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The Ruling Class

by Grant Dawson

I played in a broomball tournament last weekend. Just typing that sentence makes me feel good. In spite of the continuing scourge of COVID-19 in the United States, a dedicated group of mask-wearing, social-distancing guys gathered at Augsburg Arena in Minneapolis to play the Twin Cities Open. All things considered, it was really well managed. Kudos to All Elite Broomball for putting on an event that felt safe and gave some very good players a chance to chip off the quarantine rust. Kelly Lake, loaded with their ten best, dusted the competition to win it all.

While sitting in the sweltering parking lot between games (we weren’t allowed in the arena unless we were playing), I started to think about all the other broomball players scattered around the globe. How are the Aussies faring? The Canadians? The Japanese? All of the kind European players I met in Angers, France this past November? I hope well.

From there, my thoughts drifted to the differences in rules between the International game and the American game. For the unfamiliar, here’s a breakdown of the most important differences:

  • Americans play with bigger nets (a foot wider and taller). 
  • We play with a “floating” line for onsides and offsides, whereby a player is onside when the ball crosses the blue line, and not offside until the ball is returned past the center red line. In International rules, onside and offside is always enforced at the center red line.
  • Americans allow the ball to be played off the netting surrounding the portions of the rink behind the goal line. In International rules, such carelessness results in a whistle and a faceoff.
  • Americans don’t play checking, at any level. 

As I sat there, melting into my collapsible chair, I reflected on my many experiences playing and coaching under international rules. I thought about past Worlds and Euros. I thought also about the great American tournaments that attract global talent: The Syracuse Can-Am and the International. About how those two tournaments show the Canadian players at full speed, running wild and free, like the big, happy Caribou they are no doubt descended from. And maybe it was the hot July sun, or the ongoing stress of living in a country with no discernible national leadership, or maybe just some old-fashioned, lizard-brained jingoism, but I came to a realization: THE AMERICAN RULES ARE BETTER.

The American rules promote all of the things the sport needs in order to be interesting: scoring, pace of play, and a truer evaluation of talent. To wit:

When you increase the size of the goals, you get more dazzling moments of quick-handedness, more bombs from outside of the dots and more truly spectacular saves. Scoring is fun to be a part of. It’s fun to watch. It’s just better.

When you play a “floating” onside/offside, you increase the pace of play. Faster players can make more dynamic runs, and the game never devolves into thirty boring minutes of defensemen flipping the ball over the top of the opposing team (I am looking at you, Canadian elite men.)

When you allow the ball to get played off the high netting behind the goals, you get fewer total whistles and more continuous gameplay. It keeps the game moving, which makes for an objectively better playing and viewing experience.

And finally, when you remove checking from the game, the skill players shine. Speed, hands and creativity become the dominant characteristics of a good broomball player. Athleticism trumps brute strength.

But who am I to say? I am but a lowly grinder. Slow-footed, ham-fisted and knuckle-dragging. I’m the guy who broadcasts more big games than I play in. My nickname is Golden Pipes, not Golden Hands. No matter how confident I was feeling in the parking lot, with condensation dripping down my Gatorade bottle and perspiration pouring off my forehead, I knew I needed to ask the sport’s luminaries what they think about the differences in the rules. I needed to consult the experts to determine once and for all: which broomball rules are better?

Enter Tony Sikich, the captain of Kelly Lake, multi-time Minnesota Men’s Class A state champion, and current Canada Cup winner.

“I like the American rules better,” Sikich wrote me in an email.  “I’ve only played in two tournaments with the International rules [Author’s note: 2018 Worlds and 2019 Canada Cup]. It was fun trying something new, but I feel like those rules really slow down the game and limit offense.”

Sikich isn’t alone in his thinking. 

When I asked reigning national champion Lori Hamski, a USA Broomball Hall-of-Famer, and possibly the most lethal scorer in the USA womens’ game, she said this, “American. Faster and higher scoring… If a team dominates, they should win by more than 2-0. Small nets make no sense.”

Hamski continued, “Also, the red line is annoying in that the flip and run becomes too important, which isn’t really about Broomball…  and checking is just dumb. This is an adult rec sport. Why would checking on ice with limited pads ever be a good idea?”

Sam Gordon, the goalie for current womens’ juggernaut Arctic Blast, also enjoys the American rules.

“I have always been in the camp of more goals equals more excitement,” Gordon says. “I think the USA rules allow for that to be possible.”

These are my people! 

But another USA Broomball Hall-of-Famer, Jacob Broten, has a different view.

“There may be some bias of nostalgia at work here, since some of my most memorable games have occurred in the international setting,” Broten shared. “If I had to choose one set of rules, I would choose the [International] rules over the USA rules.”

But, why?

“I think many aspects of the [International] rules, particularly the smaller nets, checking, and dead-netting leading to whistles promote tighter games with a strong focus on defense, goaltending, precise strategy, and the physical side of broomball,” Broten said. 

Broten’s thinking has some very strong support.

Joe Kealey, a member of the reigning World Champion Ottawa Nationals, had this to say, “If I were to pick the rules, I obviously have bias to the International rules. Checking is a part of the game. I don’t like large open ice hits, but you should be able to stand your man up on the line.” 

“We are not soccer, putting the ball by and running around someone is too simple,” Kealey said. “The talent in any sport is displayed by the mistakes made by individuals. Like missing a hit, not having a good deep flip… those are where I see a lot more opportunities in the Canadian game.”

Kealey isn’t totally unsupportive of the American game, though.

“You will never make anyone happy. Big nets produce a lot of goals, small nets require more skill. You can literally compare each one.  Red line requires more strategy, floating blue produces more speed. I think the ball in play [off the nets] is great for tournaments, but I don’t like it for major events because you are eliminating the strategy and skill of taking faceoffs.”

There are other players with serious respect for both games.

“Red line or floating blue line, it doesn’t make much difference to me,” said Guillaume Paugam, the most potent player on the French National Team.  “It takes a couple games to get used to, but then the strategies are comparable.”

“I’m in favor of bigger nets,” Paugam continued. “I like [International] broomball, but it’s a lot of 1-0 or 2-1 games. Bigger nets make the game more entertaining as there are more possibilities to score.”

Broten too, enjoys aspects of both.

“If I was forced to make a choice between the USA rules, [International] rules, or a hybrid, I would choose this hybrid,” Broten said. “I’d like to see big nets, red-line, live netting, and I could go either way on checking.  As awesome as the tight games are, all sports seem to be trying to figure out how to bring more offense and excitement and I think bigger nets and live outer netting is how we could do that in broomball.  Red line brings a level of simplicity.  The floating offsides is really difficult for new players (and even some old players) to understand.”

Okay, okay, I get it. Both sets of rules have merit. That said, broomball needs to grow to survive, and I believe the best way to grow the game is to adopt the USA rules worldwide. Bring on the big nets, open ice and bouncing balls off the back netting. 

Sikich says it well, “I think the American rules open up the game more. They lean towards speeding up the opportunity for teams to attack and counterattack. The larger nets lead to more goals and the no checking helps keep some of the riff raff out of the game.”

Yes! Yes to more goals! Yes to fewer faceoffs! Yes to speed through the neutral zone!

[A crowd gathers. An eagle soars overhead.]

Yes to live balls off the back netting! Yes to consistency across all tournaments!

[A Sousa march fades in.]

Yes to… freedom!

Okay…I realize I’m getting carried away. I’m having fun here. Months in quarantine will make anybody a little loopy. But, at its heart, this is a worthwhile discussion. Please, fill up the comments section with your own thoughts on USA versus International rules. Let’s start a conversation. Let’s get a feel for exactly what the worldwide broomball community thinks about the rules. We’re trying to grow this beautiful game. Our best hope of that is to do it together.



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