Paul Balm has spent some time living in a box…
I got lucky this week. I might not have won the lottery (I can’t remember the last time I got more than two numbers) and I’m not really a gambling man but I had a bit of luck all the same. I got to watch Thursday night’s game against Mountfield from that most rarefied of vantage points – a seat in one of the executive boxes at the Motorpoint Arena.
To most of the likes of us that sit in the seats week in week out the boxes that hang over us can sometimes seem like they’re the promised land and in many ways it is a very different world up there. You might still have to pay for your drinks but they’re brought to your seat for you. There are no queues in executive heaven. I wouldn’t say the staff on the concourse are bad but it’s obvious only the most polite are chosen for such lofty duties. I’ve been told I was standing in the wrong place on more than one occasion whilst I was waiting for someone in the main foyer but if you go up those two floors you’re elevated in more ways than one. You’re not in the staff’s way up there, they get out of yours. To say it was refreshing would be an understatement.
I wasn’t there to see how the staff reacted though. I was there to watch a game of ice hockey and like the staff it was very similar to all those other times I’ve sat in the stands and yet very different as well.
You get a very different view from a box. That sounds like a pretty obvious statement but like most obvious statements it’s also a true one. You’re viewing the game from a different angle and that makes the whole thing look different. I’ll give you an example. In the third period Panthers were on a powerplay and we were using the same tried and tested methods that work in the EIHL, mainly get a man behind the goal line to put a diagonal pass across the front of the net and hope it finds a team mate in space. That didn’t work against Mountfield and I could see it was because they had a defenceman standing in the area that the puck would have to pass through in front of the net to cut those passes out. I could see that easily from my seat in the box but I’m not sure it would have been as obvious from block 13.
The game looks slower as well. Again that’s pretty obvious and it’s obvious why. You’re further away and it’s never going to look as fast as it does if you’ve got your nose pressed up against the plexi. It changes how you view a game. It becomes more tactical, you can see how play builds or breaks down. You should have seen how much room Sauve had for that game winning goal but you should have seen how quickly Mountfield moved the puck in such a small area of space for the first goal as well.
I knew that viewing from a different angle would change what I saw but I didn’t know that it would change what I heard as well. I can’t really explain this but the sounds of the game have a different quality to them up in the gods. When it was getting loud from the seats (I remember one penalty kill specifically when the sounds really seemed to swell from below) it really was loud. There might not have been many in Thursday night, but those that did made some noise or that’s how it seemed to me. If it can be loud the sound also has some sort of ethereal quality to it as well. There’s almost a disconnection between yourself and the sounds from the ice. You can hear what’s going on below a lot more clearly than you can in the stands as well (well from near the back of block 13 at least), the clattering of a dropped stick or a solid check into the boards seemed far clearer and crisper than normal. A clarity that maybe is muffled by the boards or the movement of the air, like I said I don’t know why.
I said I got lucky at the start of this article and I did but I’m not entirely sure that I want to get lucky that often (at least not in this way). I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Roy Keane’s world of prawn sandwiches and I’m grateful for the chance to experience it, but I’m not in a desperate hurry to get back up there (and that has nothing to do with my aversion to heights). I’m used to watching hockey the way I watch hockey and, possibly more importantly, where I watch hockey from. I’m used to my sight line, my angles. There were a few times Thursday when the puck went in directions I wasn’t expecting. If I’d have been up in 13 I’d have been able to follow it better but the angles kept surprising me. It’s more than that though. It might just be me getting stuck in my ways but I like my corner of the rink, I like the view, I know it, it’s mine and when you’re watching from somewhere else it feels a little bit wrong, a little bit uncomfortable.
I liked having the opportunity and if you get the chance take it, if only for the panoramic view over the south side of Nottingham that greets you as you leave, but I’m glad I’ll be back in my seat on Saturday to watch us take on Bern. Back where I belong.