Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ring-What?

There are a number of games played on the Canadian winter season ice.

There is ice skating on frozen ponds.

There is hockey.

There is curling – which if you don't know – is a shuffle board like game where each team tries to slide large heavy polished rocks into a target on the other side of the ice, and the team with the most rocks near the target wins. It's a great game of skill, accuracy and strategy.

And then there is ringette.

"Ring-what?"

Ringette. It's a game very similar to hockey. But very different in several key ways:

The players use a hockey stick – with the blade cut off – so they only use the shaft. The butt of the stick is taped.

The puck is replaced by a heavy rubber ring – like the one you probably played ring toss with when you were young.

The players pass the ring to each other much like hockey players passing the puck, but the skill in ringette is in receiving – catching the pass – because instead of just letting the puck hit the blade of your stick as in hockey, the ringette player has to lift their stick and try to put the end down in the middle of the ring as it slides by.

There are also some other significant rules that distinguish it from hockey – like the one that states that no offensive player can put a skate or a blade in the goalie crease, and no offensive player can play defense behind a line on their own side.

You know – rules.

But the key to ringette is trapping that ring on the end of your stick – and then slinging it off the end for a pass or a shot on net.

Oh, and ringette – at this point anyways – is pretty much played by the female gender.

So as the father of a seven and six year old girls, I was very interested to see ringette again.

The ringette I saw played this year was pretty elite. While visiting my cousin Sarah's family at their log cabin outside of Cambridge, Ontario – Sarah insisted that we attend a special game being played that day. The game was between two elite teams: The Paris Ontario Ringette Association's under 20 girls playing two Team Canada Squads representing those on or trying out for Canada's national team.

And this game was played the day before Team Canada made its final cuts.

To make it even more interesting, there were two girls from the Paris Ringette association trying out for Team Canada this day. And the crowd was torn between rooting for the Team Canada rookies, and their hometown squad.

I sat and watched this game. I was not new to ringette. Sarah has been involved with this sport with her Dad (my Uncle Fred) since she was little and living in London, Ontario. Together they started and founded the Ringette association in Mitchell, Ontario. And now Sarah is continuing the tradition for her two daughters Justine and Paige – to carry Ringette into the next generation. She is proud of the exceptional executive committee she is a part of.

When I was young and living in Minnesota, I played a little hockey. Very little – and probably very poorly. When we visited my Uncle Fred's one Christmas, he and Sarah invited my brother Paul and I out to skate a practice with them.

I still remember that day – and how incredibly fun it was. And how difficult it was to catch that stupid ring on the end of my stick. And how humbling it was to have younger girls skating circles around me.

As I sat and watched the warm ups for the game, Sarah explained to me why the older girls were skating with the younger girls from the younger teams.

"This is a very important part of ringette", explained Sarah. "Part of this games culture is to expose the younger players to the older players, on and off the ice, to help them learn and grow quicker".

So ringette also teaches team members to also be role models.

And as I looked around the ice at both the Paris and Team Canada skaters, they were each doing their part to help and inspire the younger Parisian skaters. The Team Canada goalie was talking to the younger Parisian goalie about how to get down quicker to the ice to block low shots.

As the game began, I was blown away by the skating skills of both sides. Better than the best boys I have seen. Faster and quicker spins and turns than I have seen at the AAA OHL level. It was an incredible vision of players weaving so quickly through each other that it almost seemed like positions were only a formality for score cards.

The skill and accuracy of the pass making – moving the ring to open ice and watching the team mate sling over to pick it on the end of her stick up the middle of the ice, whip it outside to the wing, and receive it back on the end of her stick and in the same motion fling it powerfully at the net for a shot – only to have the sprawling keeper block it away.

It was at least as exciting as hockey. And because the player has the ring on the end of their stick – the skating they can do – the spins and cuts and twists are so much more exciting.

It is really something to see.

If you were to ask a hockey player about ringette, he would likely tell you it's for girls.

But if you asked a hockey player to go play ringette with these girls, he would likely decline the offer.

Because hockey players do not want to be shown up by a bunch of girls.


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