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Water lovers who want to combine a workout with a fun game should check out the newest sport on campus: underwater hockey. In this spectator-unfriendly sport, swimmers with snorkels, fins and miniature hockey sticks try to score goals underwaterߞ;in UML’s case, in the Costello pool.
Although it sounds like a joke, underwater hockey started in England in the 1950s and is now played in 31 countries and in 55 clubs throughout the United States. Mechanical Engineering Prof. Chris Niezrecki brought the watery phenomenon to campus in 2005 from the University of Florida, where he had also started a club, after getting his feet wet as a student at Virginia Tech.
“It is unlike any sport,” says Niezrecki. “You are trying to compete while holding your breath, which is very unnatural. It takes about three or four practices before someone gets comfortable with it.”
Those who do take the plunge improve their snorkeling skills, expand their lung capacity and get a low impact, highly aerobic workout. According to recruiting material, the sport emphasizes “teamwork, three-dimensional awareness and underwater finesse.” And, most importantly, swimmers have fun while satisfying their competitive juices.
“Everyone who plays loves it,” says student Paul Alcorn, club president and one of four core members on the inaugural team last year. “Holding your breath is the key, but that evolves over time. I wasn’t even a good swimmer when I started.”
“It’s definitely a team sport. One player can not do it on their own,” says Niezrecki. “There’s no sound under water, so you can’t even yell to your teammate.”
The 20-minute games require swimmers to maneuver a three-pound, nylon-coated lead puck with 12-inch hockey sticks, sometimes across the deep end of the pool, with the ultimate destination being an unguarded goal. A good pass typically advances the puck 10 feet about 12 inches from the bottom of the pool. Passing is essential to high-level play, says Niezrecki. Lung capacity plays an important role because if you run out of air, you must abandon an attack to avoid drowning.
The team now has more than 10 members, both male and female, undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty, which makes practices and scrimmages easier, says Alcorn. Ideally, each side should have six swimmers with four substitutes, so last year’s small team had a hard time simulating game-like situations. The team is still actively recruiting team members.
Despite its youth and inexperience, the team hosted a tournament last spring, drawing competitors from Montreal, Connecticut, Framingham and MIT. The Montreal team won the tournament, not only beating each team individually, but also beating an all-star team made up of players from all other teams. Niezrecki says they hope to host a similar tournament in the spring.
For now, competition comes mostly in the form of inter-team scrimmages. After winter break, Niezrecki hopes to arrange a real game with MIT, the only other college-based team in Massachusetts.
Any student, faculty or staff member interested in trying underwater hockey should attend practices at the Costello Gym pool on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Mask, snorkel and fins are required, although the team does have some equipment to borrow during practice. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.