When the polar bears ask for the first public training session for the new season, it’s an event for the team and the players. It was the same on Monday evening in the Wellblechpalast – and yet it was a bit of new territory for everyone involved. Two years of Corona, two seasons under special conditions and two championship titles for Berlin’s ice hockey team – they were difficult years under mostly less than pleasant circumstances.
Many Polar Bears fans still regret not being able to celebrate the recent championships with their heroes like they have in the past. Now they are hoping for the third title in a row and for a season without corona-related restrictions.
That’s another reason why the reunion on Monday is a big happening, especially since the traditional 2020 season opening training had to take place behind closed doors and strict hygiene requirements applied in 2021, which prevented one or the other fan from visiting.
This time everything is as it was before Corona, although the pandemic is still ongoing and measures may need to be taken again in the autumn. But that’s irrelevant this Monday.
Instead, around 1,000 fans made their way to the corrugated iron palace. An hour before the actual start of training, people with fan sweaters, stickers on their backpacks or jerseys can be seen around Konrad-Wolf-Straße. It’s a happy reunion. “It’s been a long time” or “It’s nice to see you” – phrases like these are often heard this evening. It is not only the enthusiasm for ice hockey, but also the joy of togetherness that unites the fans.
At 5:30 p.m. the doors of the ice rink finally open, and the official training begins half an hour later. Grinning and waving players pour out of the locker room, greeted by loud fan chants and cheers. Bully, the polar bears’ mascot, keeps running through the curves, crashing selfies, hugging the smallest fans and making people cheer several times. The good mood is almost tangible.
Meanwhile, some game situations are simulated on the ice. The fans can join in the excitement when there are outnumbered attacks, counterattacks when building up the game and classic two-on-one moments. The absolute highlight is the training game, in which three polar bears take turns playing against three others. There was a penalty shootout at the end. The fans cheer and clap.
And most of them are cautiously optimistic about the chances in the new season: “The squad is very well positioned. Over time you will see to what extent the players come together,” says a member of the fan community, adding: “Here everyone has confidence in the club management and if we don’t win the championship this year, then we’ll do it again next year.”
Above all, the supporters hope that they can all experience the season together in the stands. That almost seems even more important than another championship title. The fans want to be able to cheer on their team and celebrate goals together. However, the fear of another pandemic season with viewer restrictions or game cancellations cannot be completely suppressed.
Polar bear striker Marcel Noebels also talks about this. The difference between a season with and one without fans is like “day and night” for him. If there are no spectators, you have to push yourself within the team because there is no outside influence. For Noebels, the polar bear fans are therefore a very important factor that you can always count on and that would continue to grow – also thanks to the recent successes.
Marco Nowak, one of the summer additions, raves about the polar bears’ fan culture. After the training session, he says: “It’s unbelievable that so many fans come to the public training session. Great, this is Berlin, the capital. It was always uncomfortable playing against Berlin and now having the fans behind you is a great thing.”
According to Noebels, the goal of the season is “to win the last game of the season.” A typical sentence in ice hockey, which means nothing other than wanting to lift the championship trophy again at the end. It will certainly not fail because of the support of the fans.