Combining an unabated passion for hockey with travelling the world, Reinhard Scheupel from Germany has so far watched hockey in 52 different countries.
The hockey world is full of legendary names with their own quirks as far as collectibles are concerned. Finland's Teemu Selanne spent chunks of his pay packets on a glittering array of cars. Another IIHF Hall of Famer, long-time referee and supervisor Bob Nadin of Canada has diligently amassed a great collection of hockey stamps. Meanwhile, from Southern Germany's Bavaria region, 56-year old Scheupel sets out on global odysseys in his search for hockey games.
Cape Town, Gangneung, Herning, Kaunas, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Sarajevo are just a selection of outposts where Scheupel has watched organized hockey in so far during 2018. In a hectic second half of last season, Scheupel travelled across three continents to Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Korea, Lithuania, Malaysia, Philippines and South Africa where he attended six IIHF Men's World Championships and the XXIII Olympic Winter Games.
Albeit one of the most dedicated fan of its kind, Scheupel is not alone in his fanatism. Labeling themselves as 'icehopper', the name derives from hopping from one ice rink to another and is most prevalent in the German-speaking countries. In the world of icehopping, you score a point for each country and another one for each match you attend. Timekeeping and a referee must be present and you need to watch at least 31 minutes of a match in order for it to count.
"There used to be an internet forum for icehoppers and I was ranked third there back in 2008. Unfortunately, the forum was hacked around four years ago, but back then we were around 1,400 groundhoppers registered and now there is a core of 100 or so that are active," said Scheupel who keep close tabs of his escapades and at his last count he watched organized matches in 660 ice arenas in 52 countries.
Ten years ago when the number of registered groundhoppers was at its peak, the 2008 IIHF World Championships Division III was held in Luxembourg. The tranquil atmosphere inside the Kockelscheuer arena was to be drastically changed during a final round of games as droves of jovial icehoppers suddenly arrived from across the German border to liven things up as DPR Korea steamed ahead to win gold and promotion.
These days, the turnout of icehoppers is significantly lower in numbers and a popular presence attracting curious glances at all levels of World Championships. While some stand out in their specially designed black icehopper jerseys, others prefer to be more incognito such as Reinhard who often wear something with the logo of Straubing Tigers, his hometown team where it all once started.
"My first match I watched together with my father in 1968. At that time I was six years old. The first game I truly remember was from 1970 and I was excited by the quick, physical game and since then I have not missed many home games," he said of the team who played in the same Eisstadion am Pulverturm ever since and last season finished second from bottom in Germany's top flight, DEL.
With the spark now ignited, he was 12 when started to travel to road games on the road, first with father and then supporter coaches. His scope was widened when attending the 1983 World Championships contested in Munich and later with visits to nearby Austria and then Czechoslovakia. But it took a plunge across the pond before his interest upped a notch to become a fully-fledged icehopper.
"As of the 1994/95 season I would describe myself as 'icehopper'. It was then I made a hockey trip to the USA to watch Atlanta Knights in the IHL, Lakeland Ice Warriors in the Sunshine Hockey League and ECHL's Tallahassee Tiger Sharks," he said.
Still going strong almost a quarter of a century later, Scheupel keeps a burning interest of the game at all levels and on a global scale.
"I am a fan of the German national team and also the NHL and KHL, but also especially at the development of hockey in Eastern Europe and Asia," he said.
"The most exotic tournament I attended was in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan at the 2016 Challenge Cup of Asia. But the best tournament I've been at was the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver."
Working at the local office of the Secretary of State for the Bavarian regional government, Scheupel spends most of his free-time on hockey. But while travelling all over the world has its quirks, there is also some conflict at times with his first love at home.
"As I have a season-ticket for Straubing Tigers, I also don't want to miss any of their games. But for a very special game I would also miss one of the home matches," said Scheupel who perhaps is partly biased when asked of the best fans in the rinks he has visited over the years.
"The best fans are of course in Straubing, but also in Switzerland the atmosphere is super. But of the arenas I've visited so far I have for instance liked the Minsk Arena, the Collisée Pepsi in Quebec City and the Aren'Ice in Cergy-Pontoise in France," he continued.
As a self-confessed icehopper, spending considerable time and money on hockey. Does he ever feel it gets too much?
"When possible I try to take one week off to spend at the beach without hockey," he said. This year, he has visited both the Greek island of Mykonos and the Balearic island of Mallorca. Earlier this summer he was also in Varna on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. But old habits die hard as plans were made to attend a local hockey tournament there.
With the new season already looming on the horizon, three men's 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship has already been earmarked. But apart from Division IA in Astana, Kazakhstan, Division IB in Estonia's capital Tallinn and Division IIA in Belgrade, Serbia, his travel itinerary is set to be expanded once the new season gets underway.
"So far I have made plans to visit the tournaments in Astana, Tallinn and Belgrad. Watching a game in Mongolia and Turkmenistan would also be wonderful," Scheupel said.