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AN ENGLISH ROSE IN GEORGIA –

By Lesley Francis

LEARNING ABOUT HOCKEY – THE AMERICAN WAY

A close friend who dates back to my university days and I have challenged each other to try to do ‘new things’ as we ‘mature’ (we refuse to use the word ‘older’). This ranges from simple things like trying a new recipe or reading a new author to planning an African safari. Most of the new things we do are somewhere in the middle, which leads me to how we ended up at the Enmarket arena in Savannah watching the ‘Ghost Pirates’. 

Let me clarify one thing before I get into the interesting world of playing hockey on ice. In the UK the word ‘hockey’ is used to describe what Americans call “field hockey”. What is more, traditionally most UK hockey players are school children, and a great deal of hockey involves freezing on a muddy playing field during one’s formative years, especially in private schools. Yes, it can be simply described as children aggressively chasing a ball armed with hockey sticks. This appears to be on the decline since my school days and according to recent data, only one in twenty British children play hockey today.   

What Americans describe as hockey must always be referred to as ‘ice hockey’ in the UK. To give you an idea of how unusual ice hockey is back in the land of my birth, statistics show that even today in the UK field hockey is played by 12 times more people than ice hockey. International Ice Hockey Federation statistics also show that 43 times more people play ice hockey in the US than the UK! 

So how did it all begin? Ice hockey first started in the freezing winters of Canada, but the sport quickly gained popularity in the United States in the late 19th century. The first recorded indoor game in the USA was played on Christmas Day 1894 in New York City.   

At that time, the game was still largely informal, with no standardized rules or equipment. Players used sticks made of wood or metal, and a puck could be made from a frozen cow dung or even a rock. 

As the popularity of the game grew, so did the need for standardization. The Amateur Hockey Association of the United States was founded in 1920 to regulate and promote the sport, and the first official United States national championship was held that same year. The game continued to evolve and become more organized throughout the 20th century, with the introduction of protective equipment, such as helmets and face masks, and changes to the rules to improve safety and fairness. 

After World War II, hockey in America experienced a period of rapid growth and innovation. The National Hockey League (NHL) expanded to include teams in the United States, and the sport began to gain mainstream popularity. The 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” in which the United States national team defeated the heavily favored Soviet team in the Olympic semifinals, further fueled interest in the sport and inspired a new generation of players and fans. 

The Savannah Ghost Pirates, an expansion team of the East Coast Hockey League, took to the ice in November 2022. It is fantastic that we have, right here in our Coastal Georgia sub-tropical climate, our own professional ice hockey team. By all accounts the Ghost Pirates have been a big hit here in Greater Savannah, and they recently announced a multi-million-dollar training facility with two ice rinks and a restaurant in Port Wentworth, less than 20 miles from Richmond Hill. As this will be open to the general public, the number of Georgia children learning to ice skate and developing the skills and passion for the game are only likely to increase.  

I will not pretend that I fully understand the rules of ice hockey, but it looks to me like soccer on ice with a super fast-moving puck instead of a ball, sticks instead of kicks, and a lot more physical contact. Fairly often that contact gets heated, and fights ensue. If one of the serious unwritten rules of etiquette is broken, like the opposing team “snowing” the Goalie (a fast side-stop which throws ice shavings into the Goalie’s face), you can be fairly sure of seeing a bench-clearing free-for-all. There is an anonymous saying that “Hockey players have fire in their hearts and ice in their veins”, and you can really see this at every game. There is more information at www.usahockey.com  and www.statista.com. 

Despite these drama and testosterone-filled antics on ice, I really find it great family-friendly fun. My whole family, granddaughters included, love spending an evening with the Ghost Pirates. 

I will leave you with a great and memorable quote from comedian Rodney Dangerfield, which really sums up the sport: “I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out!”.   

God Bless America!   

– ENDS – 

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com  or via her full-service marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.