I was in the Public Library recently to research something on the General
Reference Magazine Catalogue. Before leaving I did a quick search for unicycle
articles and found the following story about Unicycle Hockey in the March 2001
issue of Hockey Digest. The article on the screen in the Library was accompanied
by photos taken during the the gold medal game of the Unicycle hockey tournament
at Unicon X last summer. I was able to print the article including the photos. I
was also able to forward the text to my email address. The text is below,
unfortunately it does not include photos.
InfoTrac Web: General Reference Center Gold.
Source: Hockey Digest, March 2001 v29 i5 p58.
Title: Wheel's On Fire.(unicycle hockey) Author: CHUCK O'DONNELL
Subjects: Cyclists - Competitions Hockey - Innovations Locations: Canada
Electronic Collection: A69750741 RN: A69750741
Full Text COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing
Unicycle hockey players all over the world are having a wheel good time, and
wish you were, too
They converge every Thursday night in the fall and winter on the Cordella public
school in Toronto. It’s the highlight of the week for these movie
camera repairmen, students, Website designers, teachers, and others who put
the world on hold, put the nets in place, pick up the sticks, and throw
down the ball.
Sounds like another pickup game of deck hockey or floor hockey? Well,
yes and no.
It is floor hockey, but the Toronto Unicyclists hockey team puts a unique spin
on a sport in which “cycling” is a term that isn’t usually meant in a literal
sense. Perched precariously atop one wheel, trying to negotiate a street
hockey ball or a tennis ball across a gym floor, the action is non-stop.
Having trouble visualizing this? Think of it as the X Games meets Wayne Gretzky.
The Ringling Brothers meet the Hanson Brothers. The high-wire act meets the
leftwing lock. BMX meets the NHI.
[Graphic omitted]Think of it fast and furious fun played with some real
gusto. “It’s really fast-paced,” says Darren Bedford, a member of the club
since it was founded in 1987 by unicyclists who were looking to try something
a little different. “There are a lot of collisions. You may turn to look for
the ball, not see where you’re going, and run into someone. You can’t always
instantly stop on a unicycle. The maneuverability [on unicycles] is harder
[than on ice skates].”
In the beginning, Bedford’s crew, believed to be the longest-running club in
North America, would play on the playground outside. They would spend a few
hours just shoveling off the snow until “we were almost too tired to play,” he
says. Surprised people would stop and ogle. “Most of the feedback we have had
has been very positive,” says Bedford, whose club has about a dozen members
between the ages of 10 and 60. “People would stop and see what we were up to.
They were a bit curious. A lot of them couldn’t believe it was possible to do
all that [while riding a unicycle].” They’ve since found it easier, and a lot
less strenuous, to rent space in the school’s gym.
And although the Toronto townspeople can’t wander by and watch, they would
probably be shocked to learn that unicycle hockey has been played in several
countries across the globe for several years.
For instance, at the 2000 world championships held in August in Beijing,
China, 20 teams from nine countries–Denmark, France, China, Great Britain,
Japan, Switzerland, Puerto Rico, the United States, and Germany–competed.
Unicycle hockey may be most popular in England and Germany, the only two
countries to have national leagues. The sport seems to be taking off in Germany,
in particular, where 26 teams compete in the national league. It is also home to
the world champs, LAHIMO, which crushed the Twin City Unicycle Club of
Minnesota, 23-2, in the tournament final.
“LAHIMO started playing in 1985, so they have a lot of experience,” says Rolf
Sander, a former LAHIMO member who now plays for RADLOS of Frankfurt. “They have
been by far the strongest team for quite a while but now there are some other
very good teams in Germany. I have to admit that LAHIMO was quite lucky that
these other clubs did not send their complete teams to the world championships
in China this year.”
Sander has gone from just a unicycle hockey player to an amateur historian of
the sport. The earliest mention of the sport he has been able to uncover dates
back to 1925, when a silent German movie called “Variete” shows “a short scene
with two unicyclists performing on a stage. One has a hockey stick, the other is
swinging a walking stick. They have tiny goals and they use something like a
crumpled towel as a ball.”
The first reference he has found to unicycle hockey in the United States goes
back to 1960, when an article in The Bicycle Journal mentioned the Albuquerque
Unicycle Club of New Mexico had taken up the sport.
Sander says, however, that the grandfather of the unicycle clubs was Wheel
People, a group that formed in California in 1976. Playing under the golden
sunshine, they were trailblazers in the sport, forming many of the rules by
which the game is played today. The club disbanded in the mid-1980s, but not
before it was joined by other major clubs in North America such as Harvey Mudd
College Gonzo Unicycle Madness in California and Association de Monocycle de
Quebec in Quebec City.
Many of the rules seem to be enforced universally. You can’t take part in the
play unless you’re on top of your unicycle. So if you fall off, you have to get
back on before continuing. At the beginning of the game and after each goal, all
players go to their own half of the surface where play resumes as soon as a
player of the team in possession crosses the center line. And if you knock the
ball out of the playing surface, a player from the other team brings it back in
from the point of exit.
[Graphic omitted]But other rules differ from club to club. For instance, the
German teams play with goalies, using a larger net. The Toronto Unicyclists
don’t use a goalie, per se, although one of the four or five players on a side
can go back and defend the net. Consequently, they use a smaller net, about 12
inches high by 18 inches wide. The Germans use your average ice hockey stick,
while the Toronto crew uses street hockey sticks with plastic blades.
Finding a stick isn’t a problem, since players don’t play using one of those
tall unicycles you may have seen in a circus. They sit about four or five inches
above the ground. “Actually, the proper length [of a stick] is more or less a
matter of taste,” says Sander. “People who are good hockey players but only
mediocre unicyclists seem to prefer longer sticks. This gives them a larger
action radius. Good unicyclists, on the other hand, often have short sticks
because they are fast and they prefer to ride quickly to wherever the ball is.”
What makes a good unicycle hockey player isn’t much different from what makes a
good ice hockey player. Sander suggests that, like hockey players who first
learn to skate before learning to stick handle and shoot, the basis for a good
unicycle hockey player is the ability to ride well.
“A good balance between hockey and unicycling skills is necessary to become a
good player,” says Sander. "But you won’t become a good player as long as you
don’t unicycle properly. However, even the best unicyclists are not good
players unless they practice shooting the ball and team strategy."
And of course, it doesn’t hurt your chances of success if you’re willing to
stick your nose into the action like a Claude Lemieux or a Matthew Barnaby.
“Since you’re moving as fast as guys on ice skates, there’s less
maneuverability,” says Bedford. “This leads to collisions and spills. You might
get a little road rash on you arms. A few of the players wear elbow pads or
gloves. No one really wears helmets.”
[Graphic omitted]Says Sander: “Although bruises are quite normal, not many
serious accidents have happened in the 15 years that I’ve been playing. Yes, we
had to go to the hospital a few times to stitch a wound. However, if you compare
it to other sports such as soccer I think the danger is below average.”
The next world championships are scheduled for Washington state in 2002.
People inside the sport are hoping flint by bringing the world championships to
the biggest stage in the world, the United States, that word of their new,
exciting sport will get out in a big way.
And as the players continue to improve and their numbers grow, players such as
Bedford dare to harbor golden dreams. “The International Unicycling Federation
is hoping that unicycle hockey will be an Olympic sport someday,” he says.
“That’s their dream. They’re always adding games to the Olympics. You need to
have 16 countries playing the sport to get the Olympic committee’s attention.
Maybe someday, that will happen. I hope so.”
-- End --