Looking behind-the-scenes of one of the most anticipated varsity games at St Andrews
This is a fixture you will certainly not want to miss. The upcoming Jonny Wookey Memorial Varsity Game is the annual match between the University of St Andrews Typhoons and the University of Edinburgh Eagles, and is being held at the Fife Ice Arena in Kirkcaldy on April 4th. The Typhoons are the reigning national champions and anticipation is high, so I spoke with members of the team to learn a little more about the history of the fixture, their experience on the team and what to expect.
Andy Benstead, a first-year Social Anthropology and International Relations student, found the team on social media when he was researching universities. “I sent them a message on Instagram so when I visited, I was able to watch them last year at their final practice before going to Nationals”. Third-year IR and Economics student Ken Worden’s experience was similar, as he saw them online, “and so made sure I brought all my stuff over from Canada”. Although his first year at St Andrews was during Covid where “no one could really do anything”, in his second year he got involved and has “been playing ever since”.
Training has been going well for the team. Tristan Long, a second-year studying Management and French, was encouraged by the “good intensity” brought by the team: “we only train once a week in Kirkcaldy, so it’s a bit far away but everyone comes excited to practise and we all try to keep training fun”. Hubert Bourque, in his fourth-year doing IR and Econ, notes how “compared to my first year, we’re trying to be a lot more inclusive as a club. It’s sometimes difficult finding the balance between practising things that will help us win games and making sure it's inclusive for those playing the sport for the first time or in their first year”. Nikhil Mendez, studying Economics and Philosophy and in his third year, highlighted how “it can take a while to be effective and participate, which is frustrating but you do really need to put the hours in”.
For someone who has never seen an ice hockey game before — such as myself — the team set out the basic rules. A very fast-moving game, the fundamentals are easy to get to grips with. There are two teams, each with three forwards, two defensive players and a goalie, both aiming to get the puck in the opposite team’s net. Andy explained how the speed of the game means “the centre of tension during play is always where the puck is”. Unlike lots of sports, substitutions are made constantly and throughout the game, so it can be hard to keep track of certain players. “It’s so entertaining because it’s so fast-paced”, Hubert said.
Ken is the event coordinator for the Jonny Wookey game, and told me a bit about its history. It was started twelve years ago, but as its 2020 and 2021 iterations were called off due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, this is the tenth meeting. Dedicated to Jonny Wookey, who was one of club’s first founding members who passed away after graduation, Ken described it as a good occasion for team players “to remember and honour people who started the whole organisation, because starting a hockey team in St Andrews is a big thing to do, especially back in 2011”. Hubert added that “most people who attended the very first game and played in it would have known Jonny Wookey, and so it probably had a slightly different meaning when it started”. Nikhil told me how he’d watched a video with one of Jonny’s friends, and how she said he had envisioned the club creating a big event such as the varsity has turned into. “To make that happen and create it in his memory is so meaningful”.
For £16, ticket holders get transport to the venue in Kirkcaldy as well as discounted beers, pitchers and food. Compared to many events in St Andrews, Tristan stated that “it’s extremely fairly priced” and although pitching and selling the tickets can be tricky for those unfamiliar with the game, many are up to give something new a go.
The team are confident about facing Edinburgh; this season they have already played and beaten them twice. For the varsity, things may be a little different as they tend to bring some alumni players, plus playing in front of the Jonny Wookey crowd when “sometimes you can’t hear yourself think with the screaming and cheering”, Tristan added. But who at St Andrews wouldn’t want to come and watch their team play against Edinburgh! The fan experience is one of the best aspects of the event, and after the match, there will be an afterparty at The Rule, the sponsor for the game. Social secretary Nikhil promised it would be “as fun as possible with good DJs lined up…”. The team has very “tight-knit bonds with each other”, as the small size of the group means “we all get along so well”.
The team are certain that for first-time attendees or seasoned ice hockey-addicts, this year’s Jonny Wookey game will be an unmissable event!
Image: Tristan Long