It’s midnight on a Wednesday night. Super Bonz? Sex on the Beat? Something a little more alternative? Apparently there’s a bit of a mad one going on at the Oxford Ice Rink. Midnight Ice Hockey. Whatever floats your boat.
But seriously, rumour has it that groups of around seventy or eighty ‘Alternatives’ (as they have come to be known) descend on Oxpens Road for a late night ‘pick-up’ session, as it is known in Canada. For such an outlandish idea, these clandestine meetings have been taking place ever since 1885, with a cuppers tournament that is almost into its twentieth year of competition.
Brutal body-checks and no holds barred dust-ups? Contrary to our perhaps ignorant impression of Ice Hockey that we get from the NHL, this is a more cordial affair. These guys are happy just to play for the love of the game, with meets not refereed and total disregard shown for keeping the score. A number of the current university Ice Hockey team began in this fashion as it is the ideal stepping stone to nurture both interest and possibly even talent.
Club president John Mellor claims to be ‘happy with the niche’ that the Alternatives have carved out for themselves, encouraging participation first and competitiveness second. The unusual playing conditions and environment add an extra level of allure apparently. Certainly some achievement for such a minority interest to attract over a hundred competitors at the recent cuppers tournament.
Although the group stages were taken with a pinch of salt, in keeping with the club’s unequivocal ethos, the action intensified to a fitting climax, after an extra-time golden goal victory in the semi-finals, with the Exeter ‘Spartans’ going on to claim the spoils. An observer is quoted as saying “I didn’t really know what to expect, as I haven’t seen a lot of Ice Hockey, but I stand corrected. I actually quite enjoyed it – I was really surprised by the level of interest and commitment.”
So maybe some serious consideration must be made over the relative benefits of a few alcopops and a kebab over a night of seemingly informal and yet unquestionably invigorating entertainment. Midnight Ice Hockey is staking its claim as Oxford’s definitive ‘Alternative’ sport.
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