Sweden and Finland battle in the finals of the 2008 Floorball world championships.
By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 13, 2011
The game is called floorball. It is played indoors. Each team has five players with plastic sticks who whack a plastic ball. The goalies don’t get sticks, so when stopping shots they look like drowning men going over Niagara Falls.
The game is popular in Europe.
The Finns like salibandi like they like sauna.
The Swedes like innebandy like they like loganberries.
The Swiss like unihockey like they like emmental, chocolate and cuckoo clocks.
Representatives from those three countries formed the International Floorball Federation in 1986. They tried to spread their message. After five years, only Denmark and Norway had joined, a sweep of Scandinavia. Iceland joined six years ago. In time, though, floorball spread to Asia and Australia. Tiny Liechtenstein came aboard. Sierra Leone, too. Now, some 53 countries belong.
A week ago, the International Olympic Committee rewarded floorball with full recognition, a major step towards the sport winning a coveted slot in the Olympics. The federation is now gunning for inclusion in the 2024 Summer Games.
The happy news thrills a small but dedicated band of players — and proselytizers — in British Columbia.
“It gives the sport a ton of credibility,” said Greg Beaudin, president of the B.C. Floorball Federation.
“I know Canadians would embrace it if they knew about it, if they were exposed to it.”
That will take time. Floorball is so unknown on these shores that it can’t even pass spell-check.
The game is played at the Richmond Olympic Oval and at the Roundhouse in Vancouver’s Yaletown; in Trail and Terrace; in Nanaimo and Victoria. Recently, the school in Fraser Lake, near Vanderhoof, purchased a full set of equipment.
“It’s sprinkled out there,” Mr. Beaudin said.
The sport has been used as a training tool by Hockey Canada for a decade, but is only now beginning to gain popularity among the general public. The limited equipment — no helmets, no shin pads, no shoulder pads, no elbow pads, no gloves — makes it inexpensive. The restrictions on body checking — only soccer-style shoulder to shoulder contact is permitted — limits injuries.
“It’s hockey that anyone can play,” he said. “More about skill and speed and less about hacking and slashing.”
Mr. Beaudin, 42, grew up in a hockey household. His father is Norm Beaudin, a journeyman whose 16-season professional career includes stints in the National Hockey League. With the Winnipeg Jets, he skated on the Luxury Line with Bobby Hull and Christian Bourdeleau. Now, the father sells sporting goods in Florida, including among his stock floorball sticks and balls.
The son was introduced to floorball just five years ago during a demonstration in Toronto. A net was set up for fans to take shots with floorball sticks, which have rounded handles and plastic blades through which air can pass. He was quickly sold on the sport.
(Another of the B.C. Floorball Federation directors, Michael Lindgren, is the son of former Vancouver Canucks player Lars Lindgren.)
Many of the Swedish and Finnish players in the NHL played the sport as children, and some do so to stay in shape in the off-season. Sami Salo, the fragile Vancouver Canucks defenceman, tore an Achilles tendon playing floorball last summer. These days, one of the more popular brands of floorball equipment carries the name of Borje Salming, the retired star defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A year ago, Mr. Beaudin got to play floorball with several of the current Canucks. Some of the Swedish-born Canucks such as Henrik Sedin and Alexander Edler wanted to show the sport to Ryan Kesler, an American, and Kevin Bieksa, a Canadian.
Mr. Beaudin is among those who dream of the day when a Golden Goal for Canada will come not on the ice, but the gymnasium floor.
Their slogan: One world, one ball, floorball.
Today, some elementary-school gymnasium in the British Columbia Interior. Tomorrow, the world.