When I was eight, I was invited to an ice-skating party at Sydney’s Macquarie Ice Rink. I wore a pink tutu and frilly socks and spent the afternoon joyfully pirouetting. Fast-forward 25 years and I’m back. Only thing is, I haven’t set foot (or skate) on a slippery surface since. And I’m about to attend a training session with the Sydney Bears Ice Hockey Club.
Ice hockey is considered the world’s fastest team sport, with professional players reaching speeds of up to 45km/h, while the puck has been clocked at up to 160. It’s a non-stop, rapid-fire game that requires a remarkable combination of skill, speed and agility. The basic objective? To get more pucks in your net than your opposing team does in theirs.Ice hockey: The basics
You need an adequate level of skating ability to play. So I organise a private skate lesson with Slav, a former Russian ice-dancing champion. He assures me he can teach anyone to skate – be it child, adult or petrified journalist. “Stay low, connect with the ice, step, step, step and gliiide,” Slav instructs from across the rink. After an hour I regain some of the confidence my eight-year-old self had in abundance and I find myself gliding with the best of them. Pass me my hockey stick, captain!
Before I can even step on the ice, I need to get my gear on – and that alone burns thousands of kJs. My equipment consists of padding for every surface of the body – including knee and elbow pads, gloves, hockey pants (cushioned shorts), a full-face helmet and a “jill” – to protect my (gulp) private bits from a stray puck or misguided stick. Some 20 minutes later (no exaggeration), I’m dressed. I feel like a cross between a warrior, the Michelin man and Hannibal Lecter (think: scary looking face cage). I waddle over to the rink and attempt to shake hands with my instructor Sandy Cameron – coach of the Sydney Bears Women’s Ice Hockey league and former national and international representative. I’m sure she can smell my fear as she tells me her number one tip for beginners: “Don’t be timid. It will get you nowhere in hockey. Just go for it.” With this in mind I boldly slide out onto the ice.
Do any of these moves and you could be sent packing...
Boarding Shoving an opponent so she’s thrown violently against the boards.
Slashing Hitting or swinging at an opponent with your stick.
Hooking Using your stick to slow your opponent.
Tripping An action against an opponent’s leg which causes them to fall.
High-sticking Carrying the stick above normal shoulder height. If this results in an injury to an opponent, a major penalty may be given.
Spearing Stabbing an opponent with the point of the stick blade while the stick is being carried in one or both hands.
The first task I’m set is mastering the stance: knees bent, back straight, head up and skates shoulder-width apart. My hands are naturally drawn to the top of the stick but Cameron tells me to move my bottom hand much further down – in order to get more control.
“Remember the lower your centre of gravity, the more stable you are.” Ice hockey involves a lot of knee bending. In fact, it makes the squat track in Body Pump seem laughable. Already, my quads are on fire. Luckily Cameron suggests we move on to another very important skill – falling down and getting back up. Brilliant!
“If you anticipate you’re about to fall, bend your knees and lean to the side,” she instructs. I land with a thud, and with all the cushioning find it rather enjoyable. Cameron tells me to roll onto my stomach. “To get up, bring yourself onto both knees in a crouch position, then bring one knee up, lean on it with your opposite arm and pull yourself up.”
Using all the core strength I can muster, I’m back on my feet.
Next it’s time for stick handling – being able to pass and control the little rubber disc is crucial. Cameron and I face off for some one-on-one passes and I get used to transferring my weight from one foot to the other – a critical technique to ensure there’s power behind my shots. (See below)
There are four main shots in ice hockey – a forehand wrist shot, backhand, snap shot and a slap shot. The wrist shot is most commonly used for both passing and shooting. Here, how you do
The physical benefits of ice hockey are phenomenal. Regular players are super fit and have strong legs and upper bodies. Yet physical size isn’t important when it comes to being a star player (lucky for 155cm me). And despite its reputation as being violent, women play a non-checking game – meaning there’s no shoving allowed.
A game consists of three 20-minute periods and is played at such high intensity that players are on the ice in “shifts”. The ideal shift lasts just 40 seconds, then you change over with a teammate. “Imagine sprinting the length of a netball court up and back as many times as you can – how long would you last?” Cameron asks. Er, not very? “That’s why you have only five players plus a goalie on the ice at a time, but up to 15 on the bench.”
And what a bench it is. As my very first lesson draws to a close, the women’s team are warming up for their weekly training session. They range in age from 13 to 59, come from all walks of life and are passionately devoted to ice hockey. While it’s a national obsession in Canada, there is only a small but very loyal following in Australia. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, there are just 313 female players across the country.
“Are you coming on with us, Heidi?” they ask with a welcoming smile. Despite my L-plates, I find myself answering “Why not?” I only manage a couple of minutes on the ice before needing to come off for a breather. Given my shaky skating skills and oversized face helmet, I focus on simply staying upright as the women confidently dash and dart around me. There’s no way I can get anywhere near the puck and my feet are aching, yet the excitement of being part of such a fast team sport is intoxicating. Cameron looks at me knowingly. “Hockey gets into your blood,” she says like a wise guru. “No matter what level you’re at, there’s always something more to master. The challenge and sense of satisfaction is huge.” I reckon I know exactly what she means.
To find an ice hockey team in your local area, head to the Ice Hockey Australia website ( iha.org.au)