Underwater hockey team is more than a fun curiosity

Oct 8, 2015

EAST LANSING, Mich. – They’re singing and dancing, wearing Speedos and snorkels, strutting around Sparticipation with a line longer than any other booth. They’re quick to draw the eye and the interest, using flashy demeanor to stand out.

They are the Michigan State underwater hockey team, and they’re in search of rookies.

The club, founded in 2007, fields a co-ed roster with high hopes of returning to nationals in 2016.

“I love water, and I thought it was really cool when I saw it at Sparticipation,” said Karin Foss, a rookie from Troy, Michigan. “They were all in their little Speedos, and they just looked like really cool, fun people that love their sport.”

Foss isn’t alone when learning the sport for the first time. Only half the team has prior swimming experience, and the club attracts people of all athletic backgrounds.

“Every single new member is brand new to the sport,” said Dominique Felice, the club president. “It’s much quicker pace than everyone imagines. When people picture underwater hockey, they picture us in full pads, ice hockey gear, moving slowly on the bottom of the pool.”

In reality, it’s quite a high-paced sport..

The sport is played six verses six, with each player wearing a bathing suit, flippers and polo cap with a snorkel attached. A 12-inch plastic or wood stick is used to push a three-pound lead puck cased in plastic along the bottom of the pool. The goal resembles a metal trough, six feet in length and three inches in depth.

“MSU typically plays a three-three, which means three in the front and three in the back,” said Felice. “They’re spread out to the left side, the center and the right side of the pool. That way, you’re getting pretty even coverage of the playing field.”

No one person coaches the team, and rookies rely heavily on returners and alumni to grasp technique.

“We are self-taught,” said Felice. “Our alumni, when they come back, act as coaches because they have more years of experience as teaching. Other than that, we don’t have a structured coach to teach us the techniques throughout the year.”

The team travels the country in pursuit of their sport, participating in tournaments from Chicago to Los Angeles and further south to the Florida Keys. The number of tournaments varies, depending on the year, and Felice says they rarely keep track of wins and losses.

“We participate in tournaments because it is a less-common sport,” said Felice. “We’re big on road trips and car pools. Typically we stay in hotels, but for places like George Mason University and the University of Illinois, we stay at their hockey house.”

The financial obligation is something the team is forced to overcome, doing what they can to keep costs down when traveling across the country.

“It’s 100 percent out of pocket,” said Felice. “We pay for stuff as it comes up, but trips usually range from $100 to $300, depending on travel situations. We understand that we’re all college kids, so we don’t force anyone to go to anything.”

A one-time $50 fee is the only required payment, used to rent out the IM Circle pool for practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30-9 p.m.

The club is known for their high level of membership commitment, boasting about their opportunities in the coming school year.

“Usually, we have a huge influx of people, and then they all stop coming for whatever reason,” said Mallory Simon, club secretary. “This year, they’re all really into it, so it’s exciting.”

Twelve members will load their cars this weekend in pursuit of the first tournament of the 2015-16 school year hosted by George Mason University. Competition will be held from Oct. 9-11.

The team will strive for victories this year, yet it’s the out-of-the-pool relationships that form the strongest bonds within the club.

“I have such a strong sense of family here,” said Felice. “I’m always so excited to come back and see my family and have everyone around me again.”