesler’s BC Hydro commercial), while snapping a few photos of the game and trying to record a taste of what the action was like on a mini-HD flip cam. I was juggling projects to say the least, but Canucks backup Cory Schneider, who was seated to my left all game, gave me full marks - for the most part.
“You were pretty sharp, you had that glass next to you so that was nice, you didn’t have to worry about it come at you from both sides,” said Schneider. “I thought you were quick on your mini-HD camera, saw you snapping some shots too, but you were pretty far back in the box, you could have been a little more forward where the photographers are, take a little more of that gap away and really get closer to the action. And yes, I saw you hiding behind my shoulder a few times, but I was covering my face too, so it’s alright.”
FANS FANS IN THE STANDS
Although it’s difficult to hear the communication between players from the stands, the players can more than hear the support from the fans during the game. I was shocked at how loud it actually was, one Go Canucks Go chant was almost overwhelming and it didn’t even look like a full effort from the sellout crowd at Rogers Arena. Listen up fans, you can make a difference in the game by rallying around the Canucks when they need you most.
“It absolutely pumps us up,” said Andrew Alberts, “especially when they start getting chants going and whatnot. When they start buzzing, we start buzzing, they really go hand-in-hand. It’s something you hear more when you’re on the bench and watching the play, when you’re on the ice you don’t really hear a lot of it just because it’s kind of like background noise. Anytime there’s a big hit or when a goal is scored, it’s always fun to hear what the fans think and how into the game they are.”
NO SECOND GUESSING
I mentioned how fast the game is, and when you toss in that these brutes are on skates trying to kill each other, it’s really a wonder anyone gets anything done. There is so little time to make crucial decisions out there that even a slight should I or shouldn’t I second guess can be the difference between a brilliant breakaway pass and a bad giveaway that leads to a breakaway for the enemy. Without instant replay, we wouldn’t fully appreciate what players like Daniel and Henrik Sedin do with such little time and space.
“The game looks pretty easy in the stands high up and the higher you are from the ice, the easier it looks,” said Ryan Kesler. “I think what you’re trying to explain is that you saw it from ice level and it happens way quicker than you think and there’s a very fine line between making that perfect pass and having a big turnover. There’s no second guessing, as soon as you second guess, the hole closes, so you’ve got to react, you can’t think too much out there.”