There was a time, albeit roughly 25 to 30 years ago, when broomball was a viable sport in Alberta and western Canada in general.
The game hasn’t disappeared entirely from these parts, but it’s all but faded away. Meanwhile, broomball has become increasingly popular in countries such as Japan, Italy and Switzerland in recent years.
Still, as much as interest in the sport has dwindled in the Great White North, Canada is still No. 1 in the world.
“It’s a lot like women’s hockey, that’s what I compare it to, in the sense that the U.S. is also really competitive,” said Red Deer businessman Curtis Debogorski, who last month captained the Yellowknife, N.W.T., Ravens to the men’s world championship in Japan.
“Canada is definitely ahead of the pack, but — going back to 2000 — we’ve started to see some of these countries that have been weaker, like Italy and Japan, have been getting better and better because they’ve learned how to play systems and defend better. These countries still don’t have the scoring power that Canada has because we have a lot of people who have played hockey when they were growing up and the skills are similar.
“You’re handling a ball instead of a puck, but you’re still shooting on net and you have to be able to get that ball into some tight spaces. It is more difficult to score because of the size of the ball, which is bigger than a puck. Still, these other countries have come a long way from being beat 14, 15 and 16-0. Now the games are 4-1, 5-1, 3-0 . . . so we’re starting to see the gap close a bit, which is good to see.”
In the world championship final, Debogorski scored an insurance goal to help the Ravens defeat the Calgary Cowboys 3-0 in an all-Canadian match. Also entered in the men’s divisions were teams from Australia, Japan, Italy, the U.S. and Switzerland, with the same countries also represented in the masters, women’s and mixed divisions.
The Ravens are a high-performance, all-star team that competes at the national level and is based out of Yellowknife. Six of the players hail from the northern city, with the rest coming from different parts of the nation.
“We competed in the worlds in Ottawa two years ago and lost a semifinal in overtime,” said Debogorski, who relocated from Yellowknife to Red Deer in August of last year. “We realized how close we were and that we could win a world title. We wanted to go to Japan and experience the culture and have a chance to win a world championship.
“It (formation of the present Ravens team) started at that point two years ago. We just got fortunate that the right players were available. We put together a good character group and we definitely executed our plan.”
Debogorski, 39, is nearing the end of his competitive playing days, at least at the men’s level.
His goal is to compete with the Ravens at the worlds in Regina in 2016 — the global crown is contested every second year — and then put most of his efforts into restoring broomball’s visibility in Red Deer.
“I’m hoping to bring some awareness to the sport and as I slowly work my way out of playing I do want to get into running clinics and doing some coaching,” he said.
“I worked with the junior development program in the Northwest Territories and I’m hoping to bring something like that to the Red Deer area because it is such a great sporting community . . . I’ve learned that quickly. Broomball is a great alternative to hockey and ringette and other sports that are out there.
“In the ‘80s there were up to 18 to 20 teams in Edmonton and Calgary, it was a really huge sport in the province. It’s getting a lot more popular internationally but it’s been slowly dying in Canada because the grass roots programs started to die while competing against so many other sports.”
Debogorski plans to employ the resources of the Alberta Broomball Association while running clinics at the junior high and high school levels.
“The Association can supply sticks and shoes for kids to try the sport,” he said. “Growing the sport in this city is a goal of mine because broomball has given me a lot. It’s a sport that can be played at an introductory level and all the way up to elite women’s and men’s at an international level.”
The broomball veteran/star is thankful of the fact that the game has a solid following in Sylvan Lake.
“They’ve assembled a decent group of players in the community and have hosted provincials the last two to three years,” said Debogorski. “There is some interest and a bit of a groundswell there.
“Now it’s just a matter of getting organized and getting the right people involved and sort of getting that awareness out there in Red Deer.”