While the sport of underwater hockey is growing by leaps and bounds, two members of the Central Alberta Underwater Hockey Club (CAUHC) had the opportunity to showcase the sport on the world stage.
Kolby Bargholz, 17, played with the U19 Canadian Women’s team at the third annual Underwater Hockey World Championships in Spain this summer.
Gillian Parker, one of the local club coaches, the Sharks, also attended the world championships as a coach for the U23 Canadian Women’s team.
Underwater hockey is a limited-contact sport where two teams compete to move a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool. The up-and-coming sport is gaining momentum and is played world-wide.
Teams from all over the world, including Australia, Italy, Turkey, France and South Africa descended on Castellon de la Plana, Spain to compete in the high-intensity sport this past August.
For both Bargholz and Parker, it was a two-year training process to reach the world championships.
“It’s really a two-year process,” said Parker. “It’s pretty relaxed for the first six months, then it ramps up from there with the last year being the bulk of the focus.”
Bargholz was selected for Team Canada almost two years ago. From there she participated in an intense training period that included travelling to Calgary, meeting her teammates, flying to Ottawa for more training and then a week of training with the team in Spain right before the championship.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Bargholz. “You really ache, but once you get into the water, you just go.”
The U19 Women’s team ended up placing sixth out out the eight teams participating, knocking out the Netherlands and Australia, which was an outstanding showing since it was the first time Canada sent a U18 Women’s team to the worlds.
“It was cool playing against all the other countries,” said Bargholz, adding that seeing all the other team’s techniques and abilities was really interesting.
As the coach of the U23 Women’s team, Parker said the team attended shorthanded (with only seven players in the water) but they gave it their all.
“They were an incredibly mature team, a team that I am proud of,” said Parker. “They knew what being a team was all about and they played with heart.”
The U23 Women’s team ended up placing seventh overall.
As for the local club, Parker acts as one of the coaches for the team that boasts 14 registered players this year, ranging from ages eight to 17.
“We match the school year so we start in October and we go through to April,” she said. “Underwater hockey isn’t broadly played so a lot of competing has travel requirements for it and that gets very costly. So in order to sort of reduce that impact on local families, we do a lot of our travelling to either Calgary or Edmonton and getting our experience that way.”
Although the club is only four years old, it is gaining momentum as an up-and-coming sport in not only the Central Alberta region, but nationally.
“It’s kind of nice to get that pat on the back and that recognition from the rest of the community that what we have going on here is pretty cool and special,” said Parker.
Underwater hockey is a sport that combines endurance, power and teamwork. Due to the high intensity aspect of the game, it can be a great option for those who want to switch gears while still participating in a team sport and learning new skills.
“So many kids get burnt out by their sports,” said Parker. “Many have been playing a sport since they could walk, and by the time they are 14, 15-years-old, they are done. Those are really the ones that when they jump into the sport, they already have such a solid foundation in sport that they pick it up so quickly. It’s new, it’s fresh and you can actually go a fair distance with it.”
Parker said the goal of the Sharks club is to have fun, while instilling the love of sport in the players.
“It really is a nice and easy way to get involved,” she said. “We want to have kids come out, have fun, get a little exercise and kind of take away the lifelong athletics aspect to it. It’s a sport that really focuses on teamwork.”
The Sharks practice every Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Burman University pool. New players, ages eight and up who can swim three or four pool lengths, are always welcome to join throughout the season.
For more information about the CAUHC, visit www.cauwhc.com.