This Saturday, 28th November, the Oxford ice rink will host one of the biggest sporting events of the term: the exciting clash between the Oxford Blues ice hockey team and their London rivals, the London Dragons- a team comprised of players from all the London universities. Although not as historic or well-known as some of the other events on Oxford’s sporting calendar it is surely one of the most spectator-friendly. A late evening face-off and a great (indoor!) venue supplied with drinks and hot food and a hard-hitting match means that there will definitely be a party atmosphere inside the rink. Last year the match drew in a four hundred strong crowd and numbers are expected to be impressive again this year.
The action on the ice is likely to provide a worthy spectacle for such a crowd. The Blues captain, Rob Main, expects a close, high-scoring match with plenty of physical play. The encounter is also a contest between last year’s league champions – the London Dragons – and the 2014 champions – the Blues.
Rob explains that the match often sees a clash of playing styles that mirrors the rivalry on the international stage between the cross-Atlantic teams. That is, between the high-skill, passing-focused European style versus the more physical and aggressive North American style. This is because the London Dragons team is normally composed primarily of players hailing from the European powerhouses of ice hockey – Russia, Finland and other Northern and Eastern European countries. Whereas the Blues team contains mainly Canadian and American players. Fireworks often ensue from such encounters between teams that approach the game in such opposed ways (think Arsenal-Stoke or Chelsea-Barcelona) and Rob says that this happens as much on the university scene as it does on the international one.
Last year’s match ended in defeat for the Blues but Rob is quietly confident that they can rectify this and take the points this time. The Blues may have lost their opening game of the season to Cambridge by one point but they bounced back with a 6-4 win over the other Oxford University team in their last fixture and Rob believes that their team is stronger than the Dragons this year.
The main fact that swings the balance of the tie in favour of the Blues is the loss of the star player of last year’s match for the Dragons. A player who played at close to professional standard was always going to be difficult for the Blues to contain. Add to that the fact that he was not deterred by their hard-hitting tactics and it was enough for the Dragons to run out comfortable winners. The loss of him will therefore be a big blow to the Dragons. Additionally, in a favourable twist for the Blues, Andrew Bulovsky, a player with 17 years’ experience, has switched allegiances. He now plays for the Blues whereas he was on the opposition side last year.
Rob explains that the key for the Blues this year will be to neutralise the Dragons forwards, who are the standout players for the opposition. The plan, according to Rob, is to hit them early in the match in an attempt to put them off their game, or perhaps more cynically, to make it more painful for them. The Dragon’s goaltender is also relatively small so expect plenty of shots from the Blues to try and make this disadvantage tell.
The Blues have strong centre pairing comprising of the former Dragons player Bulovsky and, another new recruit this year, Nick Pappas. Pappas is the leading goalscorer this season.
Off the ice, the Blues are donating one pound of every seven from ticket sales to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. One of their former players, Jim Johnson a Visiting Professor from the University of British Columbia, was involved in the charity through his research which is partly focussed on diabetes.
The match will be worth watching for the sporting drama alone but throw in the fact that the crowd will be able to see the occasion in its entirety, will be protected from the elements and the fact that food, drink and toilets will be on hand (all things that can be said of surprisingly few sporting events in Oxford) and it seems unmissable.
The match will take place on Saturday 28th November at the Oxford Ice Rink. Doors open at 8.30pm and Face-Off is at 9.00pm. Tickets can be ordered online or obtained from college reps or partners. For more information visit: oxfordicehockey.com
PHOTO / Raymund