Fads come and go, but inline hockey seems to have taken a firm toehold
on the young and not-so-young throughout the world.
Traditionally, it's called roller hockey, but few people skate with the
old-style platform wheels in the U.S. anymore, although they do in other countries.
The sport continues to grow, with women making inroads by leaps and bounds
compared to other sports.
Why is inline hockey so popular with women? Sure, everyone says you meet
a lot of nice people, but you do that in any sport. It just seems that inline
hockey is a friendlier sport.
Andria Hunter, an ice hockey and an inline hockey player, says: "I like
the flow of the game, and how it doesn't have so much clutching, grabbing,
and interference as ice hockey."
Men are attracted to some of the same qualities of the sport, especially
as they get beyond their teens and twenties and start to think about the safety
of their children.
Dean Dionne both plays and referees, and his four children also participate.
"It's very competitive, but safer than football and faster than baseball.
For kids, it's always safety first," says Dionne.
"Inline skating within a hockey game is safer than kids trying inline skating
on their own, without proper equipment and supervision -- like skating on
Inline hockey is similar to ice hockey and traditional roller hockey. It's
played with a hard ball puck and a longer ice hockey stick, as opposed to
the shorter field hockey stick used in roller hockey.
Up to 14 players participate on a team (compared to 10 for roller hockey),
with four players plus a goalkeeper per team on the floor at a time. It can
be played on cement or plastic floors, in converted ice hockey rinks, or on
The right equipment, including helmets, face protection, gloves, shin and
wrist guards, knee and elbow pads, is very important. Dionne says most injuries
he sees are usually from the wrong equipment, which can be either a poor fit
or a poor quality.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission seems to concur. With wrist injuries
common in this sport, the CPSC reports that one-third of emergency room visits
could be prevented by the use of wrist guards.
It can be a relatively expensive sport, but if you buy quality equipment
it should last for a while. Dionne, who plays often, has used the same gloves
for two years. You can get a starter street hockey stick and puck for $20,
but the skates can cost from $80 to $400.
Safety equipment can set you back several hundred dollars. Other expenses
include league membership fees and insurance. Safety equipment is required,
but beyond that, there are few standards for the type of equipment in amateur
hockey. Professional hockey has stricter requirements.
Dionne says, "Some people will buy anything that's new." A popular item
he notices now is skates that have two big wheels in the back and two smaller
wheels in the front.
The National Sporting Goods Association says that nearly 3.5 million people
in the U.S. participated in inline hockey in one year, and that number is
growing. In 1997, more than five million pairs of inline skates were sold.
While it's important to stay in shape to excel in any sport, and inline
hockey is no exception, people of all ages and physical conditions can participate.
Dionne says he has successful players in his league who tip the scales at
300 pounds. Other players are as young as four or well into their 40s.
Because more women are participating, co-ed leagues are becoming more common.
However, more women playing means they finally have enough people to start
forming women-only leagues.
Hunter says, "The women's game is fairly competitive at the highest level,
but I think with time, the level of competitiveness will level out even more
right across the board.
"Initially, the game was dominated by the Canadian women who had switched
over from ice hockey. But within the last two years, the women in California
who play inline hockey all year long have closed the gap."
Over the next five to 10 years, Hunter says to expect "a large increase
in the number of female players and their calibre. There have already been
a number of big sponsors who have welcomed the women's game.
"Hopefully there will be a women's world inline championship, like they
have for men's inline hockey. There was some talk about having this last year,
so I think we should see it soon!"
Learning inline is not difficult. If you've never inline skated before,
or even if you have, the International Inline Skating Association recommends
taking a lesson from a certified instructor.
The IISA can refer you to one, or you can ask for one at your local rink.
Certified instructors teach at three levels, beginning with the fundamentals
of inline skating and leading to specific instruction in hockey.
Roller hockey schools are also available. Ask about them at your local
rink, through one of the associations, or browse the Web. It usually costs
a couple of hundred dollars for a few days.
IISA recommends people "follow the rules of the road and use common sense."
Dionne says once you know how to skate, it's easy to pick up the rules during
Tournament availability is endless. Check out some at your local rink or
browse through any of the association Web sites. It's a good idea to join
one of the associations if you're serious about competition.
Employment opportunities include refereeing, instructing, rink ownership,
administrative jobs at associations, and for the lucky few, big-league competitive
Dionne found a part-time referee position advertised at his local rink.
Ask IISA about becoming certified to teach. The process can be completed in
To play just for fun, check out a league at your local rink. If you can't
find one, visit the Web sites of one of the roller or inline skating associations
for a contact.
International Inline Skating Association
USA Hockey Inline
The Women's Hockey Web
Includes information about women's ice hockey and inline hockey,
including leagues, tournaments, camps, and links
Inline Hockey Central
Thoughtful articles and good general information