Bodies strewn about writhing in pain, with blood splatter canvasing the ice like a Jackson Pollock painting, ladies and gentleman it’s broomball!
Once a week from Japan I Skype a family member in Minneapolis to say hi and see what’s up. The first topic of conversation is always the weather. Lately it has been about how much snow there is in Minnesota – a lot! After a recent call I started reminiscing about Minnesota winters and how much I miss them. Winter exists in Japan and I go skiing twice a year with family, we just have to get in a car, bus or train for a few hours to reach it. What I miss most is the easy access to winter sports such as cross country skiing, hockey and my favorite, broomball. Ask anyone who has never experienced life in a winter wonderland what broomball is and 100% will be clueless.
To the untrained eye broomball looks like a trailer trash form of hockey in which participants unable to afford to buy the necessary equipment like skates, hockey sticks and a puck opted for dumpster diving and came up with brooms, old winter boots and a volleyball. This is not the case. In fact broomball is a legitimate sport with teams, leagues and tournaments. There are commonalities with hockey such as six players to a side, an ice rink and goals. Other than that it’s a game all its own.
Made with rubber soles, the boots do not mix well with ice causing extreme slippage adding to the danger factor. The lethal combination of rubber soles and a lack of head protection increase the chance of a noggin cracking. The broom is the centerpiece of equipment and used to bash the volleyball. The object of the game is simple, put the ball into the opposing team’s goal. This is not an easy task due to the slick ice and the opposing team trying to slam you into the boards. Like passing a hockey puck, passing the ball to a teammate is next to an impossible task.
This game is about timing and team members overshooting their position sliding past an incoming pass is common. With skates you can stop on a dime thanks to the sharp edges. Boots offer no stopping power whatsoever. Besides timing, it comes down to speed, balance and an understanding of physics. I failed out of physics in college and ended up relying on my speed, which explains why I nearly always overshot my mark. Like Usain Bolt in the 100 meters, at the ready in my starting position at one end of the rink hoping this time physics and gravity work in my favor, my starter pistol is a teammate screaming at the top of his lungs “Unleash the fury!” At that moment I start my dash gathering speed as I go from one end of the rink to the other with an aspiration to remain on my feet for the duration before getting the pass. Receiving the pass just as I reach top speed, shooting and scoring was a rare occasion. Most of the time the ball would end up behind me and at bone breaking speed I would crash into the boards surrounding the rink injuring my shoulder and pride, or the next best thing run headlong into the opposing team knocking them down like a set of bowling pins. Whenever that happened spectators would yell out in unison STRIKE!
Hockey fans go to games to cheer on their favorite team, but we all know the real reason is to see fights. Fighting is the highlight. Hockey fights are barbaric and brutal in which tempers flare at the slightest infraction. Loyal broomball fans of course support their teams, but what really puts butts in the seats is the promise of seeing cracked skulls. To the tried and true, it doesn’t matter win or lose the rallying cry of both teams is the same – “Victory is ours only when enough blood is spilt!” Weary and woozy from a well fought battle and concussions, we enter our local watering hole to glorious applause knowing we did our best for our diehard fans and Jackson – leaving enough blood for his next masterpiece.