Pucks in the Pool

While she was away at university in Prince George, Katrina Wohlfarth discovered a new passion – underwater hockey. Now that she has returned home she hopes to share that passion with the Yukon community.

“It started out for me as just one of those weird university things. You stumble across it and think ‘what’s that?’ So you go to check it out because it sounds like a laugh,” Wohlfarth says.

The game is played with a weighted puck that is pushed along the bottom of the pool with short sticks. Teams consist of six players – three forwards and three defence playing a zone system of positioning, with no goalies.

Players wear protective gloves, fins, snorkels, masks and polo caps and play in a 300-metre square playing area at a depth of between two and five metres.

To begin the game, players line up against the wall. On the signal of “ready, set, go” the strikers swim forward and try and control the puck, moving it forward to score by flicking the puck into a 3-metre metal trough.

“There’s a lot of strategy involved,” says Wohlfarth. “Most people can only last about 30 seconds on the bottom before they need to return to the surface to breathe.

That time is reduced the harder a player is working, “which levels the playing field between stronger and weaker athletes.”

That, in turn, makes the sport more about timing and positioning than about athletic ability, Wohlfarth explains.

“It’s very much a team sport and a solo sport at the same time,” she adds. “You can’t talk underwater, so you need to be hyper-aware of everything going on around you and really play the sport in your own head, which adds a fascinating challenge to the play.”

Wohlfarth got involved in the sport last November while studying for a biology degree at the University of Northern British Columbia.

“I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with it, but that’s what happened. Now it’s less than a year later and I have the goal of joining the national team.”

Wohlfarth had the opportunity to see the best players in Canada compete when she attended the national games in May as part of the joint UNBC-UVic team, the Royals.

“The male national team destroyed us 14-1,” she laughs, “but we managed to hold our own against the women’s national team, keeping the score to 4-3.”

Wohlfarth found the national competition a big eye opener.

“The skill level and finesse of some of the players blew my mind – their puck control and ability to do tricks really highlighted how much skill can go into the sport,” she says.

“It also gave me an idea of just how intense things can get. Each game lasted 45 minutes, and we competed in eight or nine games a day. You end up being in the pool all day long.”

Both of Canada’s national teams train in Vancouver in the lead-up to the world games. This year’s world games took place in Portugal in August. Wohlfarth hopes to make the national team for the next games in 2013.

“In order to make the team I would need to attend training camps in Vancouver and adhere to a very strict training regimen, which partially motivates my desire to get a program going up here in Whitehorse,” she explains.

“The flip side of that is I just really want to introduce this sport I love to other Yukoners, because I think people will really enjoy it.”

Wohlfarth considers underwater hockey a sport that could appeal to almost anyone.

“As long as you are comfortable putting your face in the water and kicking your feet you can participate,” she says.

“It’s great for cross-training, especially your anaerobic system. I really hope a large number of Yukoners will come out and give it a whirl.”

Through a partnership with the Canada Games Centre and City of Whitehorse, underwater hockey is open for drop-in two nights a week beginning on October 11.

For those wanting to hone their skills, practice sessions will take place on Tuesdays between 9 and 10 pm while those hoping to get in on the game can join on Sunday nights between 9 and 10 pm. Gear will be available.

For further information contact [email protected].

Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected].

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