Hockey, Soccer Compatible
2004-07-23 JIM KERNAGHAN, London Free Press
Ever since soccer passed hockey in terms of registered players in Canada six years ago, there has been an uneasy relationship between the two sports.
Hockey is Canada's national sport. The emergence of soccer as the most widely played game did not sit well with some people.
It shouldn't be that way. There are no two sports that complement each other so well. Some of the best athletes play both sports.
It could be easily argued they are some of the best because they play both sports.
The year-after-year growth of soccer has been stupendous. In 1995, registrations were 484,000, just behind hockey. Last year, registered soccer players in Canada hit 825,000.
There are plenty of reasons, the chief one being economics. A flat area, a bunch of kids, a ball and jackets as goals are all soccer requires.
The organized game has grown from that, but the basics remain. While the costs of hockey's ice time, equipment and travel demands have almost turned it into a sport of the elite, soccer remains cost-efficient. It's affordable and available for nearly everyone.
Moreover, it embraces a wider range of players than hockey. Any kid who can kick a can on the street can learn the basics, whereas learning to skate, let alone control a puck, takes some time.
At the upper levels, both sports require talent, skills and fitness. In soccer, though, a small player can compete with anyone while in hockey, a player seeking to advance to the upper levels of his game has a big edge if he has size going for him.
London City general manager Harry Gauss played junior B hockey as well as soccer and can attest to the carryover in both sports.
"Anyone who played soccer was way ahead of anyone who didn't at (hockey) training camp," Gauss said. "It worked this way; you were a month ahead (in fitness) going into hockey."
This is no secret to elite hockey players. Once the National Hockey League began regular competition with European teams 32 years ago, they found the European hockey players also played a lot of soccer in training and many pro teams incorporated it into their own training.
Interestingly, some of the best hockey players in the world also excelled at soccer and some of them, such as Sweden's Borje Salming and Russia's Alexander Maltsev, had to make a decision as to which national team they'd concentrate on.
Former Toronto Maple Leaf all-star Salming once said he had no doubt he would never have attained his remarkable balance without his soccer background. Interestingly, Philadelphia Flyers' Jeremy Roenick said the same thing more recently.
It's not exactly soccer but virtually every NHL team's pre-game rite is to keep a ball in the air in the corridor to loosen up before donning their equipment.
Being a good soccer player won't make you a good hockey player and vice versa, but the elements of both games are essentially alike. You attack a goal or defend one, there are offsides, you have to cover your man, there are penalty shots.
The physical demands are certainly different yet the fitness basics remain the same. Oh yes, there's one other thing.
In both sports, goaltenders are often a little off-the-wall.