First off, let me just say that the Oilers (the home team) *suck* right now. They suck horribly. They're at the bottom of their league/division/whatever right now, and after last night's performance, I can totally understand why - even without any working knowledge of hockey. (I have a joke that you can tell how well the home team is doing by how many flags people have on their cars; when the Oilers went to the Stanley Cup a few years ago, we saw as many as 7 flags on 1 car. I have seen nary a flag this year.) No communication, very sloppy puck handling... If I notice it, it must be very bad indeed.
That said: the hockey coliseum was PACKED. It was not quite sold-out, but there were not that many open seats anywhere in the arena. People turn out for hockey; from whole kids' clubs to little old grannies who have probably been watching since God was a child.
We shelled out for center ice tickets, simply because if we're going to go for the experience, let's have an experience. And my GOD - I was slightly terrified of how close those maniacs were to me. When they body-checked against the plexiglass directly in front of me, I could feel concussive waves. We did have the penalty box in front of us, though, so there was a little buffer between the testosterone-laden ice-violence and me. One puck did go flying over our heads to be caught just 3 rows back. I learned that you must be of hearty stock to sit so close to the ice.
The fans around us were obviously hard-core and criticized each player's performance individually, making comments about, "Well, yeah, put in the rookie, he knows what he's doing," or "You haven't made a goal all season", and the like. I take it one cannot be a casual hockey fan, at least around here. I was also surprised at the level of snark aimed at their own players! Very little was said about the opposition; all the sarcasm was saved up for their own. Somehow, that seems very Canadian.
Hockey, I have surmised, is a game of disappointment. Out of 25 or so goal attempts - some of them simply millimeters from a score - only 1 actually made it past the goalie. And that doesn't seem unusual (well, perhaps not 1:25, but a high attempt to goal ratio seems to be acceptable). There was the sound of the crowd as the attempt was made - building, building... then that sad, trailing, "ohh" sound as the puck was batted finally away. This was repeated over and over.
The loudest cheer of the night was, of course, for the 1 goal that was made, and you'd think it was the winning shot from the way the fans were celebrating, rather than a pity score after being 4 - 0 for 3 periods. The second loudest cheer? For the fight that broke out on the ice that resulted in 2 players being ejected from the game. The crowd went electric. They had been waiting all night for that moment, and were not going to be disappointed. To my unpracticed eyes, though, it just looked like two men hugging - until one decided to start weakly punching the other in the head. There must be some nuance there I simply did not catch.
I would definitely go again, just for the crowd and the fights, but perhaps we'd sit further up from the ice.