Underwater hockey: Do hold your breath

A sport that combines the challenges of both diving and hockey.

The sticks are much shorter in underwater hockey. — Photo: ESPN

By: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer

You’ve heard of ice hockey, you’ve heard of field hockey, but get ready for . . . underwater hockey? Yes, the ice has melted and hockey has gone subaquatic with this variation of Canadians’ beloved sport.

Originating in 1954 in Portsmouth, England, underwater hockey was conceived by professional diver Alan Blake, who wanted a way for him and his diving club to stay active during the colder months. Initially, the game was called Octopush because the rules called for eight players per team. Blake and his team even called the equipment by cute, cephalopod-themed names like squid for the puck and cuttle for the net. Unfortunately, much of this terminology is lost as standard hockey nomenclature has now taken over. However, the essence of how the game is played has remained largely untouched except for the reduction of players per team from eight to five. 

On this note, the rules are generally the same as ice or field hockey, but the one main difference is that there is no forceful contact allowed. Because of this, you won’t see overly-aggressive men punching each other in the nose until they bleed, much like you would in ice hockey. This doesn’t mean that players can’t get injured, though, as they have to twist, dodge, and propel themselves to both vie for the puck and avoid getting obstructed by other competitors. Players even have to wear thick gloves and bulky goggles to avoid injury from unwanted, incidental contact. 

Another notable difference between underwater hockey and its traditional counterparts is that it’s played in a pool that is between two and four metres deep. The depth is significant enough that players have to leave the battle for control of the puck to come up for air, making this a game centered on strategy and teamwork. Add on the fact that there are no goalies to protect the net, and you’ve got a sport that requires highly coordinated team play. 

As far as obscure sports go, underwater hockey is definitely on the less obscure end of the spectrum given that it is played in more than 40 countries, with many different championships being held annually. There’s even a team here in Vancouver that plays casually, as well as a national Canadian team that participates in competitions like the CMAS Underwater Hockey World Championships

I think underwater hockey would be a cool, innovative sport to bring to SFU. The SFU Burnaby campus has a pool large enough for underwater hockey, so I don’t see why we couldn’t start a team of our own. We just need to drum up interest, start a social media campaign, put up posters, start recruiting from the existing hockey team, and forcefully dunk their heads in buckets of water to test their breathing. Ok, maybe not that last one . . . but otherwise, we would be all set.

All in all, underwater hockey is intriguing because it offers a wetter, and more affordable (since you don’t need pricey ice hockey equipment), way to play a Canadian classic. Plus, it’s a great way to dive into a unique and challenging physical activity. Why don’t we have this sport at SFU yet? 

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