A picture from the Swedish Bandy league final in front of 26 000 people in Uppsala. March 2005.
Yesterday in Moscow was the first day of World Championship matches in what is Sweden’s second most popular sport played on ice.
Canada opened the Bandy World Championships with a convincing 6-0 win over Mongolia. Yes, Mongolia!
Today was another convincing win over Holland, 6-1.
Along with Canada in the "B" group (tier 2) is the aforementioned Mongolians and Dutch, as well as other powerhouse nations (sarcasm) like Estonia, Latvia, Hungary and the US of A.
Bandy is a sport that, equipment-wise, looks like hockey but, rules-wise, is much more like soccer. Eleven players, in positions similar to soccer, skate on a playing surface, akin to a soccer pitch, while carrying sticks and chasing a little orange ball.
My uneducated guess would be that Bandy was invented by the crazy nomads of Siberia. In truth it was the Brits. It is certainly a refreshing winter sport, if today we were living in 1908. Nowadays though, there are few places where people will willingly stand outdoors for 90 minutes in the dead of winter squinting after a tiny, fast-moving orange dot. In fact, Uppsala's team, IK Sirius rarely draws more than 500 spectators.
That said, I like bandy. It is like watching Woody Allen films; it employees a lot of technique (sometimes beyond the eye of the casual observer), is often of high quality and intelligent, and is enjoyed by a small, but unique group of aficionados. However, that comparison requires two corrections: it is outdoor and it moves fast. So, to summarize, bandy is like watching Woody Allen films in fast forward, standing outside, at a drive-in, in winter. And therein lies why it will not catch on.
Nevermind the fact that it is a poor spectator sport, Bandy has too much disparity. It has the goal of becoming an Olympic sport, but the gap between a Group A team, like Sweden, and a Group B, such as Canada, is cavernous. It would be like Canada facing Mexico or Iceland in hockey. Parity is many developmental years away. Olympic competition would seem a bit ill-conceived, or rather pre-conceived if one were to predict a winner - Russia, Sweden or Finland (much, I would note, like the US, Canada and Sweden in women's hockey).
When it comes to sport in general, whatever the sport, I will cheer for Canadians. More to it, cheer for Canada extra loud when they are the underdog. In this case, a bunch of Winnipeggers have travelled around the world with one main goal: beat the US. If they do so, and can win Group B, we will have a chance to get annihalated next year in Group A.
Like Woody Allen's 30 years of undergoing psychoanalysis, Bandy too will continue to feel undervalued as an illegitimate little brother to ice hockey. I would enjoy seeing Canada, or some other nation, make in-roads internationally and jump into Group A with some authority, but that is unlikely. For now we are left to achieve moral victories over those mongrels from Mongolia or tulips from Holland.
Hockey Notes: Jonas Almtorp has scored a point! Break out the champagne... or maybe just some Ginger Ale. He assisted on a Tim Sestito goal in a game (his 17th AHL game) versus the Worchester Sharks last Saturday.