No air. Cold. Wet. Dodging speeding pieces of lead. Sore muscles.
It takes something special to enjoy putting themselves in that condition – once. Finding people that enjoy it all day long, well that’s just… awesome! That is exactly what we found in Berlin this weekend for the first ever Berlin Underwater Hockey Day.
Thanks to the fantastic support from our club, Sporttaucher Berlin e.V.! Our dreams of 3 years came true – we were finally able to bring people to Berlin to play UWH, for a whole day!
We kicked off bright and early, with half of Team Berlin arriving at the pool at 8am to get everything set up. Some of our team hosted a few players from other cities, and they also came to help get things happening, so set up went super fast. Our heros from Hannover also arrived early, bringing with them a set of goals. UWH goals are 3m wide, heavy, often custom made, and Berlin doesn’t have any. Hannover was kind enough to pack up theirs in the back of the car and drive them all the way to Berlin, which was very cool of them! The old saying “many hands make light work” was definitely true in this case, and we were ready well ahead of time!
The official program started off with an hour of theory. Lots of players do theory as beginners, or once they’re playing at a high level, but sometimes it’s missing in mid-level hockey, which means physical strength and speed get over emphasised. We wanted to make sure that we focussed on two really important pillars of playing good hockey: sandwiches and depth control.
Sandwiching is when an attacking play from one team is blocked by one player from the opposing team, usually forcing the attacking player to turn, where another player from the defending team is waiting as the other slice of bread in the “sandwich” to steal the puck. This move can be used in attack or defense, relies a lot on good timing, and when it’s done well, makes for fluid, beautiful hockey. Depth control is important for players to understand – it’s the theory of when to be at what depth in the water. For example, if you’re on the surface and a breakaway against your team happens, it takes you much longer to get down and chase the attacker down. If you’re already on the bottom, you might run out of air while you’re waiting there, and it’s harder to change direction. If you’re waiting in the middle depth, you can get to the surface to get fresh air quickly, and you can engage in the game in many directions much faster than from the surface.
Once the theory was over, it was time to get wet. Our initial plan was to practice what we’d learned in the theory session in short games, but we quickly found that the pool was a little small to accommodate two 6v6 training games at once. Luckily, some of the players stepped in to help, and we spontaneously changed up the session to have two experienced players coaching the teams playing games in one half of the pool (thanks Alan and Dasha) and another running team drills in the other half (thanks Toby). It was nice to play with different people in a training environment, and good to work on new skills and tactics outide of the hectic frenzy of full-speed games. It couldn’t last forever though, and eventually, the fun was broken up by a horde of eager Schnupperers (new people coming to try hockey) arriving!
We’d been a little nervous about running a come-and-try session, because none of us had ever done it before, but Cris, Sumi and Laura did a great job. Until about a week before we only had 3 registrations, and then all of a sudden we had 15 in total two days before the big event. That was great – except that we don’t have that much spare gear! We ended up racing around last minute to collect enough gear to get everyone ready to go – a big thanks go out to Sumi and Wolf (from our club Sporttaucher Berlin) for finding a whole stack of masks and fins on Friday night, and to the VDST (federation of diving sports in Germany) for sending us a whole box of gloves, sticks and hats, which saved the day!
In the end the Schnupper session was a great success. We had some young finswimmers participating, who were lovely and polite out of the water – but turned into sharks as soon as they got in the water – some freedivers as well as divers from other clubs in Berlin, and some people who just thought holding their breath and chasing a puck around the bottom of the pool sounded like fun! It was great to see so many people keen to give hockey a go!
Once the Schnupper session was over, it was time to get serious. All the players were divided up into 4 teams of approximately equal skill level (we tried to keep clubs together, but balanced the teams where we could by mixing more experienced players in). Christian did a great job of creating a tournament plan, and games got underway with Heidelberg vs Berlin grudge match.
It quickly turned out that someone must had paid off Christian to make Heidelberg a little overpowered by assigning no newbies to the team (even so Chris claims that he just wanted to create a proper challenge for team Berlin). This however backfired as Heidelberg left Berlin no chance and annihilated the home team 7-0.
The next game was between two mixed teams, Hannover-Elmshorn and Munich-Pirania. Despite having lots of newer players and not having played a lot together, Hannover came out of the gates super strong and scored very early to take a 1-0 lead. The rest of the first half was a full tilt battle with no score – both teams did great defensive work to keep the puck out of the tray. Munich-Pirania afterwards must have had a good team talk at half-time, because they were a different team in the second period, driving home three goals in 8 minutes to leave the score at 3-1 when the clock stopped.
The victors didn’t get long to celebrate though, as they had to get straight back in the water against a rested Heidelberg team (due to only having four teams, some teams had to have two games in a row). Although Heidelberg had no subs, the team meshed very well together, and led by a very strong forward line took home a 6-0 win.
Berlin then had a chance to make up for their earlier loss, putting their numbers and teamwork into play against Hannover-Elmshorn. Berlin’s forward line seemed to work well together, opening play up the sides of the pool repeatedly resulting in goals. Hannover-Elmshorn made a massive effort to push down the pool, only to be fouled in the goal area, causing a rare penalty shot 2 on 1 situation. A mistake in the setup of the 2 on 1 meant that Hannover’s players had to come from further out than normal, which gave Alan, the Berlin defender, more time to set up and defend the attack. The result? No goal, and a reset of play. Although Hannover-Elmshorn team pushed hard in the closing minutes of the game, no attacks made it through, and the game finished up 6-0.
You’d think that after the battle in the previous game, Berlin would struggle to jump right back in for a second game, and you’d be right. But that’s what had to happen, and it couldn’t have been for a more important game: Munich-Pirana vs Berlin. Two teams, both with one win and one loss. The victor would move on to the finals, the loser would be left to play for bronze. Battle commenced, and what a battle it was. The game was close, and both teams were desperate. Mistakes were made, and two Berlin players fell victim to the rough game within 5 minutes of each other, being hit hard with an elbow and a puck respectively. Despite this, Berlin pushed on to score, but not before Munich-Pirania pushed their advantage and put in a goal. After the half-time, Berlin added 2 more goals to the tally, to finish up 3-1 with a place in the finals.
The final game of the round robin was Heidelberg vs Hannover-Elmshorn. Heidelberg put their experience into play, and clinically dissected their opponents to finish 9-0. They did make one mistake though: going full power. Little did they know, but that would cause them problems later.
Finals started after a short break with the bronze medal match between Munich-Pirania and Hannover-Elmshorn. Both teams gave it their all, but Munich-Pirania was fresher, and the experience of their backs shone through, making it difficult for Hannover-Elmshorn to gain a foothold (or rather flipper-hold) in their attacking half. Munich-Pirania fought hard and scored several goals, before Hannover-Elmshorn broke through and scored a beautiful goal. It wasn’t enough though, and Munich-Pirania continued their attack to score 3 more goals in the second period and leave the game at 6-1, taking home 3rd place overall.
For the final both teams agreed to add a few more players to keep things interesting. Berlin beefed up their back line with Burak from Munich, and added Artur from Pirania to contribute a bit more offensive firepower. Heidelberg added Laura from Munich, who added some freshness to a pretty tired forward line, and the game began. Right away it was clear that Heidelberg would definitely not have an easy time of this game, and had to fight for every inch of pool. The added experience of the Berlin reinforcements meant that Heidelberg didn’t have as much freedom to build up their open game, and despite Heidelberg scoring an early goal, Berlin came back with a big Cris-Alan punch to score an equalizing goal. Heidelberg fought back, but the long day of hockey was wearing on everyone by now. The end of the first half came without another goal. After the half-time, everyone knew it was all on the line and only 8 minutes to go, and the game got intense! Berlin defended well, but Heidelberg escaped up the wall to score a goal, bringing it to 2-1. Despite a last push by Berlin, Heidelberg saved another strong attack, and counterattack to put the nail in the watery coffin, ending the day with a 3-1 victory and 1st place!
Once games were over the tired and hungry players collected their belongings and tramped in the direction of the showers – but not before helping out with putting the pool back together. Team Berlin is super thankful to everyone – the pool staff told us privately that they have never seen a bunch of people help out so well to get everything back in place, and said we’d be welcome back anytime. Super awesome stuff!
And most importantly: dinner!
Next on the agenda was dinner! 35 hungry players and friends descended on Pignut BBQ, purveyors of fine meat for a feast to finish off the day. The keg was cracked open, piles of pulled pork burgers and smoked ribs appeared on tables, and everyone got stuck in.
We were also super lucky to get some sponsorship from Australia’s best “togs” manufacturer – Funky Trunks/Funkita who donated 4 pairs of very snazzy bathers for some lucky participants, and from Apneashop.pl, a dive gear/UWH shop based in Poland and run by all around good guy Daniel Sielowski, who donated a pair of brand new sticks. We were super happy with all the support we received for this event, from the sponsors, from our club Sporttaucher Berlin, from VSDT with the gear box, from Pignut BBQ for the last minute allergy-handling, and from all of the awesome players and volunteers who came, played, and helped out with all the little stuff that made the day work. We couldn’t have done it without you, and we really appreciate it!
We’re already planning our next event, and look forward to bringing everyone lots more UWH action from Berlin! Until next time, happy hockey!