It’s a sport that is growing in Central Alberta. Underwater hockey, sometimes known as water hockey or octopush, is a somewhat obscure sport. Nevertheless, the Central Alberta Sharks Underwater Hockey Team is doing its best to promote and grow the sport.
Sharks Coach Gillian Parker said the club is doing its part to grow the small junior program in the niche sport.
Underwater hockey, not to be confused with underwater ice hockey, has been around for a while but is not a widely known sport. It is played by moving a weighted puck across the floor of a swimming pool and scoring in a three metre metal trough resting on the bottom of the pool.
A regulation underwater hockey game consists of two-15 minutes halves, with the teams switching ends at halftime. Play begins with players on each side pushing off from opposite walls and racing for the puck in the middle of the pool. Play continues until a point is scored or the referee signals a stoppage of play for an infraction.
Points are scored by players shooting or otherwise moving a weighted puck so that it comes to rest in the trough or hits the back panel of the trough. Once a point is scored, players once again start on opposing walls and race for the puck to begin the play anew.
There are six players per team. Three forwards, three defenders and no goalie, said Parker.
Players are equipped with a facemask, swim fins, snorkel and protective swim cap. A protective glove is used on the stick hand to protect players from the tiled effect on the bottom of many pools and from accidental contact from other players’ sticks.
Gloves are usually homemade, and consist of a plain cotton glove covered with silicon padding, said Parker. Sticks are also quite commonly homemade so that players can customize them to their style of play.
Sticks can be made of either plastic and are much shorter than ice hockey sticks, usually being only a few inches long. They are also shaped different, having a wavy shaft and a hook on the back of the stick, used to pull the puck away from other players.
One of the biggest challenges in underwater hockey, said Parker, is the fact that players are constantly leaving play to resurface and breathe.
“It is a unique sport in that the person that’s defending you could legitimately disappear,” said Parker.
Lack of communication is another challenge underwater hockey presents, said Parker. While many team sports rely on communication for a large part, it is something that is not really possible in underwater hockey.
Because of this, said Parker, it is important for players to always be aware of their teammates. The more comfortable players are with each other, the better they play together, she said.
Parker said that underwater hockey is a sport that players can get involved in at a younger age and still go far. In fact, Parker said that young children can’t play underwater hockey because they lack the lung capacity to hold their breath and play at the bottom of the pool.
Sharks’ players are between the ages of eight and 18.
Parker added the Central Alberta Sharks have existed for two years now. It is consisted of players from Red Deer, Blackfalds and Lacombe.