Who says hockey needs ice?
Roller hockey in Red Deer has captured the hearts of numerous young athletes looking for a spring break from the blades.
The sport is rising to a new level in Central Alberta this season as the Alberta Major/Minor Roller Hockey Provincial Championships will be held in Red Deer for the first time from June 20 to 22.
“This is the roller hockey event of the year,” exclaimed Doug Swanson, president of the Red Deer Roller Hockey Association.
Swanson said he expects over 60 local teams to register this year in the various divisions from Under 8 to Under 16, with recreational and competitive teams in many of these.
Roller or inline hockey is played on a smooth concrete surface or sports court floor with a hard plastic puck and players charging around in roller blades. Unlike hockey, games are played with four skaters per side plus goalies and there are no offsides, no icing and no body checking.
“Pretty much all your other hockey equipment can transfer over to the sport, though the players tend not to wear shoulder pads,” Swanson said. “The only thing is the roller blades can’t have any breaks. … Once they master it, they can actually stop as if they were on ice.”
About 280 to 310 athletes sign up in Red Deer every year and Swanson said he’d like to see it develop more.
“This year we started a new initiative where if you bring a new member who wasn’t registered last year with us, your name is entered into a draw for $100 with a one in five chance of winning,” Swanson said.
He noted it’s an ideal addition for multi-sport children and youth wanting to keep up with their hockey skills in a fresh way after that season ends.
Roller hockey runs from April through June, with practices at the sports court in the Collicutt Centre, both Kin City arenas and the Dawe arena.
“Lots of kids want to see it happen year round but we’re happy with the way it is because it allows kids to play hockey in the winter, roller hockey in the spring and then other sports in the summer and fall, so it’s sports friendly that way and allows multi-sport kids and multi-sport families to enjoy one more, different experience,” Swanson said.
Moreover, Swanson said it’s a great sport for the littler ones still trying to get the hang of a stick and puck.
“For our U6 and U8 groups, we spend all of our time focusing on skill development and when we do play games, it’s either a third surface or half surface and they’re three on three with no whistles or referees or penalties; it’s just about learning to play.”
Kody Knash of Red Deer strapped on his roller blades to become a Sniper, the team name for Red Deer’s competitive roller hockey program, five years ago. “I really started to like it so I stuck with it and plan to,” said the 15-year-old. “I feel like it really took my game to the next level as a hockey player. It’s slower paced and not stressful so it’s fun.”
Knash’s team has brought home the gold twice from the North American Roller Hockey Championships, in 2009 and 2011. They also won silver last summer during the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Inline Hockey Junior Olympic Games in California.
The association also has a drop-in roller sledge program, started in 2010 after the Primary Care Network helped them purchase 20 sleds and sticks.
“We promote it obviously to support people with disabilities or physical impairments so they can play but you don’t have to have a disability to play,” Swanson said. “As far as I know, we’re the only ones in Canada with this kind of drop-in program.”
Based on ice sledge hockey, inline sledge hockey is played to the same rules as roller hockey, just with an extra stick and on a sled with wheels.
Swanson is looking for a co-ordinator for the sledge program to help it expand.
Registration for this season is open until March 31. Download the forms at www.reddeerinline.ca.