By Zachary Cormier
It’s been a productive season so far for the Central Alberta Underwater Hockey Sharks.
“It’s been going, actually, quite well,” said Kathy Bargholz, one of the team organizers.
According to Bargholz, the team has gone through a bit of a transition period of late. Earlier this season, they split their team into two separate age groups and extended practice times to 1-4 p.m. at the Burman University pool.
The club, which is now in its fifth year, has seen quite a bit of growth over the last four seasons. They have grown from a single combined junior and senior team to two teams with about eight players each, a change that has brought about more development time for the junior players.
“Of course the seniors are a more powerful group because they’ve been swimming longer,” said Bargholz, adding the benefit for the younger players has been immediately obvious.
“The juniors are really happy with themselves. They’re having such a good time. It allows the juniors and the seniors more one-to-one time with the coach and to play hard at their level.”
The fledgling sport of underwater hockey has been growing quite rapidly in Alberta and around the world.
It’s a semi-contact game that involves attempting to get a weighted puck into the other team’s goal, much like ice hockey. The catch here, though, is that instead of skating on a frozen surface, underwater hockey athletes have to learn how to stick handle at the bottom of a swimming pool.
This year the junior and senior teams have had the opportunity to participate in a number of tournaments around the province and even the country.
To this point this year the senior team has travelled to Calgary twice to play on Sundays and earlier this month they flew out to Victoria, B.C. to participate in a tournament there.
“The Sharks had a great time and played hard all day against mostly more senior players. The kids took away many new skills and were very excited for the trip,” Bargholz said.
The team was only able to send six of their senior players to the tourney, which took place on Jan. 16th, but they still had fun and competed, she added.
“Two of our senior players scored goals while they were there, so I thought that was pretty good because they’re playing against world elite players. I thought they did really well, I was very pleased for them.”
The club also hosted a tournament of their own at Burman University in December and they’ll hold a second one on Feb. 28th at the Kinsmen Aquatic Centre featuring teams from Calgary and Edmonton.
“We love the CUC, the Burman, it’s great but we’re going to go to the Kinsmen pool this time,” she said, adding the switch will just mean a small change of scenery.
Despite all of the positive changes the team has seen this season, Bargholz said they still saw their numbers sink a little bit from last year.
“We’re sitting this year at 15 players. It’s actually down this year, so that’s too bad but it is what it is.”
In addition to the team successes this year, the Sharks have also seen a couple of individual accomplishments.
Their coach, Gillian Parker, will be travelling to South Africa in March to represent Canada in the 19th CMAS Underwater Hockey World Championships. Parker will play on Canada’s Women’s Elite team.
“She’s been training really hard,” Bargholz said.
Bargholz and Parker will also be giving a presentation to a Scout group from Blackfalds in early March about the sport.
“Members are welcome to join throughout the year,” Bargholz said, adding anyone interested in getting involved with the Sharks can come to one of the team’s practices at the Burman University pool from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.