They travel from countries around the world and walk onto the rink with flames erupting around them. Together, the players stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the blue line in uniforms representing their country, and their homeland. But while the game they play is in front of a boisterous crowd, in a hockey arena with dasher boards and glass, there are no skates or pucks. Instead, the teams are on a dek ready to play hockey without ice.
Although most ball hockey players won’t play in front of such fanfare during their career, the warmer months do not necessarily mean hockey has to go on hiatus. Sure, there are ice hockey rinks operating during the summer, and indoor ball hockey rinks as well, but there’s nothing better than hitting the dek with the sun beaming down.
What is Ball Hockey?
Street hockey is a sport most ice hockey players play while growing up. All you need is a net or a garage door, a ball and some hockey sticks. Depending on where you played, whether it was your backyard, your driveway or the street – made famous in “Wayne’s World” with “Game on! Game off!” – the dimensions of the “rink” could change.
But ball hockey is not street hockey.
Get more kids playing hockey.
Another brand new dek hockey rink out in the greater Pittsburgh community.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 24, 2018
Instead, imagine a run-of-the-mill hockey rink. It has blue lines, red lines, and goal lines. There are two nets, boards, glass and netting. Benches, a scorer’s booth, and penalty boxes line one side while fans sit and cheer on the other. Icings are icings and offsides are, well kinda, offsides. But that’s where the comparison ends with ice hockey. The aforementioned ice has been melted away and the surface is either polished concrete or a blue plastic dek.
Yes, offsides do exist but while its blue line in, its red line out. This expansion of the zone allows for more creativity for the offensive team, but also the ability for the defensive squad to break out of their zone with speed and drive. In the NHL, if the puck goes over the glass, the play is whistled down. In ball hockey, the netting wrapped around the rink is fair game, which can make for some interesting plays. And don’t forget, no one is wearing skates and they aren’t chasing around a piece of rubber – they are playing with a plastic orange ball.
Aiming to Bring Home Gold
In 1993, the International Street & Ball Hockey Federation, or ISBHF, was formed as the governing body of ball hockey across the globe. Recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation, the ISBHF held it’s 12th Annual World Championships in 2017 in Pardubice. The United States, Canada, Slovakia and the host country, the Czech Republic, were in attendance and made their way to the medal stand. Also fielding teams were squads from Armenia, the Cayman Islands, Haiti, Hong Kong, Lebanon, and Bermuda – proving hockey is a global sport.
The game is also ageless. While the tournament rosters were mostly made up of players in their twenties, they also included teenagers such as the United States Women’s National Team defenseman and tournament All-Star, Stefanie Caban. While you’d think ball hockey is a young man or young woman’s game, the older generation was also well. In fact, Team Bermuda’s Tom Miller, who suited up at 62-years-old, was outrunning players half his age.
The Stars of the Game
Ball hockey is considered a niche, up-and-coming sport. With professional leagues dotting the landscape in Europe, there are rumors that the sport may one day join the Olympics. Until that day, the sport will continue to try to push the mainstream perception of hockey, and spread the game, across the globe. For the newest members of the ball hockey fan base, the extension into ice hockey is prevalent.
At the 2017 ISBHF Word Championship, Philadelphia Flyers Prospect Danick Martel – who earned his first NHL call-up in November – dominated the tournament as the top scorer and best forward. The small, speedy winger has credited his ball hockey background with his ice hockey game.
“Playing with a ball or playing with a puck is not the same thing, but I think the ball is helping so much with the skills [when I’m on the ice],” noted Martel, who won a silver medal with Team Canada. “Ball hockey is man-to-man too, so if your guy is running beside you, you need to run … Hockey is hockey. So getting shots, practicing your shots in the summer instead of going on the ice you try to find a way and ball hockey is my way.”
On the women’s side, former Buffalo Beauts teammates Paige Harrington and Devon Skeats faced off with Harrington’s US Women’s National Team pulling off the upset against the heavily favored Canadians in the Semifinals. The Canadian roster also included the Markham Thunder’s Jamie Lee Rattray who was the top scorer in the women’s tournament.
— VICE Sports (@VICESports) March 23, 2017
But while ball hockey rosters include names that ice hockey fans may know, the sport has its own legends such as Team Canada’s Chris Morrison, Jr., United States forward Bobby Housser and Team India’s Smiter Kaila. Kaila, who initially played on Team Canada, has been with Team India since 2009.
“I don’t really get what the craze is about,” said Kaila with a laugh at the 2017 ISBHF World Championships. “I don’t think of myself in that way. But It’s a nice feeling that people appreciate what you do. For us back home [in India] it’s not a popular sport, it’s a [recreational sport], so to get that recognition it’s great actually.”
Check Out Ball Hockey
There are a myriad of ways to pick up or check out the sport of ball hockey. If you’re interested in playing competitively check out the more than 40 different tournaments offered in the United States and Canada.
In addition, you can watch the best in the world compete for a gold medal in the next few months. This June and July, countries will field U-20, U-18 and U-16 boys and, for the first-time ever, U-20 girls teams to vie for glory in the Czech Republic and Canada. For the older enthusiasts, in September the Master’s Division will hit the dek as women over the age of 35 and men over 40 will compete in Bermuda. In 2019, the ISBHF’s World Championship will be held in Kosice, Slovakia.
The beauty of ball hockey is that it’s still hockey at its core. It involves playing solid defense and strong offense. It brings men and women, children and adults, from around the world together to meet and compete.
As they say, hockey is life, hockey is family – and ball hockey is just that.