Deep into hockey

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

Amy Cannon is one of the most talented teenage underwater hockey players in the country. At 17, the pixie-sized forward has represented Canada at the past two world championships and is looking forward to her third worlds in Sheffield, England, next summer.

Her inaugural trip to the worlds came in 2002 when Calgary hosted the best underwater hockey teams on the planet.

The '04 worlds were in New Zealand, which meant the Grade 12 Bev Facey Composite high school student found herself packing for more than a trip down Highway 2.

Cannon is one of roughly 100 male and female athletes in the Edmonton area playing the sport first developed by Englishman Alan Blake in 1954.

The bubbly teen immersed herself in the sport four years ago. As a 16-year-old she became the youngest athlete to play for Canada's national women's team.

"I was only planning to play on the junior team (in Auckland), then I made the women's team," explained Cannon.

"I was the youngest person playing in the women's division, but there was the under-19 open, which is guys and girls. I also played on the Canadian under-19 and there was the under-19 women's team. That was pretty cool."

A snorkel, mask and fins are the big-ticket items required to play the game. S-shaped sticks roughly the size of a 12-inch ruler, a stick-hand glove to prevent scrapes and a water polo cap round out the equipment list.

Teams consist of three forwards and three defenders snorkelling on the bottom of a 25-metre pool in pursuit of an NHL-sized puck, which weighs around three pounds.

With four subs waiting on deck or in a specified area of the pool, teams can change on the fly. Different coloured caps distinguish the opposing sides, and games consist of two 10- or 15-minute halves.

The object is to put the puck in a goal which is roughly nine feet wide and features an angled lip. The puck must travel up before it drops into a trough to count as a goal.

Players advance the puck by passing or pushing it as they swim along the bottom of the pool.

The game made its Canadian debut in 1962 and is currently played in more than 20 countries, including the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, Hungary and Sweden.

Jim and Janet Jones, a couple of transplanted Calgarians, brought the game to Edmonton in the early 1980s and founded the Edmonton Octopushers.

"I'm mostly a recreational player at this point," offered Janet, who still enjoys tugging on a pair of fins and playing once a week.

"I do it because I don't like doing underwater running and I don't do repeated aquarobics, like jumping jacks in the water a thousand times.

''The fitness benefits are excellent. I mean, you can't get more cardiovascular. Even once a week probably makes a difference."

Six years ago Gilles Benoiton and his wife, Connie, established the junior Edmonton Amphibians club for youngsters between the ages of eight and 18.

The number of clubs in the Edmonton area has doubled in the past 24 months. Spruce Grove now boasts the junior Parkland Puck Pushers club, while the University of Alberta is home to another.

Benoiton would like to grow the game further locally and is in full recruiting mode.

"A lot of swimmers, competitive swimmers, water polo players and people with different backgrounds are involved," said the full-time guitar teacher.

"A lot of people just jump off the couch and come and play. It just sounds like something fun to try and so they try it. It's different enough that they get involved and stick with it. It's totally changed my fitness level."

Those interested in taking the plunge can visit the Edmonton Underwater Hockey website at www.edmontonunderwaterhockey.com.


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