I speed down the rink as fast as my legs can take me, stick in hand, and defenceman on my tail. With a few minutes left in a tie game, one goal away from furthering our playoff run, I see my teammate coming down the opposite wing. With a quick saucer pass and a one-timer, we’ve taken the lead.
I wasn’t playing hockey. In fact I was playing a sport that included no ice—floorball. This variation of floor hockey, developed in Sweden in the 1970s, is played in a gym with lightweight plastic balls and relatively short sticks. The fact that it is played indoors enables the sport to be played year-round, similar to futsal, an adapted, indoor version of soccer. Floorball is popular in many European countries but is only played at a grassroots level in Canada.
Floorball-playing countries have become talent hotbeds for hockey, similar to Brazil for soccer. Sweden–winner of the last two World Floorball Championships–has produced more and more NHL stars over the years. Floorball’s effect on improving Swedish and Finnish goalie performance is especially evident, and some NHL goalies credit floorball for improving their agility and reaction time. Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist played floorball, ex-superstar NHLer Peter Forsberg is a strong advocate, and Toronto Maple Leafs legend Borje Salming has created a line of floorball equipment.
Floorball can improve hockey skills and ensure a legacy of Canadian hockey players. Floorball is similar to futsal which, according to New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code, “places players inside the deep practice zone, making and correcting errors, constantly generating solutions to vivid problems.” This makes it perfect practice for ice hockey.
The very design of floorball enhances hockey-specific skills. It is played in a small gym, resulting in more opportunities to touch the ball. The lighter stick allows for quicker hand motions, improving reaction time. Shorter sticks also mean the player is closer to the ground, giving them greater control of the ball. More important, perhaps, is that the ball is very light, giving enhanced responsiveness to touch. The ball has dimples like a golf ball to make it more aerodynamic; in fact, the ball flies faster than an ice hockey puck. Once again, increasing the speed increases the coordination required on the parts of players in all roles. Moves (dekes) can be easily created in floorball. Additionally greater control of the ball allows for more manoeuvrability and creativity, which can then be transferred to the hockey rink. The evidence suggests that floorball should be incorporated into off-ice training in Canada.
Most importantly, floorball is primarily practiced in Canada, which makes players feel comfortable taking risks and experimenting—an essential part of acquiring skills. Coyle has stated that “it makes absolutely perfect sense to me that [floorball] would be a wonderful way to spend time in the deep practice zone.”
Before the last Olympics, due to insurance risks, the Canadian men’s Olympic ice hockey team decided to run a ball hockey practice. While the players largely treated the activity as a joke, maybe the idea was a step in the right direction. Instituting floorball as a dry-land training for junior and professional hockey teams, promoting the sport among Canadian youth, and further developing leagues, camps, and other programs will help Canadian hockey grow.