Underwater hockey is an unconventional sport that will be taking 16-year-old Kolby Bargholz to Spain to compete on Canada’s behalf.
Originally known as octopush, underwater hockey (UWH) is gaining popularity worldwide. It is played with a weighted puck that is moved across the bottom of a pool and shot into metal troughs for points. The sport is relatively new to Canada but is popular in places like New Zealand and Australia.
Bargholz travelled to Ottawa earlier this year to try out for the national underwater hockey team and much to her excitement, was accepted.
“I’ve been playing for three years and it’s taken a big step from just playing for fun to all of a sudden being on a worlds team,” Bargholz said.
“I’m nervous and excited but I don’t think I’ve really processed the whole idea yet.”
Bargholz is a competitive summer swimmer and plays underwater hockey through the winter months to stay fit. In preparation for the world championships, she trains with a worlds coach, Pierre LaRose, out of Calgary once a week, and continues with her Lacombe team practices weekly as well.
Next year will be the first year in the history of underwater hockey that a Junior U-19 (under 19) girls’ team will represent Canada at the UWH World Championship. The team consists of 10 girls from across the country that will travel as a team to Castellon de la Plana, Spain next August.
“Underwater hockey is just really fun, but it’s kind of hard to explain to people. The most difficult part is just being able to stay down and hold your breath. Personally, I love shooting and when you get at the puck and score a goal, it’s as exciting as any other sport,” said Bargholz.
Bargholz travels to Calgary each Thursday to train with her national team and to get used to building chemistry with the other players. As an underwater sport, verbal communication isn’t possible during game play so a lot of work goes into strategies.
“I usually like playing as a forward but for the worlds team I was put as defence. As a defensive player, you have to worry a lot more about little rules. When you’re just playing for fun, defence isn’t that bad but when it comes to the worlds team there are a lot of strategies you have to remember. You have to be able to read plays, and I’m still working on that,” she said.
She is still working on adjusting to a new position on her team and is eager to develop her skills.
According to Kathy Bargholz, Sharks president and mother to Kolby, her daughter is a fast swimmer and the coaches are working to use that skill to their advantage for worlds.
“When I was playing a forward centre, I’d get to the puck first and end up leaving the two wings (offense players) behind. They need to be ahead of you so you can pass forward, but no one could keep up with me. I wouldn’t be able to pass and the other team would get me. I’m now on defence because with a faster defence, there will be people to pass to,” said Kolby.
The Lacombe Sharks team has grown significantly from eight to 17 players since the team started a few years ago. They are always looking for players. Swim experience would benefit a player but is not necessary.
“If you can already swim, you’re basically set. That is the hardest part for people who don’t swim much – just getting used to being on the bottom of the pool. Once you learn to do that, it’s easy. The competitive swimming kids can stay down for a long time. After that, it’s just about stick handling, which you get better at eventually,” said Kolby.
“People don’t have to be great at swimming to play. Really, a big part is getting over the idea that it’s too hard because once you get into it, it’s not bad at all. Once you get the right equipment and your mask and snorkel and everything fit right, it’s really fun. You just have to get over the mental barrier of the equipment – as soon as you get the gear on and set, the game is way fun.”
The Lacombe Sharks team has players from ages eight to 18. A wide variety of age is common on underwater hockey teams. Kolby said she hopes some more kids closer to her age would join the Sharks, because it would add a little more challenge.
There are two Lacombe coaches who divide the Sharks team based on swimming skill and comfort with the sport. For people who are new to the sport, they have the option to play less competitively and to spend a little bit more time on water skill development. For others like Kolby, there are more challenging games and practices set up to keep them engaged.
Kolby said she is excited and still somewhat surprised at the notion of being part of a national team.
“Going to the world championships just makes this sport so much more special to me. It’s almost as if it was handed to me – I know I worked hard for it, I just don’t know how I got onto a worlds team already.”