Underwater Hockey attracts swimmers

By Lindsey Woods

Some sports are easily adapted to water: basketball, volleyball and even football. But what about hockey?

Underwater hockey is an internationally recognized sport with a following in the Chicago area. The sport is played with fins, snorkels and a brass puck that stays at the bottom of the pool. Players use sticks to move and pass the puck in order to shoot it into the net, just as in ice hockey.

“It’s a lot like soccer, only three-dimensional,” said Patricia Redig, the development director of U.S. Underwater Hockey and a player with Chicago Underwater Hockey Club. “Instead of going forward and back [or] side to side, you can also go up and down. It’s soccer [but with] holding your breath.”

There are six players on each side playing two 15-minute periods. It is considered a no-contact sport, but much like basketball, incidental contact occurs, said Maria de Caussin, director of underwater hockey development in the Midwest and also a Chicago Underwater Hockey Club player.

Usually games are held in tournaments, which last all day and sometimes multiple days. The Chicago Underwater Hockey Club hosted an all-women’s tournament and seminar on Sept. 24 and 25, where women from all over the United States and Canada gathered for clinics, skill development and games. Approximately 35 women attended, and most of them stayed in the homes of players in the Chicago area.

Players from Minnesota, California, Colorado, the East Coast and Canada attended the tournament.

According to Redig, women’s play is not as aggressive as men’s play. Teams are usually co-ed in both practice and play, but at higher levels, the teams become more segregated, according to de Caussin.

Since teams cannot communicate underwater, fostering a great sense of teamwork and planning during practice is essential, de Caussin said.

“It’s definitely a team sport,” she said. “You depend on your teammates because you can’t stay down there the whole time; you have to come up and breathe. The communication isn’t really there, so you learn plays by talking about it out of the pool.”

Dry-land talking is also the reason the sport has a worldwide following. Redig and de Caussin agree their biggest recruiting method is word-of-mouth. Both were recruited to the club after friends piqued their curiosity.

“I started playing in 1993 when a friend of mine had talked me into doing masters swimming while she was running an underwater hockey club, and she got me to try both,” Redig said.

Ben Tolsky, a player for the Chicago Underwater Hockey Club, started playing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he attended college.

“It’s great because, unlike sports like water polo where you’ve been playing since high school, everyone starts out later in life,” Tolsky said. “It’s very open to rookies.”

Although the sport may be amateur-friendly, the levels of competition vary widely and are played out on a global scale. Competitions are held in countries like South Africa, New Zealand, England, Australia as well the United States, which hosted the world competition in 1996.

De Caussin, Redig and Tolsky all said that because of its relatively low profile, underwater hockey fosters a sense of community among its players and fans, which is helpful while traveling.

“It’s a small group, but it’s very open,” Redig said. “We have one guy in our club who’s been able to travel around the world, and the reason he can do it is because he looks up who plays underwater hockey and ends up staying at

their house.”

Ultimately, the most important aspect players and fans should be aware of is that underwater hockey emphasizes “water” more than “hockey.”

“The best thing about it is that it’s a water sport,” Tolsky said. “But unlike swimming laps, it’s not repetitive or boring. It’s very active. It’s a fun way to get the same kind of water workout.”