Hockey Games: The Strangest Forms of Hockey Around the World (With Video)

Mike SuggsContributor IMarch 1, 2011

Hockey Games: The Strangest Forms of Hockey Around the World (With Video)

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    Typically when someone says "hockey," we think of North American and European guys duking it out Original Six style on a 85 x 200 ft. sheet of ice.  On a broader spectrum, however, "hockey" is an umbrella term for a diverse collection of sports in which two competing teams try to score goals by shooting a ball or puck into the opposition's net, by using a hockey stick.

    Historically, there have been games based on the same premise as hockey (ball and stick), dating back to 4,000-year-old drawings in Egypt.  An ancient Celtic game known as "hurling," which has both distinct similarities and differences to hockey, has been dominant in Ireland for the better part of two millenniums.

    In China, the predecessor to field hockey called "Beikou" has been played for over 1,000 years.  However, the first known game to be played on a sheet of ice using curved sticks and a ball, was played in the Netherlands during the Middle Ages.  

    Ice hockey as we have come to know it, is said to have its roots in Canada.  It was being played by British soldiers and showed influences from these earlier forms of the sport (Shinty, Kolven) and used sticks made by the natives of the region (Mi'kmaq).  The first organized games were played by students at McGill University in Montreal in 1875.  It was these same students who codified the rules just two years later.

    Most people have heard about the more popular forms of hockey (ice hockey, field hockey, roller hockey, Shinny), so this article takes a look at some of the lesser known, but equally interesting variations of the sport we all love. Enjoy!    

Underwater Hockey

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    If hockey can be played on top of frozen water, why can't it played under water?  

    Underwater hockey requires proficient swimming and diving skills, the ability to hold your breath while playing and the ability to think the game at an accelerated pace.  It's harder to hold your breath for an extended period of time while exerting a certain amount of strength, so players frequently have to go to the surface for air, and thus they have to know where their teammates are and analyze where the best pass is.  It may look slow, but good players have a lot of power behind their passes, as this type of hockey focuses on wrist torque.  

    Underwater hockey is a non-contact sport, and it is played in two 15-minute halves.  There can be no contact initiated on a player, unless that player has the puck on their stick, but even then they cannot be heavily pushed or shoved.  Each player is equipped with a diving mask, snorkel, fins, a glove, ear protectors, and a 12-inch hockey stick.  

    The players' responsibilities based on position aren't too different from ice hockey; centers try to gain possession of the puck, wingers score goals and stay in front of the play (no offsides?), halfbacks are basically puck-moving defenseman who make stretch passes and swingbacks are like stay-at-home defenseman.  

    Teams are also allowed to have four substitute players on the pool deck.  It was founded in 1954, has two governing bodies and enjoys considerable popularity in a multitude of countries worldwide.  The sport emphasizes team strategy and sounds like an incredible workout.  Maybe the NHL players should consider this during the summer, instead of golf.   


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    Invented in 1963 by a man named Sam Jacks, Ringette is a sport originally created for girls. It enjoys a good deal of success in a lot of traditional ice hockey countries, but most notably in Canada, where there are upwards of 50,000 players.  

    Ringette is played in an ice rink, and the equipment players wear is virtually the same as in hockey.  However, in Ringette, players use straight sticks to maneuver and shoot a rubber ring to score goals (Believe it or not, Ringette games are usually higher scoring than hockey games).  Each team has six players on the ice (same positions as in hockey).  

    Penalty situations and pulling the goalie are handled the same as in hockey, as well.  Though if one team does pull their goalie, one of the skaters can assume the goalie position, but then they are restricted by the same rules as a regular goalie.  

    Blue line play can get tricky, as players are prohibited from carrying the ring over the line.  They must pass it to a teammate for the ring to cross into the offensive zone, so the teammate they pass it to must already be in ahead of the play (obviously offsides is a non-issue).  The crease is basically completely off limits, and in soccer-like fashion, a goalie can actually throw the ring to a teammate up ice; however, that team may not touch the ring for five seconds.  

    Ringette is a game that focuses on quicker passes and skating ability, and as a result, it can be just as fast as hockey.  Maybe this could make it into the Olympics someday.              

Rossall Hockey

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    Unfortunately, I couldn't find video of this one.

    Dating back to some time in the 19th century, Rossall hockey is probably the most unique sport on this list.  It is played exclusively at Rossall School on the coast of Lancashire England and is intriguing because it is played on the beach, and is of a brutal nature.  The game is a vicious mix of both hockey and rugby and is played by both boys and girls alike.  The players draw the field on the beach by digging and dragging their sticks to create all the lines, and it is very similar to a rugby pitch, split into four sections of equal size by horizontal lines.   

    The game starts with a "bully" (or face-off) in the middle of the field, which is made up of seven players from each team lined up on opposing sides of the center circle.  When the game starts, the two teams try to wrestle the ball into possession with their sticks and score goals by getting across the opposition's goal line; in order to score a goal, a player must be inside the "D" or crease.  

    In Rossall hockey, the ball can never be more than three meters in front of you, or else you lose possession of the ball.  You can only tackle the ball carrier from the front, and when you take possession of the ball, it must be in front of you, or else you get called for offsides.  

    Similar to Rugby, you may not pass the ball forward; any forward motion can only be from stick handling the ball yourself.  Failure to comply with these rules will result in either another bully or the Rossall version of a penalty shot, which the opposing players will try to block.  

    Considering these people are playing a hockey/rugby hybrid with no padding, and only during the winter months, Rossall Hockey players give NHL guys a run for the money as the toughest athletes in sports.                 

Unicycle Hockey

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    This particular brand of hockey was the inspiration for this article, and it also seems to be the most obscure.  The first reference to this idea came from a German movie made in 1925.  It showed a scene with two stage performers sitting on unicycles with sticks, and they engaged in a rougher version of what unicycle hockey is today.  

    The first legitimately organized team was created in Germany in 1985, and it subsequently spread to England.  These two countries are the leaders of unicycle hockey, in terms of number of active teams.   

    The equipment is pretty basic, as all you need is a unicycle, an ice hockey stick, not to mention incredible balance.  League games are generally played in gymnasiums and use tennis balls in place of the traditional hockey puck.  

    As previously stated, balance is key in this game, because you may only play the ball if both feet are on the pedals of the unicycle, and you are properly balanced.  Throwing your stick, or elevating it above your hips are considered fouls, and goals are disallowed if they are scored from your own half of the court.  

    Players are also allowed to make contact with the puck with a flat hand, but any goals scored in this manner are disallowed.  World Championship tournaments still occur at UNICON every two years, and feature teams from all around the world (the Swiss team is the most recent champion).

    Unicycle hockey may not get as competitive as some of the other games on this list, but it is intriguing just the same, and it deserves some respect amongst its hockey brethren.