Underwater hockey resurfaces in Whitehorse

Katrina Wohlfarth was introduced to underwater hockey last November while attending university in Prince George, BC. She liked it so much she is reintroducing the sport to Whitehorse. "Sunday will be the fourth practice since I've gotten it going again," said Wohlfarth. "We've had people who have consistently come out, but people are still hearing about it.

Katrina Wohlfarth was introduced to underwater hockey last November while attending university in Prince George, BC.

She liked it so much she is reintroducing the sport to Whitehorse.

“Sunday will be the fourth practice since I’ve gotten it going again,” said Wohlfarth. “We’ve had people who have consistently come out, but people are still hearing about it.

“I think I have three people who have played it before – two of which played in Whitehorse – so everyone’s just learning the rules.

“I think once we have it going again, for a longer period of time, we’ll have established teams and that sort of thing.”

Also called octopush and water hockey, underwater hockey is a non-contact sport played in a pool by players wearing goggles/masks, snorkels and flippers. Using a small curved stick shaped like a ice skate-guard and a weighted puck, teams of six attempt to score on each other by shooting the puck into the opponents’ net, which is a thin trough on its side.

With no goalie, Wohlfarth compares it more to basketball than ice or field hockey.

“Basically you push the puck back and forth and try to score,” said Wohlfarth. “It really comes down to positioning and being a good team-sport player.

“A couple people have said, ‘I can’t swim lanes and this is a great alternative to get some swimming.’ It’s a really anaerobic workout as well because you’re holding your breath.”

The local league, simply called Whitehorse Underwater Hockey, currently operates within a drop-in format, creating teams each session.

Whitehorse used to have a league called Whitehorse Loonies Underwater Hockey that dissolved shortly after moving from the old pool at what is now the Whitehorse Convention Centre to the Lions Aquatic Centre at the Canada Games Centre about five years ago.

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“They changed the policy of the pool and so we basically lost the ability to use the pool, so it just petered out,” said Larry Bonnett, a former Loonies player. “They needed to keep some lanes open, so we lost ability to use the whole width of the pool.”

The sport was developed by Alan Blake in 1954 in Portsmouth, England. It first came to Canada in 1962, introduced by Australian scuba instructor Norm Liebeck, and a decade later the Under Water Hockey Association of British Columbia was formed. (There is also a sport called underwater ice hockey, played under a sheet of ice, in which players wearing wet-suits bat around a floating puck along the underside of the frozen surface.)

Underwater hockey also has biennial world championships, the last one taking place this past year in Coimbra, Portugal.

Though a ways off from competing at the world championships, Wohlfarth hopes to bring a team to Calgary for a tournament in February.

“If anyone wants to come, we can have a combined team, or, if we have enough players, we can have a Whitehorse-Yukon team,” said Wohlfarth.

The Whitehorse league takes place every Tuesday and Sunday from 9 to 10 p.m. at the Canada Games Centre. For more information e-mail whitehorse.underwater.hockey@gmail.com.

“We’re short on masks and snorkels, so we encourage players to borrow or buy (that gear) at local shops, otherwise all the gear is provided,” said Wohlfarth. “Come out and give it a go.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com

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