Is this the world's oddest ice hockey blog?

Rod Sarich, ice hockey player and foodie.
Rod Sarich, ice hockey player and foodie.
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Sheffield Steelers' veteran Rod Sarich has a different eye on the world than the rest of the human race.

Very different

Icesheffield

Icesheffield

So any blog written by the veteran Canadian defenceman is bound to be an unusual read.

Roddy penned this column below after the club's recent ice hockey excursion into Champions Hockey League action .

You'll notice there is almost nothing in this blog about what happened on the ice.

That's because Roddy is, well, Roddy.

Sarich in sensible mood

Sarich in sensible mood

There's lots about food, building shelves, baking hot hotels, more food, tiled floors, a team-mate's fear of rats, a deflated blowfish, English fashion...oh and food again. (He likes his food.)

So here it is: Rod Sarich's ever so slightly nutty blog, September 2015.

"Well well well.

It’s been a while since I last attempted one of these “blogs” and I think it’s fair to say that a lot has happened since then. I took a year out of hockey, started proper full time work, returned to hockey, won a Championship and had one of my most enjoyable years yet, finished my university degree and, most importantly, finally got the shelves put up in the living room of my house.

It took 6 years but the shelves finally went up. I’m sure it’s been playing on your mind since the last update from the Sarich DIY universe, I can almost hear the exhales of relief. The only problem now is, we’ve just recently sold our house and moved!

I credit the shelves for a speedy sale. They were pretty hot, if I do say so myself… which I do.

Unfortunately our new house has it’s own long list of DIY projects, but that’s for another time. I’m back on the hockey scene and there’s a lot to report on, especially now that the university texts have all been up-cycled, propping up the corner of the sofa, insulating the loft, etc. and I’ve gained back a fraction more free time.

As anyone who’s read my previous “blogs” will know, I tend to keep the hockey talk to a minimum, instead preferring to rant and complain about random issues of life in the UK, frustrations of being a home owner, or playing slave to two feline masters.

However, our recent Champions Hockey League trip to Scandinavia was such an interesting experience that I can’t help but ramble on a bit about it. But no worries, there’ll be an appropriate amount of grumbling too.

So lets start.

It was an early morning bus that was to shuttle us away from the cozy Sheffield arena parking lot, off to Manchester airport and onwards to the unknown Viking North. A 6:30am departure was necessary for us to catch our early flight; the beginning of a very long day.

Starting things off, submarine sandwiches had been prepared for us as a ready-to-go breakfast en route.

Submarine sandwich?

I can’t recall the last time someone addressed this particular sandwich by it’s full and proper name. It’s a bit of a mouthful (no pun intended), but when you think about it, it is quite an appropriate title - the shape of the sandwich rightfully dictates the name.

That is unless your dinning at Subway, in which case it’s more than likely their aggressive wrapping process has left your sandwich resembling a U-boat that’s descended ruinously beyond crush depth. Flat as a Swedish pancake. But still quite tasty!

At first I thought that the choice of an Astute Class sandwich for breakfast was a bit odd but when it was explained that the early departure required something that could be assembled the night before, and potentially saved as a snack for later on in the airport, it all made a bit more sense.

In fact, in hindsight, it also served as an unintentional intro to the breakfasts we would encounter in the North. Lots of rye bread, ham and cheese.

I played part of a season in Finland, this was about 2 millennia ago, and had forgotten the typical morning fare. Everything is a lot closer to lunch than breakfast. No sunny side eggs or cantaloupe mind you, so it’s not brunch either.

The menu leans even further towards lunch. “Bunch” sounds more fitting. Just a bunch of ham and cheese. Particularly in Finland.

There was a bit more selection in Sweden. The best thing on offer had to be the pancakes which were closer to crepes than buttermilks, and accompanied by heaps of strawberry jam and massive dollops of cool whip - that chemically enhanced alternative to proper whipped cream which all Canadians love.

My wife says all I ever talk about is food. So I’ll continue.

The food on the flight was also interesting and different. The crisps I purchased mid-flight were packaged in some kind of origami picnic basket box, which, when opened, disappointingly revealed crisps in the standard plastic bag. But if the crisps were a disappointment then the free in flight blue berry juice more than made up for things.

We’re talking some seriously delicious stuff. Not as syrupy as apple juice but subtly sweet and with a refreshing flavour. I didn’t think juice could be any better… then we arrived at the rink in Gothenburg.

In the secondary changing room, our hosts had put out some food for us. Of course, there was ham and cheese to spare. But the thing that caught my eye was the carton of blue berry juice. However, this wasn’t the same thing as served on the flight.

As informed by Russ Moyer and Tyler Plante, recent Swedish residents, educated in the ways of the North - this was “blueberry soup”.

Apparently, the locals fill half a cup with this lovely stuff - which exists at a consistency somewhere between juice and yogurt and features a good deal of blue berry pulp - then add granola or muesli to the mix before shovelling it in with a spoon.

As there was no granola to hand, I opted to fill several cups and hoist them straight down my gob.

Although we didn’t find blue berry juice as plentiful in Finland, there was another culinary delight to be discovered. Or maybe I should say, disclosed.

It wasn’t till after wolfing down our post training meal in the cafeteria at Jyvaskyla Arena, that it was revealed, much to Duco’s chagrin, that we had just enjoyed a helping of reindeer stew.

It was truly delicious stuff and there weren’t any complaints, but I got the impression that a few of the boys may not have ventured for the “Donner” kebab if they’d have read the menu in advance.

Back on the early morning bus, we’re halfway to Manchester Airport and I’m already sweating. Our new kung-fu styled tracksuits are terribly comfortable but equally well insulated. They’re gonna be great when we arrive in Coventry mid-Feb, but a bit of overkill for August.

The other downside to our team travel apparel was the fact there were no zippered pockets to be found. The sound of loose pocket change showering the ground featured throughout the trip. I splashed some change around in one of the dressing rooms. Lost the equivalent of a few pounds in the Sweden but overall I’d estimate I made about £9.80 for the trip. Almost enough to buy a beer in Gothenburg!

And beer was certainly called for; our snow suits were even more oppressive when we arrived at the Gothia Towers hotel - surely the nicest in Gothenburg, but probably also one of the hottest. Picture three, twenty floor, glass tower skyscrapers rising above an array of green spaces and traditional Scandinavian city architecture.

Complete with a sky lounge and a roof top, glass floor, suspended swimming pool, the Gothia Towers were a swanky example of modern Swedish excellence. But in terms of getting a good sleep? Maybe not.

The lifts were quick and it didn’t take long to arrive on the 15th floor, but behind the super heavy-duty fire door you felt you were entering a convection oven.

There’s a great view from the 15th; unfortunately the windows don’t open very far. It’s understandable though, for when 2am in the morning roles around, and you’re so hot your hair might spontaneously ignite, throwing yourself from the building isn’t necessarily out of the question.

Granted, most of the year AC is not likely to top the amenities list in a country as far north as Sweden, but surely any hotel where your selection of juice from the breakfast drinks machine is done by way of an iPad must also be able to offer the “novelty” of controlling your hotel room temperature!

Furthermore, for all the things the Swedes do better than the Brits – pancakes, meatballs, fashion, public transport, no litter, blue berries, the English language - they don’t have a Scooby Doo when it comes to pillows. Square, half feather filled, limp instruments of insomnia are what you’ll find. You’d be better off sleeping with your head on a deflated blowfish.

However, years of junior and minor league hockey, and sleeping in the hotels of the southern states (hot as any luxury Swedish hotel ever was) have taught this veteran hockey player to adapt and survive.

One of the best tricks for survival in a hot hotel room, passed on to me by a wise-beyond-his-years junior hockey survival guru by the name of Brent Dodginghorse, is to sprinkle some water on your bed sheets then fold them up and put them in the mini-bar fridge to chill until bedtime. Genius!

This remedy is usually enough to get you off to sleep but you still need to find a way to cool the room down or else you’ll only wake in a 3am. in an Saharan rage and a throat as dry as Ghandi’s flip flop… as was the case our first night in the Towering Inferno.

I’d already cracked the window the max allowance of 3.7 cm, and wouldn’t you know it, the Swedes were reinvesting their abundant tax money back into the public transport, bless them, by way of a middle of the night upgrade to the tramline, diamond tipped circular cement saw just grinding away.

You’d think that our lofty abode would be sufficiently high above the noise of the street, but this was not the case. The generous 3.7cm gap of vital fresh airflow only served to refract and intensify the noise, which at this point had my full and undivided attention. I could feel the diamond saw starting to cut into my cranium.

The only thing that saved me was a disgusting, yet priceless, pair of old ear buds floating around in the bottom of my shaving bag. Ear plugs are a particularly essential survival item. It’s amazing how many times you’ll find yourself in a Belfast Premier Inn, function room just below your own, hosting an all nighter for the International Drunk Dancing Elephants Karaoke Society. The odds are surprisingly high.

Anyways, I awoke slightly refreshed the next morning and went down to breakfast where I proceeded to gorge myself on pancakes and whip cream, washed down with some tasty iPad juice.

The rink we played our first game in was Frolunda’s old arena, now their main training centre, and still a brilliant facility on all fronts. It had great ice and an even better cafeteria. But before I start off again on some food tangent, involving one of the best meatloaf and Lingonberry sauces I’ve ever had, I think I should stop and describe the changing rooms in just a bit more detail.

Overall, at first glance, there was nothing terribly exciting about the rooms we occupied – ample size, clean, good showers, etc. etc. Still, there was one interesting thing about them, and we didn’t even notice until most of the team was half dressed prior to our first training session! Time had been a bit tight so when we arrived at the rink straight from the airport, kit bags were dropped in haste, warm ups were quickly taken, and sticks hastily tapped.

It wasn’t until the quickest of the dressers went to put on their skates that we realised the floors, in all rooms, were completely tiled!

Tiles don’t make a great surface to walk on with skates. Any surface harder than the steel itself will cause the blade to loose its edge, rendering your skates virtually useless on the ice. Including the long day of travel, it would have been a pretty sorry training session had the lads took the lazy option and tap-danced their way out of the room.

In the end, Frolunda graciously leant us some skate guards to strap underneath our blades, allowing us to exit the room into the rubberised hallway which lead to the ice. But not before the impatient half of the team, and already fully dressed, escaped by crawling out of the room on their hands and knees like a parade of armoured toddlers - another first for the hockey career!

Why would the Swedes have tiled rooms if they know everyone is going to be wearing skates? Does Frolunda subsidise it’s extensive team budget by bolstering skate guards sales? It doesn’t seem likely.

What did seem likely, after a bit of pondering, is that the tiled floors were just another tactical step inline with the cleanliness regime of the North. The rooms were spotless, and I’d guess that the tiles had a lot to do with it. They must be a lot easier to keep clean and dry, in comparison to most of the rubber matted floors which feature in the majority of hockey dressing rooms.

You see, rubber flooring is easy on skate blades but not great hygienically. These rubber mats are rarely evenly laid, or seamless, and the water from skates and showering inevitably ends up pooling in a corner or seeping underneath – and this is when things can get a bit disgusting, regardless of the cleaning schedule. I don’t think the dressing room floor in Edinburgh was ever dry in my first seven years in the league. Flip -flops are another essential piece of hockey survival kit.

The state of showers throughout the EIHL, and the hockey world in general, is not, on average, great. I could go on for a while on this subject but maybe another time, in another blog.

However, flip-flops were not even required in Gothenburg, so clean was the state of these Swedish showers. The only thing that let them down was the towels.

They must be using petroleum jelly as fabric softener up there the way they didn’t absorb but rather smeared the water around; you’d have been better off drying yourself with a piece of lettuce.

Following the game against Frolunda, the next day we had an early morning flight from Gothenburg to Helsinki. From there followed another internal flight up to Jyvaskyla and, for those on our team who are a bit suspicious about the reliability of manned flight, this is when things started to look a bit hairy. Out on the tarmac, only a short walk from our gate, was a small and slightly less than convincing turbo prop.

Turbo props are almost standard for short internal flight in the provinces of western Canada and I wasn’t too concerned. However, I think some of my terra firma teammates may have held a different outlook on the situation. In the end everyone got on the plane and, in fact, there was even a pre-boarding group selfie photo taken. But, if you’d have listened carefully, I’m sure you could have heard Jonboy’s teeth rattling, chattering away to the rhythm of La Bamba as visions of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper danced in his head.

From another perspective, you may have been able read a hint of agitation in equipment manager Andy Akers’ eyes as he came face to face with the aeronautical catalyst of our undersized equipment bag needs. Our standard bags were much to large for the plane in question. As a necessity smaller bags were required and had been manufactured by Rhino specifically for this particular flight. Much smaller bags.

On the way to Sweden, Andy somehow miracously had managed to stuff all of our… stuff…. into these miniature bags. How he did it I’ll never know. Like some kind of Mensa Puzzle solving genius, he’d exploited every last inch of space - skates within shorts, toiletry bags inside skates, socks inside toiletry, and so on – one fantastic Tetristic work of art.

So you can only imagine the success a bunch of dim-witted hockey apes had, trying to recreate this masterpiece in the rush of a 6a.m. Gothenburg departure, brains at half idle, running on ham andcheese. We lost a lot of good zippers that day.

There’s a multitude of other memories I’ll take away from our CHL adventure, but if I don’t wrap it up now I’ll be here forever. I haven’t even touched on our Finnish day at the lake, or our stay at the even hotter Bond Villain bunker (Jyvaskyla hotel), or the surprise of getting to see my old team mate Freddie

Sjostrom (Frolunda’s assistant GM), or, even, the flying beer - Darryl Hay’s undercover fear of rats - my first hedgehog sighting story.

What a great time we had. Oh, and did I mention, some great food too?"