How We Watch the NHL in Europe

The NHL is the best league in the world. The best players are playing in this league and although most of us follow other leagues, local teams etc. – The NHL remains the “real deal”. For most of us, watching NHL games is easy. For Europeans though, this can become quite a challenge with the time difference. Born and raised in Switzerland, I know how challenging it can be to follow the best league in the world. I would like to offer you an insight into my way of watching the NHL.

First of all, in my country access to NHL games has only been available for approximately ten years. I have always been a hockey fan  and I have followed the local Swiss league, but the NHL seemed far away when I was young. There was barely an article in the papers about the NHL and only a handful of people had deep knowledge of the league from across the pond.

The NHL always seemed a mystical paradise to me, a hidden garden where all the greatest players play. I remember there were few NHL sequences at the end of hockey broadcasts, mostly about David Aebischer and his playoff run with the Colorado Avalanche. I remember that whenever seeing those images from abroad, everyone in my family was glued to the screen and fascinated by the rare glance at the NHL.

So you might wonder: What got me into the NHL? To be honest, it was EA Sports and its NHL video game series. I knew all the teams, all the players from my Nintendo 64 console, although I never saw them actually play. I could tell you about the teams, players, numbers etc. without ever seeing a single NHL game.

With more and more Swiss players entering the league, the Swiss media attention grew and thanks to a German TV station we were able to see live games over here too. Even though I now had the chance to see the games on TV, there was still the difficulty of the time difference. On weekdays, most games start at 7 pm ET, which is 1 am for me in Switzerland; meaning I can’t catch those games unless it is a bank holiday or Friday evening.

The worst part is the time until puck drop. I would switch channels, zap through crappy movies and check the hands of my clock which hardly seemed to move. And just when I thought I couldn’t resist my warm bed any longer, the clock would hit one o’clock…finally! I can be tired as hell, but as soon as the game is on I am a different person. Eyes wide open, ready for NHL action…ready for the weekend!

Then, sometime in April, the long awaited day was here:  The start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The best time of the year. Of course, I am as excited as any hockey fan and can’t wait to get the party started. The three to four days break before the actual playoffs start makes you somehow forget about the game for a while but when the first puck drop is here, you are back in the game. More than ever actually, because you realize from the very first shift that everything changes.

The regular season doesn’t matter any longer, the captured Presidents’ Trophy becomes meaningless for your team. Watching the first playoff game makes you realize all of this and there is something else you realize – The intensity and the atmosphere in the building. It gives the players a boost to play in the playoffs, it gives me a boost to stay up longer, also because I don’t want to miss a moment.

Now, there is one problem. As the playoffs mature, the games kick off later. The afternoon starts are limited to a few and in the Stanley Cup Finals those afternoon matinees are almost completely gone. The NHL usually sets the puck drop to 8 pm ET, which means 2 am for me. With the whole anthem and pre-game procedure, that means actually puck drop is around 2:20…and that is freaking late to start a hockey game,  I can tell you!

So, I fight through the night, the later it gets, the worse the TV-shows get. I become more tired but when the first shift is under way I immediately change. I am pumped up like the players or the fans in the stands. Again, I am a different person now, somehow in one second the tiredness is gone and I am wide awake – At 2.20 am in the morning when the rest of the world sleeps.

Then, the first game approaches where a team can win the Cup. And this brings my dilemma to a whole new level. Of course, I want to see the dying seconds of the game, the Cup lift and the celebration, but knowing that this game comes in the middle of the week and my alarm clock runs off at 7 in the morning, this becomes quite a challenge.

There are two options. A) You watch the game nevertheless and hope that the team with the chance to win the Cup seals the deal. The problem is that if the wrong team wins, then two nights later you face the same decision again, and staying all night up that next game does not help your overall tiredness.

Or you go for b) and you set your alarm clock for the last period and just watch the last period of the game. I have been there and I can tell you if you wake up in the middle of the night and turn on the TV, it takes you at least ten minutes until you are awake and realize what is happening. Additionally, it is just not the same if you enter the game just for the last period, it’s not the same at all and you don’t really feel the game.

Whichever option I go for, it comes the moment I see the final game and all the Stanley Cup celebrations. The birds start to sing outside, dawn colors the sky in a funny way and the first sunbeams lighten up the sky; it must be around 5 am. I turn off the TV, I know I can’t fall asleep anymore after an emotional game, so I go directly to work.

For once I am the first guy in the office. Co-workers arrive in the office and wonder what I am doing here at that hour. I look tired, tired from a long playoff run and not having enough sleep in weeks. I look around in the office, I probably look the most tired, but at the same time, I know that I am the most satisfied person in the entire building. Because I have seen something no one else in the office saw, I had a night like no other. I had the Cup!