You see them on frosty weekday evenings and bright Sunday mornings, filing in to community clubs, sticks and jerseys in hand. But where are the skates? These players don't need skates because they aren't playing hockey. They're ready to hit the ice for a uniquely Manitoban sport that comes with a name that's fun to say-spongee!
You see them on frosty weekday evenings and bright Sunday mornings, filing in to community clubs, sticks and jerseys in hand. But where are the skates? These players don't need skates because they aren't playing hockey. They're ready to hit the ice for a uniquely Manitoban sport that comes with a name that's fun to say-spongee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spongee)
Spongee, sometimes called sponge hockey, is played outdoors on a full-sized ice rink. There are goalies, sticks and a puck, although this puck is a little softer than a traditional hockey puck. Instead of skates, players wear shoes originally designed for broomball. The shoes have suction holes that offer some, but not a lot, of traction on ice. Now you can honestly say that your shoes suck.
In other parts of the world, a similar game is sometimes called boot hockey, foot hockey or ball hockey. A specific set of rules sets spongee apart.
"Spongee is all about being able to play among friends, simply for the fun of it and being active outdoors in the winter," says John Robertson of Canford Sports, one of many facilities that host leagues in Winnipeg. Robertson is credited with penning the original rules of the game back in 1974.
Today, spongee players in and around Winnipeg number over 6,000. More than 400 teams-men's, women's and co-ed-play in a dozen leagues. Because it's not played on skates, spongee is attractive to players who didn't grow up honing their skating skills at the neighbourhood rink. However, many spongee players also take part in ice hockey, vignette and broomball.
One rule unique to spongee is the use of the key. A 20' by 20' area is marked in front of the net. A player may not stand in the opposition's key for longer than three seconds when that player's team has possession. You'll often hear the referee calling out "Key 1, Key 2" during games, giving a warning to a player who is lingering too long in the space.
Spongee teams are often made up of coworkers, fellow students, families and friends. Because the rules call for no contact, it easily crosses genders and ages. It's not uncommon to have fathers and sons or mothers and daughters play on the same team.
Robertson said a World Open Spongee Championship event is planned for 2012. He hopes teams from across Canada, the northern United States and even overseas will take part.