Taking hockey to new depths

 Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe

Underwater hockey players race from the edge of the pool to the puck, wearing snorkel gear and armed with sticks similar to those used in sledge hockey. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

Underwater hockey players race from the edge of the pool to the puck, wearing snorkel gear and armed with sticks similar to those used in sledge hockey. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

Picture hockey, but with players trading their skates for flippers, and helmets for snorkels.

That was the scene at the Burman University Pool Sunday afternoon as the Central Alberta Sharks Underwater Hockey Club hosted its annual tournament.

While scores weren’t really tracked during the tournament which also featured teams from Calgary and Edmonton, the progress of the kids involved certainly was.

Adam Guindon, who has played the sport since he was 14 and is in his first year coaching in Lacombe, said he was impressed with what he saw, especially from the new players.

“There were 15 new kids this year. When they first got here, they barely knew how to snorkel. Some of them wouldn’t be able to get down to the bottom of the pool,” he said. “Now I’m seeing them get involved in plays with the bigger kids and start to make a presence on the bottom of the pool. There’s been huge improvement from a lot of them which is nice.”

The club is in its fifth year, and was able to fill all available spots in September, as the new take on a sport beloved by Canadians becomes more widely known.

Played six-on-six, the game is played at the bottom of a pool. It features steel gullies on either end, which players attempt to bat a 1.3-kilogram puck into using sticks akin to those used in sledge hockey.

Also known as Octopush, the game originated in England in 1954 when Alan Blake invented it to keep athletes in his own swim club entertained in the winter when open-water diving lost its appeal.

Since then, the sport has continued to grow worldwide, with high school teams even being formed in Australia.

Closer to home, teams have become to get more and more competitive as the sport takes root.

“In Toronto, there’s a new club that started three years ago and it’s already one of the most competitive clubs in Canada, so that’s a good sign,” Guindon said.

Locally, he said recruitment has been fantastic, with 15 new kids joining this year. Calgary, meanwhile, only had eight.

Despite being a smaller community, with less pool time than those in the bigger cities, Guindon said the Sharks are on par with Edmonton, and just a step behind Calgary.

The Sharks aren’t without strong players, though.

Adam Craven was selected to play with Team Canada at the World U19 Underwater Hockey Championships in Australia in July this year, however was not able to go. Kolby Bargholz, the daughter of Sharks club president Kathy Bargholz, played with the U19 girls team in Spain two years ago and placed sixth.

Open to any child over 8 years of age, the inclusive environment has begun to draw athletes from synchronized swimming, ice hockey, roller hockey, as well as children with special needs. Guindon said there’s a number of reasons why the sport is so attractive across a number of different groups, but for him, it’s mostly the teamwork.

“It’s the most team-dedicated sport. You always have to figure out what your team is doing. You can’t really communicate with them while you’re at play because you can’t talke,” he said. “You always have to know what your team is going to be doing, what direction they want to move the puck...If you don’t have that team mindset it falls apart.”

The club usually holds their registration night in September.

To find out more about underwater hockey and the Central Alberta Underwater Hockey Club, visit their website at 

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