ISBHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP I: WHALE WATCHING

Cetacean Nation, you probably have seen a few of our posts about ball hockey recently. And you may have noticed the subject came up several times during the players interviews. We’ve likely all played street hockey, and are familiar with shooting around the little orange ball. And various forms of ball hockey are played around the world, under different names:street hockey, dek hockey, floor ball, bandy, etc.The playing surface, equipment and rules may be a little different, but it is essentially a stick and a ball, and the rest falls into place. Several members of our Pod are or have been active in organized ball hockey. And our #8 Colleen Murphy and #24 Sarah Hughson are taking it to the international stage this summer. They are members of the USA Ball Hockey Team that will be competing in the ISBHF (International Street & Ball Hockey Federation) World Ball Hockey Championships from June 14th – 22nd in Kosice, Slovakia. (www.kosice2019.c) And you can also follow along live with Colleen and Sarah and the rest of Team USA, as they compete for 🥇 in Kosice, Slovakia next week, as all games will stream live at www.huste.sk.

We thought it would be interesting to get some background on the sport and the tourney from Sarah & Colleen, and their teammate, forward Witley Nichols.

Starting at the beginning, we asked Colleen about how she first got involved in the sport of organized ball hockey. She replied “What is ball hockey? That was the first question I asked my Lady Canes teammate, Denise, when she asked me if I wanted to play ball hockey in Russia last June. I thought it was a joke. Long story short, ball hockey is an organized version of street hockey and very competitive. Everything is the same except you play with a ball and run instead of skate…um ew? Skating is the best part about hockey and to replace it with running sounded terrible. I was completely wrong”

Colleen  continued “I told Denise I never played, she hadn’t either, but a few girls on Team USA dropped out last minute and they needed replacements for the World Tournament in Moscow, Russia. I thought this would be an amazing experience, so Denise, Witley, Leeny, and myself from the Lady Canes joined Team USA to play in Russia. Witley and I also joined the Raleigh ball hockey league which has been nothing short of awesome and I’ve fallen in love with it ever since. We also made Team USA for 2019 and will be going to Slovakia for the next World’s tournament in June. Pretty exciting. Luckily, I don’t even notice how much I’m running because I’m thinking the game while doing so. I actually think it’s helped with my conditioning. Huge relief.” Can’t sum it up any better than that! And in terms of what position(s) she might play, Colleen added “I think defense but I haven't been officially told yet, lol. I've been playing forward but guess I'll find out when I get there!” She added “The coaches have tried to get the team together a few times but we've never had a practice with everyone there yet.”

The answer to our next questions reflected some of what Colleen had told us about the key difference in ball vs ice hockey: running vs skating. In discussing shift length, she said that ball hockey was “Shorter! Running is terrible and there's no gliding. So if I'm ever walking during a shift, that's when I know I need to get off. Off-ice training is the same but instead of doing bike sprints, I'll throw in actual sprints. Controlling and shooting the ball is different than a puck, so you have to train yourself different techniques on how to shoot. I use a shorter, more durable stick. I find it easier to handle the ball. I also don't use tape on the stick. This allows the ball to move quicker and not get stuck on the blade.” Cetacean Nation also asked Colleen if there were any specialized footwear that she used, and she relied “Nope, any running shoe that you can change direction quickly works. The only equipment difference is that I chose to switch from bulky ice shin pads to shin pads made specifically for ball hockey. These shin pads are skinnier, more light-weight and don't move around as much when running.” Colleen also confirmed this was her first trip to Slovakia. And besides the hockey, she said “I'm excited to experience the culture and architect. I really enjoy seeing old European buildings and towns.”

We also asked our #24 Sarah Hughson about how she got started playing ball hockey. She replied “That’s a tough question for me because I feel like I’ve played “unorganized” ball hockey for so long! With two younger brothers and my dad we used to play street hockey every day growing up whether in the driveway, while camping, or at the park it was an every day event. But officially I played in my first tournament last month and I loved it so I plan on participating in official ball hockey events a lot more.”

In terms of the ISBHF tournament, Cetacean Nation was wondering if Sarah knew what position she might be playing. She told us “ Most likely a forward position, as that’s what I’ve played the longest. not sure if they’ll need me at center or wing but I’ll be ready to go wherever they need me,” adding “We will have a few days of practice when we get to Kosice which will be nice since I haven’t had the chance to practice with everyone yet but I’m not sure how many we will have yet.” Sarah also shared her opinions on several other aspects of ball hockey as opposed to ice hockey. As to shift lengths, Sarah offered “ I would say it’s pretty similar, maybe shorter shifts in ball hockey depending on how well of a runner you are. Or how involved in the play, but that can go the same way for ice hockey. I have incorporated a lot more long distance running and sprint work to prepare for ball hockey whereas for hockey I prefer to bike, do agility and sprints. I like to keep up with my hockey specific lift schedule because it is incorporated in both sports.”

We were also interested in Sarah’s thoughts on her equipment differences in ball hockey. She explained “ I will be wearing the shoes I use for training which are just Nike trainers but I might bring something else because it is a long tournament. I use the same length as I would for ice hockey which makes it a little longer in sneakers but it helps with ball control I’ve found and feels the most comfortable staying with what I have done for years.” Sarah added “Running in shin guards is definitely something to get used to. I ordered a pair of ball hockey specific shin guards that I’m excited to use. It felt very funny to run in my ice hockey ones the first time.“ We also asked Sarah if this would be her first trip to Slovakia. She told us “Yes! It’ll be my first time to Europe in general so I’m very excited! I haven’t done a lot of research about the area yet but I’m just excited to be able to take it all in when I get there. Most of my teammates have been before so I will most likely be following them around. I’m planning on seeing and doing as much as possible while there and of course hoping to rep USA well! Looking to bring home some hardware! 🇺🇸🇺🇸

Cetacean Nation was also able to touch base with another Team USA member, Witley Nicols, who told us she would be playing forward for the team. Witley hails from Raleigh, NC, and her hockey roots are on the ice. In fact, she is also a teammate of Colleen Miurphy on the amazing Carolina Lady ‘Canes. So how did Witley come to the world of ball hockey?.She replied:

“I never even knew that ball hockey existed until my friend, Denise Rohlik, invited me to play with Team USA in the 2018 WBHF World Championships. I knew that I would be playing with Denise, Colleen Murphy, and Leeny Adelsberger (all teammates from the Carolina Lady Hurricanes) so I was excited to travel to Russia with them. I never expected to love this sport and community as much as I do.” Witley continued “ So far we have had 3 team practices in the States. We’ll have a couple more over in Slovakia before the tournament starts. It’s definitely a short amount of time to get to know your teammates but I feel like we’ve all gelled together really well”

We also asked Wiley to comment on some of the differences between the two types of hockey (besides the playing surface) and she highlighted several key areas and how she adjusts. She explained: “The shifts are definitely shorter in ball hockey. Gliding doesn’t exist so if you stop moving your feet, everyone notices. I generally like to follow the “hard on, hard off” mentality. If I can’t sprint off the floor, my shift was too long” She continued, speaking about her her preparations and said “I am training differently for ball hockey. I like to keep the weightlifting similar but I do switch the cardio up from bike sprints (for ice hockey) to hill sprints (for ball hockey). Outside of the gym, my training has focused heavily on the ball. A puck and a ball handle incredibly different from each other so I’ve spent a lot of time working on my stickwork and shots. For ball hockey, I use a shorter stick. As a forward, I quickly found out that my ice hockey stick was too long for the movements that I wanted to do. I cut down one of my ice hockey sticks about four inches and it has helped me out a lot.”

As Sarah and Colleen had commented, there are subtle bit important equipment differences, and Witley added this:

“I prefer court shoes for ball hockey. The shoes I currently use grip the floor well and have some extra padding around the toes. I quickly found out that your feet attract quite a bit of attention from your opponents – whether it’s a slash or blocking a shot, I am definitely grateful for the extra padding. Ball hockey has a lot less equipment than ice hockey. I typically wear shin guards, elbow pads, gloves, and a helmet. The first game that I played, I felt pretty vulnerable but it didn’t take long for that feeling to go away. The shin guards I use are made specifically for ball hockey so they’re much slimmer and have more straps to hold them in place as I run. I recently started wearing elbow pads because of how banged up I would be after tournaments; my pads are small sleeves that slide right over my elbows. The gloves and helmet that I use are the same ones that I wear for ice hockey.”

Witley concluded her remarkfs saying ”This will be the first time that I have been to Slovakia. A few of my friends have been nice enough to give me some recommendations so I’m extremely excited to go explore with my teammates. More than anything though, I am most excited to represent USA and fight to bring home the gold!” Witley also provided us with the detailed game schedule below. As mentioned above, the games will be broadcast, so you can follw the action live! We will be posting results and stats as available during the Championships, and will hear from our players again after the tournament concludes. Fins up!