Find your inner puck head: an insider guide to ice hockey
While we prepare to suffer through the blistering summer months here in Oz, the winter is coming in the Northern Hemisphere. That can only mean one thing to cold temp junkies like me: ice hockey! The regular season kicked off at the end of September, which means we only have six short months to prepare for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We better get started.
Fan or not, it just so happens that ice hockey is the most exciting sport to watch. I'm not just saying that because I spent the better part of my life on the ice. I mean, where else are you going to get body checks, slap shots and fist fights all within the first couple of minutes?
If you're not familiar with the game, not to worry. You only need a general idea of what's happening in order to enjoy yourself. The basic premise is to put the puck in the opponent's net. A simple task if not for the five opposing man-shaped slabs who think otherwise. Not to mention a goalie trained to snatch that puck out of the air Mr Miyagi-style, even if it is travelling at roughly 173 kilometres per hour.
Amidst it all, players are bounced off the boards, well-crafted verbal lashings fly, and bare knuckle brawls break out at the drop of a glove. It's all in the name of strategy, mind you; anything to shake up the other side. Brutal as it may seem, it’s not without its unspoken rules of etiquette.
Ready for a game? Rest assured you won't have to the brave the freezing temperatures to see the best teams. Though, a little snow on the ground certainly adds to the ambience, which is why you should head straight to Boston to catch a Bruins game at the TD Garden. Aside from being the greatest team in the league (all right, now I am being biased), the Bruins are one of the Original Six.
Hockey history runs deep in Boston, so don your best black, gold and white for the game. A ticket on the glass is essential if the Montreal Canadiens are in town (that's the 'Habs' to those in the know) as these two teams share one of the longest running rivalries in NHL history, which promises to get the players, and fans, riled up.
If you're hoping to follow the Stanley Cup trail, set your sights on Los Angeles. The Kings are the reigning champs, and you may just spot Lord Stanley's hardware in the Staples Centre. For some good old-fashioned hockey traditions, head to Detroit or Florida. Red Wings fans shower the ice with octopuses for good luck in Detroit, while the Florida Panthers' fans toss rats (rubber) in honour of Scott Mellanby's 1996 'rat trick'.
Journey to the Great White North to experience the unwavering support of some of the most dedicated fans in the league. Win or lose, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers regularly play in front of sell-out crowds. Note: face paint is optional. No matter where you go, hockey players and fans are a superstitious bunch, so if you see something a bit weird, chances are it's all part of the ritual.
Partake in local pre-game celebrations by tailgating with fans in the arena carpark, or simply grab a beer and a [insert regional arena delicacy] before heading to your seat. From lobster rolls to poutine, game grub is an essential part of the experience. Just make sure it’s something easy to handle lest you pelt the fan in front of you, cheering and jeering like a seasoned veteran.