Burgh Hockey

Broomball: Sweeping its way into the Pittsburgh sports scene

Brooke Schmitt moves the ball down ice while Jessa Gabler and Brian Lamouree prepare to defend during the league championship. -- BRIAN MITCHELL

Have you ever heard of broomball? If not, you’re in luck. The Pittsburgh Broomball Club will be hosting the 2017 USA Broomball National Championships April 7 through 9 at Center Ice Arena in Delmont, Pa.

Broomball is a sport similar to ice hockey with the exception of the puck, skates, and most of the restrictive gear. Its origins are Canadian as an alternative to the ice-skating aspects of the sport. It is nearly identical in the rules and regulations to its father sport, and most of the equipment lends to the sport.

Some of the notable inclusions are helmets, gloves, and 95 percent of the rulebook.

The exclusions are where this game becomes friendlier to everyone.

DIFFERENCE OF EQUIPMENT

While the sport is played on ice, the lack of skates allows for a unique style of running shoe: a specialty ice-grip rubber-soled shoe that allows players to run at full speed on the ice, while allowing them to still have that special connection to the frozen surface.

“A decent pair of broomball shoes makes all the difference,” explains Michael Whalen, club executive. “It doesn’t take too long to get accustomed to running on ice. Changing direction takes some getting used to.”

The second largest difference is the stick. Instead of a long; hooking stick, the players play with a shorter version with an inverted triangular head for contact with the ball.

When it comes to scoring, the two items see necessary change. The puck is replaced by a bowling ball-sized inflatable orange ball similar to a deck hockey ball. To facilitate scoring, the nets are enlarged to six feet by eight feet. Goaltenders are only allowed one blocker, must wear a full face shield, and are garnished with the same items that the other players wear out on the ice.

A PBC player winds up for a slap shot. — BRIAN MITCHELL

PITTSBURGH BROOMBALL CLUB

The tournament wouldn’t be happening this coming weekend without a host club. In Pittsburgh, that’s the two-year-old Pittsburgh Broomball Club. Created by players from the Pittsburgh Sports League, the league was the first in Western Pennsylvania to feature the one thing that kept the players from the ultimate goal: tournament Broomball on a full sheet of ice. The PSL played at Mt. Lebanon’s studio ice rink, which is not large enough to prepare for that next step.

“Some of us who were playing in the small-ice league decided to enter a team in a full-ice tournament in Ohio,” Whalen said. “That was our first exposure to the real version of broomball, on a full-size rink with six-by-eight goals. Predictably, we were destroyed in that first tournament. The full-ice game is so different and more demanding than the half-rink version we had been playing, but it was so much fun. We came away from that first tournament convinced that we should try to start a club in Pittsburgh where we could play the full-ice version of the sport.”

In their inaugural season, with ice time hard to come by during the high school hockey season, the PBC split games between the Baierl Ice Complex in Warrendale and Center Ice Arena in Delmont before settling down at Center Ice for season number two.

“Our league games run approximately every other week avoiding holiday or tournament weekends,” PBC board member Tyler McGuigan explained. “All teams play two games a night. We have a fall season that runs August through November or early December and a spring season that runs February through June.”

LOCAL PLAYERS

The Pittsburgh Broomball Club offers a chance to not only compete, but offers experience during open ice sessions that are held sporadically throughout the year. The thing that sets the PBC apart from most is its openness towards new players.

“Anyone interested in playing with us should come out to a pickup session,”  Whalen said. “These sessions are free to first-timers, and we usually have shoes and sticks to lend. The pickup sessions are a no-pressure way of trying out the sport.”

It doesn’t stop at the acceptance of players. They are also an opportunity for officials to get involved. The league is always looking for individuals to help officiate league games.

The next PBC open-ice event is April 15, and information can be found on its Facebook page.

NATIONAL BOARD

This weekend, the PBC is on the national map with its involvement in hosting the 2017 USA Broomball National Championships. Locally, they will be entering teams in the following categories:

Men’s: Brooms of Steel

Co-ed: Forge, Steel City Anthem, and PBC

Women’s: Agents and Wicked Sisters

While the talent pool certainly looks like it filled out the rosters necessary to compete in such a prestigious tournament, that always wasn’t the case. Without a full ice league, the time spent training would be sporadic at best.

“It’s been challenging at times,” executive board member Katie Heckman explained. “People don’t realize that broomball is a real sport. Hosting the national tournament has been pivotal for us because it has helped us to get the word out to the Pittsburgh sports community that broomball is a legitimate game here in Pittsburgh. Once the PBC tournament teams take the ice, people will see that our tournament teams are full of some real talent, too!”

Location and regional awareness were also a major factor in Pittsburgh being selected as the host of the tournament.

“We’re a very young club, and further east than any other city to host this tournament in the past,” Whalen added. “It’s a real show of confidence for USA Broomball to select our club to host. Our location makes it possible for Eastern teams to drive to the tournament, so we’ll have some teams participate that might not travel to Minnesota or North Dakota. We hope that this exposure will generate lots of interest in our regional tournament and maybe set up some home-and-home “friendlies” with clubs in other cities.”

This weekend, another sport that has its roots in the great white north will be on the main stage for the entire region to enjoy.

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