ISBHF WORLD’s III: Director’s Cut
One of the fastest growing team sports in the world is hockey. Not ice hockey, although the popularity of that sport isincreasing, but the various off ice versions. Ball hockey, street hockey, floor hockey, rink hockey, bandy, and inline roller hockey continue their extreme popularity in Europe, and have really taken off in North America. This was illustrated last month in Kosice, Slovakia where the top two spots in the Women’s International Street And Ball Hockey Federation World Championships (ISBHF) were taken by Canada and the United States. We recently caught up with some of the Silver Medal winning members the Team USA Ball Hockey squad. Several of them have local roots or affiliations, and a few are familiar names: Forward Sarah Hughson had just completed her rookie season for the Connecticut Whale in the NWHL, and scored the first goal for a Team USA and earned a Player of the Game Award. Defender Colleen Murphy was a teammate of Sarah’s on the Whale last season and will play for the Metropolitan Riveters next season. Colleen had a pair of assists, one of which was highlight reel worthy.Becky Dobson was a high scoring forward for West Chester University, and is a Cross-fit competitor as well. She was selected as a Best Forward in the Tournament, and was the leading US scorer. Witley Nichols who also skates for the Carolina Lady Hurricanes, picked. Up a pair of goals. And defender Pam Bilger, a former field hockey star at St. Joe’s. Chipped in an assist from the blue line as well. They all had some great insights into the sport of organized ball hockey and their experience in Kosice as well. Here’s what we asked. And what they said.
So did you get started in the sport of ball hockey?
“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. 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.”
“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.”
“I was involved with ice hockey since I was 5 years old. My older brother (a year and half older) played and I was a “rink rat” dragged to all of his games/practices, so I told my parents I was sick of watching and wanted to play. As for ball hockey, my friend Liz from West Chester Univ actually introduced me to the sport. She told me about it and then brought me to the North Americans Tournament to play and I instantly fell in love with it!”
“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”
“I never played ice hockey, only field hockey. When I graduated from college there were limited opportunities to play competitive sports. Going to the gym was boring and I really needed game-like situations. Philly Sports Leagues and Manayunk Sport and Social offered Coed Ball Hockey leagues. I joined a team as an independent player and fell in love with the game. The Ball Hockey community quickly became part of my family and I was introduced to some of the women that played in the inaugural world championships in 2007. They convinced me to try out for the 2009 team and the rest is history. “
Playing ball hockey at an elite level is quite different from just knocking the ball around un the driveway, so what specific equipment preferences do you have?
Pam: “I prefer volleyball shoes. There are no treads on volleyball shoes so it helps to prevent slipping on the ball hockey surface. And the stick length for ball hockey tends to be shorter than the stick length for ice hockey. The height of the stick should be about at your chin. I still wear my field hockey shin guards (no knee protection), which is not smart, but I cannot get comfortable playing with the larger plastic shin pads. I have noticed in the last few years that a few players on Team Canada and Team Czech also started to wear the ‘field hockey’ style shin guards. They are definitely easier to run in, but offer zero knee protection.”
Witley: “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. 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.”
Sarah: “ 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.” 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. “
Becky: “I used to just wear regular running shoes, but recently I made the switch to volleyball shoes and I really like the traction they provide on the court. I tend to cut my ball hockey sticks down a tad shorter than ice to account for the lack of blades on the bottom of my shoes. Shooting the ball versus a rubber puck and ball handling in general is tricky at first. The spin of the ball can be hard to control and makes it difficult to aim your shot initially; definitely an adjustment from ice hockey. Otherwise, the equipment is pretty similar.
Colleen: “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.. 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.”