The Canbera Knights ice hockey players goal keeper Nick Eckhardt, left, of Downer, and assistant captain Jordie Gavin of Chapman. Photo: Melissa AdamsCanberra Knights on thin ice after 33 years
It is with a pang of sadness, hitting us like a flying puck in the midriff, that fans of the Canberra Knights ice hockey team – and fans of their crazily intimate, dilapidated, working-class home venue at the Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre – learn that the Knights have had to fold.
Always as poor as church mice – match programs used to ask fans if they had some spare furniture they could lend to furnish imported stars’ flats – the club has not been able to afford survival.
Some of us, veteran sportsgoers in this city, will always maintain that the Knights’ matches at Phillip were the best sports events we ever knew here.
Even if the standard was mediocre, there was something already so amazing about the magical skills the players showed in skating so dashingly on ice that made it always seem superb.
Mediocre soccer and mediocre cricket look and feel mediocre, but mediocre ice hockey leaves mere mortals going ”Gosh!” a thousand times a match. The sheer, whooshing, surging, supernatural speed of the play was hair-raisingly exciting and after a match it was an hour or two before one could adjust to the sluggishness of everyday life.
And the venue! Most Canberra sports venues keep the spectator at a detached, academic distance from the action. But at Phillip, the primitive, wooden, bench seating – we learnt to take big cushions – was hard up against the wooden wall of the playing surface so that the play was always under one’s nose and always threatening to be in one’s lap.
Ice hockey is irresponsibly, thrillingly violent, and it was an unlucky fan who went home without having enjoyed at least one moment in the match when, right under his or her nose, a player was crushed against the fence by angry foes.
In recent times the venue was always filled with devotees. This, too, makes for a great sporting occasion. Often, at the far-too-spacious Canberra Stadium, one feels like a lonely laboratory rat.
But a full venue echoes and throbs with noise and you can smell the bogan camaraderie of your fellow fans. At Knights’ games we were all cuddled up together, not just for sheer lack of room but because, in a freezing place, it made so much sense. Parents who brought little children dressed them attractively, in the words of the Christmas song, ”like eskimos”, and the little ones’ wrapped-up cuteness was an element of the fun.
Here comes the Canberra soccer season. Some of us, like shags on rocks at the poorly attended games enlivened sometimes by just one forlorn goal in 90 minutes, will pine for the Knights’ games when there were goals galore and when we weren’t shags on rocks, but shoulder-to-shoulder with well-rugged up brothers and sisters.