FX Excursions

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Canada, Ringette, Hockey

Nov 1, 2012
2012 / November 2012

You have to go a long way to find a Canadian man who will admit to disliking ice hockey. The only one I’ve found so far was a rake-thin, soft-spoken mountain guide plying his trade in the Bolivian Andes. Beside a campfire on the Inca Trail, we talked sports.

“You must have played ice hockey growing up,” I said.

“Nope. Always hated it,” he said. “Way too testosterone-y.”

He had a point. Ice hockey routinely transforms mild-mannered Canadians into raging hooligans. In 1994 and again in 2011, Vancouver Canucks fans wrecked their city in the wake of defeats in the Stanley Cup. In 1993, Montréal Canadiens fans rioted in response to a victory.

The litany of incidents on the ice is equally disturbing. In the 1904 season, four players were killed in brawls during games. In the subsequent 108 years, many professional players in Canada and the United States have been suspended or even prosecuted for violent conduct on the rink.

For prospective ice hockey players, especially women, the brutish side of the sport is often a deterrent to active involvement. In 1963, Sam Jacks, a sports administrator in North Bay, Ontario, decided to address the issue. Rather than merely refine the existing game, his solution was to devise an entirely new team sport. He called it ringette.

On initial encounter, it is hard to spot the difference. Predominantly played by women, two teams in uniforms bulked out with protective padding face each other on a skating rink. As in ice hockey, the objective is to score in the other team’s goal.

But now look closer. Only the goalies have conventional hockey sticks. The outfield players — five on each team — wield straight aluminum sticks with a tapered plastic tip. The hockey puck morphed into a rubber ring, 6.5 inches in diameter, which gives the sport its name.

When the game begins, another difference from ice hockey becomes apparent. It flows more freely. Players zip smoothly around the rink, spearing the ring and then propelling it to a teammate or goalward. The action rarely relents. With some justification, ringette fans claim theirs is the fastest sport on ice.

Although most of the rink markings are borrowed from ice hockey, their purpose is modified. For instance, the two blue lines that bisect each half of the rink, signifying the offside zones in ice hockey, are used in ringette to restrict dribbling. Players are not permitted to cross the lines while in possession of the ring. They have to pass. And because the ring can travel much faster than any player, the focus of the game can consequently switch from one end to the other in a second.

Ringette was not an overnight success. From modest beginnings the sport gradually became popular in local communities in Ontario and neighboring Manitoba. Benignly creeping east and west, it infiltrated all parts of Canada and tentatively began to put down roots across the Atlantic, in Finland, by the late 1970s.

In 2013, ringette celebrates its 50th anniversary and currently boasts more than 50,000 female players in Canada, as well as flourishing leagues in the United States and Europe. Perhaps in time men will embrace this fast-moving sport.

The attractions are obvious. With strict no-contact rules, the dynamic ebb and flow of the game is tactically reminiscent of basketball. Skating skills are paramount. Agility is prized above brute force. It is gentler than ice hockey and probably more exciting.

You have to go a long way to find a Canadian woman who will admit to disliking ringette. I haven’t found one yet.


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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