Photograph courtesy of Calgary Underwater Hockey Club
Hockey rules. But some things about playing organized ice hockey definitely don’t rule: the expense of skates and equipment, schlepping the giant bag of said equipment, chilly arenas and yammering trash-talkers who use recreational league play to work out their anger issues.
None of the above is of any concern, however, if you play under water.
Three times per week, members of the Calgary Underwater Hockey Club (CUHC) meet at the Talisman Centre to play a version of the game that, like its on-ice inspiration, involves players with sticks moving a puck into a goal. In this case, the game is played along the flat bottom of a swimming pool with a weighted puck and metal troughs taking the place of goal nets.
The six players per side (there are no goalies) use fins, snorkels and scuba masks and foot-long wooden or plastic sticks. Aside from a padded glove to protect players’ stick hands, there’s no additional safety equipment required.
Like ice hockey, skilled players know how to position themselves to give and take the perfect pass. There are also penalties, mostly for contact-related infractions like kicking your opponent on purpose or stick infractions like slashing.
Unlike ice hockey, skilled players have to be good at holding their breath. Underwater players also can’t call for the puck (or trash-talk). “It’s all non-verbal communication, almost like intuition,” says CUHC president Branko Gojsic. “You have to trust and know where your other players are.”
Currently, the club, which has been around since 1980, has about 15 adults and 20 youth members. The youth are the top club in the country right now, Gojsic says. Last August, seven boys and five girls from the CUHC were selected for Canada’s Under 19 squad at an international tournament in Spain.
New players don’t necessarily have to possess the same competitive drive. The club also welcomes those who simply want to have fun playing an old sport in a new way.
For more information on underwater hockey in Calgary, visit calgaryunderwater.ca.