One of the gutsier (crazier) things I’ve done recently is to take up hockey as a full-grown adult. Inspired by many mornings at the rink watching my son's practices, I decided that it’s never too late to try something that seems to be beckoning you (I like to refer to this as “the path of least regret.”)
The rush of hockey is hard to describe. It’s ridiculously fast. Adrenaline courses through you when you’re on the ice. The speed and intensity has your legs quivering after being out there for 90 seconds. It’s also an incredibly difficult sport—for the very obvious reason that you’re playing while skating. For newbies like me, when everything lines up just right, and you score a goal, the euphoria is awesome. After being ignorant about this sport for most of my life, I’m truly glad I’m out there playing on Monday nights.
In another athletic adventure, I recently re-acquainted myself with a different sport—one I haven’t played in 15 years or so—ultimate frisbee. I’ve never quite understood why this sport hasn’t gotten more mainstream traction. It’s wickedly fun, it’s easy to learn, and you consistently see impressive athletic feats during the course of play. And all you need to play is a field, a disc, and a handful of willing players. I continue to stuboornly believe it will one day emerge as a more popular sport.
As I’ve immersed myself in these two sports, something I’ve found fascinating is the extremely different personality profiles of the people they seem to draw.
So without further ado, the six notable differences between hockey players and ultimate frisbee players:
Like most sports, you’ll find yelling in both hockey and ultimate. But they are two very different flavors of yelling.
In hockey, if there’s a bad line change or someone isn’t in the right spot on the ice, that person gets yelled at from the bench. When guys don’t like the refs’ calls (which is about 93.4% of the time), they scream at the refs. When I get back to the bench after a shift in which I messed up somehow (that would be most shifts), Darren and Vince (my fellow Hit Dogs) don’t spare my feelings with soft-spoken counsel; they seem to prefer high-decibel instruction.
On the ultimate disc field, the only yelling from players comes during the cheers we do—which, by the way, happen not only at the beginning of the game and the end of the game, but at the end of each timeout and at half time. And each cheer is a brand new one, proffered by someone in the huddle. These cheers have an impromptu poetry slam feel about them. On my team, the Gasconaders (more on that later), a typical cheer coming out of a time-out huddle might go a bit like this: “To be a Gasconder is to be the real deal! To be a Gasconader is to rule the field!” When it comes to the cheers, clever is good, but silly is even better, as far as I can surmise.
2) Coping with Pain
In hockey, the golden rule is “play through the pain.” Perhaps you remember the Bruins’ Gregory Campbell during the 2013 playoff series with the Penguins. He took a slap shot to the leg, and despite obvious pain, stayed in the ice, playing the best defense he could muster. It wasn’t until after the next day that we found out his fibula had been shattered by that slap shot!
This play-through-the-pain ethos trickles all the way down to the men’s adult C-league at Navin Rink in Marlborough. In the third game I ever played, an opposing player slashed at the stick of one of my teammates as he was breaking away. The defender’s stick rode up the stick of my teammate and hit him in the mouth. My teammate was clearly hurt but played through, sprinting down the ice and scoring. He then covered his mouth with his glove and skated over to the bench. It turns out that he had 4 teeth smashed out by that stick that him in the mouth.
While some ultimate players take the game pretty seriously, they aren’t quite as extreme when it comes to pain. A few games back, I accidently stepped on another player’s foot, who immediate winced—albeit faintly—in pain. The entire game halted immediately. His team—and my team—gathered around to make sure he was okay. And it was only after he repeatedly assured everyone that he was fine and had probably over-reacted when he winced that play resumed.
3) Dealing with Refs and Rules
From listening to my hockey team after games, you’d think we’d never lost a game that wasn’t the referees’ fault. Every game—every period, in fact—brings a new wave of complaints about how absolutely awful the refs are. “What a frickin’ d*&$%e bag” and “I barely touched that p&*sy,” are a smattering of the kind of complaints you’re likely to hear after a call.
Ultimate… well, there are no refs. And despite the absence of neutral observers (or maybe because of it?), there aren’t ever any arguments or complaints. If someone makes a call, there are no questions asked. No moaning, no sneering, no contesting. It turns out this is very much part of the culture of the game. In fact, the game is said to be called “ultimate, because the game required the ultimate honor to play: players call their own fouls (even on themselves) and do not dispute fouls called by the opposition.”
4) The Conversation
Locker room conversation at the hockey rink is, well, fairly limited in scope. Typical conversations over a post-game beer (always Bud Light in cans) include: hockey, drinking, other sports.
Ultimate players tend have a bigger canvas when it comes to conversation. I’ve had conversations about teaching, marketing, software, world travels, early 80s hair bands, and of course, frisbee.
There’s a great tradition in hockey of lining up at the end of the game and shaking hands with the opposing team. It happens at the end of the Stanley Cup, it happens in the kids “mites” leagues, and it happens at every level in between. But, up until that handshake, it’s anything but gentlemanly. Players fight, trip, hit and generally do anything to get an edge. Anything you can do to gain advantage without getting a penalty is fair game. Guys scream at rivals, they yell at refs, and as mentioned before, they yell at their own teammates. On the barbarism-to-chivalry spectrum, it’s closer to the former than the latter.
During an ultimate game, on the other hand, not only do people clap when one of their teammates score, they often clap when the opposing team scores. After a point is scored, it’s not the slightest bit unusual for players to exchange high-fives—with the opposing team! As mentioned earlier, players respect other players’ foul calls against them, but not only that, it’s common to have someone make a call on himself or herself.
Truth be told, to my knowledge, hockey team don’t have “manifestos.” If my team did, I imagine it would be something along the lines of: “Play hard for 60 minutes, do whatever you can to win, and enjoy a Bud after the game.”
My ultimate team, the Gasconaders (click here for a definition), does indeed have a manifesto—one that’s good enough that I’m compelled to shared it: “The Gasconaders, purveyors of extravagant boasting, brag about one thing and one thing only: their ability to brag. What the team understands is that while Ultimate is a particularly ‘cool’ sport, one infused with the love and the spirit of the game, it also is great to play your absolute best, to make a play that you’ll have pleasant dreams of that night, and, yes, to win. And winning, of course, gives you bragging rights. The beauty of being a Gasconader is that we’ve eliminated the obstacles to bragging–for example, the need to win–and simply embraced the bragging as our modus operandi, our joie de vivre, our pedantic way of saying, ‘We’re just awesome, regardless of those so-called scores other people are focused on. Join us, submit to us–or defeat us. We don’t care; we’re still #1.’”
All things considered, I probably wouldn’t pick my ultimate team in a fight, but I think I would for some casual drinks and conversation—one more thing for them to boast about.