Fans line up at the Comox Valley Sports Centre for another Saturday night of Glacier Kings hockey, but it’s a new group of fans making most of the noise this season.
“We love it. We were scared at the beginning, we didn’t know how the Canadians would take it but they’ve taken it well and they love us and we love them,” said Ollie Clayton, from London, England.
The fans, whose numbers grow by the game, aren’t typical hockey fans at all and most of them had never seen a game until they went to their first Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) Glacier Kings hockey game in December.
Since then, they haven’t missed a Saturday night.
“It is a beautiful sport, very physical so it’s quite fun,” said Shane Nolan from Ireland.
About 50 new hockey fans showed up on a recent Saturday night.
Most of them are workers at nearby Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
“It’s a big mix. A lot of us are ski instructors, some of us are lifties,” said Clayton.
They are employees who have come to Canada to work for the winter and now bring the enthusiasm they have for their favourite sport, football, to local hockey.
“Germany, England, Ireland, that’s where a lot of us are from and it’s a big football culture over there, so we sort of brought the songs from our own hometowns and integrated them for the Glacier Kings,” added Clayton.
And indeed, the arena is alive with chants and songs for most of the game.
“We try to get the atmosphere better and better and yeah, it’s awesome, I love it,” said Jannik Kuchler from Germany.
“Cheering is not a big part here, so we try to bring it and cheer on the team and have fun,” said Nils Joergens from Germany.
And after a recent win, there was an impromptu show of appreciation from the team to the fans as they jumped against the glass in front of them.
“You hear them when you’re playing,” said Glacier Kings defenceman Tynan Klien-Beekman. “It makes you want to go harder, makes you want to hit someone, get them cheering, makes you want to score, it’s pretty awesome, I love it.”
“Best crowd I’ve ever played in front of. It’s really nice having those guys nice and loud for us and cheering,” said Glacier Kings forward Dawson Ashcroft. “It’s like a European football game like they said, so it’s a pretty good atmosphere out there.”
Glacier Kings head coach and GM Mike Nesbitt likes it too.
“I thought this was awesome. It’s kind of like up in the Kootenays when you get in the Revelstokes and all around the ski hills and it’s been awesome support, the boys really, really love it,” he said.
And the fans say they’ll keep showing up at the games through the playoffs or until they have to go home after the ski season.