BY JAMES STEMPLE, STAFF WRITER
You might do a double take when you see the words “underwater hockey” together. Mason’s underwater hockey team is there to tell you to believe it.
Underwater hockey (or Octopush, in England) is a sport that originated from the British Navy wanting to keep their divers in shape. The game was a perfect way for the navy to train their lung capacity and swimming skills, as underwater hockey requires both of those.
The players use special gear nowadays: gloves, a 4-pound puck, fins, a polo cap, a snorkel, goggles and a foot-long stick curved just like an ice hockey stick.
“The most common injuries in the sport are broken fingers and broken noses,” Captain Alex Dean said on the topic of gear.
Underwater hockey is defined as a limited contact coed sport. The teams consist usually of 10 players, though the games are six on six. The players swim around in a diamond-shaped wall structure in the pools, dodging players not just in front and behind them, but above and below as well.
“You’ve got to keep yourself close to the ground,” Dean said.
Referees float around in the pool to observe players underwater.
The players use their sticks to “curl” the puck across the pool floor, hopefully along the wall, to attempt to get the puck into the small trough-like goal at the other end of the diamond.
Experienced players sometimes “flick” the puck across the pool to pass or attempt to score.
“If you’re really good, you can flick it about 5 feet. Getting it off the ground—that’s what we call a flick—is probably the hardest thing to learn about the sport,” Dean said.
Dean got his own start in underwater hockey in the beginning of his freshman year after he had heard about the club in orientation a few weeks prior.
The deciding moment was when he “was walking down the street, and written on the sidewalk was ‘underwater hockey tonight, AFC 9 p.m., free pizza.’ I had heard of it before and wanted to try, but then I saw the sidewalk writing and said ‘Yes! Now I know.’”
The name might’ve gotten him to go initially, but the community itself caused him to stay.
When the Mason team practices, two other teams—the D.C. team and the Northern Virginia team—practice with them. These other teams are within 30 minutes of the Mason team, so a tight-knit community has developed.
Some of the members of the D.C. and Northern Virginia teams are even Mason alumni and help out the Mason team. There is no official coach for the team, so newer players look to the older players for guidance.
The community expands outside of Northern Virginia, too.
Mason’s team regularly travels out of state, and sometimes out of the country, for tournaments where they have met more teams.
“I have friends in Canada who I go play tournaments with, and friends in Hampton Roads, and the University of Illinois; [the team] knows people from all over the place,” Dean said, adding that “it’s just a really big community and everyone is really close.”
The team travels out of state for every tournament they participate in except for the one they host.
The tournaments usually consist of five to seven games over the course of one or two days. The sport is played year-round, with nationals taking place at the end of the season in the middle of summer.
At the last national tournament, the Mason team placed third in the C Division. Divisions are based on skill level—players that go to the world championships typically play in A, whereas Mason’s club plays in C.
Twice a year, the team travels out of country. The team travels to the Canadian towns of London and Guelph over the course of the year. The Guelph trip typically happens in the spring, but the London trip happens the last weekend in October—the team just travelled there a few weeks ago.
“I’ve never spent Halloween at Mason,” Dean said.
The team uses fundraisers and dues to raise funds for the trips, and the school matches whatever they can raise.
Like many club sports, those who wish to join need only show up to a practice. Many, if not all, of the players on the team had little to no training beforehand. Most didn’t even swim in high school. Players of any skill level can join and work with the older members of the team to get better.
Dean said if you’re nervous and just want to watch, the “best way is to just jump in the pool. And if you’re in the pool at that point, might as well play.”
Though there are no tournaments left in this semester, the team looks forward to a calm winter of practices to prepare for the busy spring season.