The Skellefteå AIK ice hockey club is the heartbeat of this northern city, perfect for those newcomers wanting to plug straight into the pulse of their new home town. We explain the allure and rules of Swedish ice hockey, and speak to AIK’s head coach, Robert Ohlsson, himself fairly new to Skellefteå.
Paul Connolly explains how Skellefteå is a huge ice hockey city, and that AIK offers newcomers a shortcut to integration into Norrland society. But soccer fans beware! Hockey spectators are calmer than overexcited soccer crowds.
Skellefteå have won the Le Mat Trophy, Swedish hockey’s ultimate prize, three times and have qualified for the end-of-season championship play-offs an incredible 14 of the last 15 seasons, during which time they were Swedish champions twice. You’ll see Skellefteå AIK scarves and tops everywhere in town before a game at the Skellefteå Kraft Arena, and there are seven special buses (the hockeybuss) laid on to transport AIK fans from rural areas to home matches and back again, all at very reasonable prices.
Make new friends
Skellefteå AIK is the heart and soul of the city. It has a nationally-renowned youth system for both boys and girls, which doesn’t insist that all the players must become future superstars. It can be just a place to play hockey and hang out with new friends. Also, many mums and dads have made lifelong friends through AIK’s sporting and social events. It’s an ideal place to meet new people when you first move to Skellefteå. And who doesn’t need great new friends when you move to a new city?
What’s not to like?
Of course, there’s the exciting matches themselves. The restaurants open two hours before home matches – both a la carte and buffet menus are available, and then it’s into the compact arena, buzzing with atmosphere and chants, to see talented professional athletes performing at the top of their game.
My first experience of ice hockey was a few years ago, when one of my new Swedish friends, Nils, took me to a game at the Skellefteå Kraft Arena. AIK always seem to be in the season-end play-offs, and have won the Le Mat Trophy, Swedish hockey’s ultimate prize, three times.
Really good atmosphere
And while the team’s support is vocal, there isn’t the thread of nastiness you often find at English soccer stadia.
During one of my first games, a thrilling win over northern rivals, Luleå, I lost my cool a couple of times at visiting supporters celebrating a Luleå goal. My friend, Nils, looked at me with alarm and patted my arm, as if he were soothing a furious dog. In England, at a football match, it’s perfectly acceptable to shout a few choice words at opposing supporters – not so much here. This is good, however. At ice hockey games you get a much broader demographic than football matches. In the UK, at least, soccer spectators tend to be male and 30-60-years-old. At Skellefteå ice hockey matches, I think the male-female split is around 60-40.
And there are a lot of younger females. This makes for a much less testosterone-fuelled atmosphere, although the singing from the standing area-located hardcore home fans is pretty constant and adds hugely to the atmosphere.
And ice hockey is to football as Formula One is to hot-air balloon racing. It’s so fast!
Much faster than soccer!
You have to train your eyes to follow the puck as it zips about like the golden snitch in Harry Potter’s favorite sport, quidditch, and the rapid turnover, or substitutions, of players can be confusing at first. But after thirty minutes or so you find yourself in sync with the faster rhythms of ice hockey. So much so that if you don’t watch football for a couple of weeks, when you do, it seems very slow in comparison. I’m sold on ice hockey – I’ll be attending all the home games of the SHL run-in over the next couple of months. I might even buy a black and gold scarf. And Nils might have to wrap it round my big gob if I get a little too tense in the stands.
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