I will admit that prior to this year’s World Championships, I had never seen a game of inline hockey before in my life – the closest I’d come was that scene in Mighty Ducks 2.
I don’t know why it has taken this long for me considering many of New Zealand’s best ice hockey players got their start playing inline as it’s more accessible to certain areas of the country than its frozen cousin. When interviewing those same players, they would preach to me how exciting the game can be, and yet…I never watched. Until now.
And I’m hooked!
While I love the speed and skill of the game on ice, inline hockey has its own special charm. For one, there’s no blue-line and therefore no offside, which always seems to be one of the harder rules in sport to explain to a newcomer. Without that blue-line I’ve noticed an added importance for creativity and less stoppages.
The game is also shorter. With only two halves of twenty minutes, it can be all over within an hour – in a world where everyone is time-poor, that’s an advantage for inline.
My interest in the sport was sparked by going down to the New Zealand Inline Ferns training camp (that’s our national women’s team) to shoot a story for The Crowd Goes Wild. It was a whole new world for me, and yet because of my ice background, it still felt so familiar. But when talking to captain Tara Tissink, plus her assistant captains Helen Murray and Anjali Mulari, one thing they really stressed to me was how key it is to have strong puck-handling skills.
Those very skills were put on display by the Inline Ferns at the tournament, as they pushed their attack forward with some smooth dangles, leaving a slew of defenders in their wake.
After years of watching ice hockey either having a dump-and-chase style of attack, or a series of breakout passes to create an opportunity off the rush, to see goals like Tissink’s individual effort against Canada lit up more than just the goaltender. I know goals like that happen in ice hockey too, but for me there was something refreshing about watching the play unfold the way it did.
The frozen game has a lot of structure to it, both in attack and the defensive systems, whereas from watching my first few games of inline hockey, it felt like there was a greater sense of freedom to try things out there on the rink.
While the Ferns finished seventh in the tournament by beating hosts Italy, the result doesn’t accurately reflect how well this team did.
That dramatic game-tying goal in the dying seconds of their game against Canada to draw 1-1 was a highlight, as too was their performance versus USA, the defending champions. That quarterfinal matchup went all the way to a shootout, and had the puck bounced a different way, New Zealand could have potentially progressed much further.
Such encouraging results would suggest that our women’s national teams are heading in the right direction with plenty of young talent coming through. Some members of the senior team were also involved with the junior team, including Hannah Jensen serving as coach – leading the under-18 side to a sixth place finish in the Junior Women’s portion of the World Champs.
In a country where ice hockey is often passed over by the media, inline hockey has it worst. A quick search would suggest that Newshub hasn’t done a story since the days of 3News when the Papatoetoe Roller Hockey Club closed down back in 2013 – while searches for both inline and roller hockey came up nil on the 1News website.
By doing that story with CGW, plus the Inline Ferns highlight reels for Puck Yeah, I feel like I have only just scratched the surface of the sport. That is probably showcased by my very basic knowledge of how the game works, but I just want to say to those inline hockey players and teams out there battling it out in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and wherever else in this awesome nation we call New Zealand, keep going!
In me you’ve won over at least one new fan this month and there is bound to be more.
All photos supplied by World Skate.