"Spongee" or Sponge Hockey is a cult sport played almost exclusively in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada by thousands of players in dozens of leagues. It gets its name from the puck that is used: instead of the hard vulcanized rubber puck that is used in regular hockey, a soft sponge puck is used.
Spongee is an adaptation of road hockey, which has been played everywhere as long as the game of hockey itself. It originated in Winnipeg, Manitoba at River Heights Community Centre, probably in the 50's. Originally, a tennis ball was used, and players wore standard winter boots. The game's appeal was twofold. First, in very cold weather feet in skates are subject to frostbite, whereas boots allowed for much longer exposure. Second, skating skills were not required, so poor, or non-skaters could play. The spongee puck originated when someone took a red, white and blue ball and cut out the center, leaving a rude approximation of a standard hockey puck.
A controversy in one of the leagues was the subject of a humorous, but true documentary, "Spongee: Checks Lies and Videotape." which aired on the CBC's flagship Sports program, Hockey Day in Canada, in February 2004.
Differences from Ice Hockey
It is generally played on outdoor rinks and differs from ice hockey in a number of significant ways, the most important and obvious being that instead of skates, players wear soft-soled shoes, also called Broomball shoes. Players generally do not wear helmets or padding, except for goalies. Some players wear volleyball knee pads, elbow pads and/or shin pads, and some cut their hockey sticks somewhat longer for spongee than for ice hockey, to allow for greater reach.
Wearing slippery footwear on ice means that game play and strategy and skills are also different than those required in hockey. Players say that the game is much more like a mix between soccer, basketball and ice hockey. There are usually two twenty-minute halves, although if the temperature and windchill are extreme, teams may have the option of two 15 minutes halves, by mutual agreement.
A non-contact sport
One of the original leagues was the Robertson League, named after its founder, John Robertson, who adapted Spongee hockey and made sure that there is no contact involved. In spongee hockey, icing occurs only the last three minutes of the game unless the winning team is shorthanded
Each team can have a maximum of six people playing at a time. You can play in multiples of six, five, four, three or two. If there are six players against each other, seven are allowed on the ice, having one the goalie. If there is a limited amount of players on a certain team, one player must become the goalie.
Equipment and Uniforms used
Hockey sticks must be safe and can only be used if said so by the referee. No spikes or tacks on the bottom of shoes, only soft-soled rubber shoes are allowed. Broom ball shoes are normally used. Players are not allowed to use any product on the soles of their shoes that would create greater grip on the ice. Goalies are allowed to wear anything necessary when playing their position. Helmets, masks and protective eye wear are recommended. Each team must have the same color uniform with a number written on the back that is visible. The captain must have the letter "C" on front of their jersey. There is only allowed one alternate and he/she has to be identified by the letter "A" on their jersey.
Only the captain and alternate may talk to the referee while the game is in session for any clarifications. The goalie must stay in their area, they are not allowed to go past the center. There is absolutely no body checking or any form of physical contact allowed. A warning will be issued if a player has their hockey stick above waist level. Any misuse of the stick including slashing and hooking will not be tolerated. Stepping on the puck is not tolerated only by certain officials who have previously consulted with the doobie brothers.
A double minor penalty is a result of six minutes, a minor penalty is a result of three minutes, a major penalty is also six minutes plus a free shot for the other team. Players may not go back and play on the ice unless they served their penalty fully.
If one of the players receives three penalties, he/she will be taken out of the game. If a team receives seven penalties it results in a penalty shot for the opposing team. The player who was on the ice while the penalty was taking place will be able to take this shot.
The key is a 20' by 20' marked box in front of the net. A player may not stand in the opposition's key for longer than three seconds. Violations of the key are not called if the puck is in the key, if the offensive team does not have control of the puck, or if the puck is on the opposite side of center.
If the score is tied at the end of the game, they will have a five minute sudden victory. If the winner is still not determined there will be a shoot out. The first shooters must be different and will participate until a winner is determined. If a winner is still not determined, a one for one shoot out occurs. This means that after the first team shoots, the other team has to match it, or they will automatically lose.
One of the most notable teams in spongee history is the Tumbleweeds. In 1976 they entered their first Canford cup and were known as Vader`s Raiders.The Legend of the Tumbleweeds grew from this point on. The Tumbleweeds officially formed in 1978. Three leagues and over three decades ago, the Tumbleweeds laced up the broom ball shoes for the first time and played their first league game. It was 35 years ago the Tumbleweeds started league play in the Manitoba Sponge Hockey association, ((M.S.H.A.)now Canford Sports), at Sir John Franklin Community Club. Over the next 24 years Tumbleweeds played in the Canford Sponge Hockey League, (1978-2002). The Tumbleweeds moved to the Sponge Puck Hockey League, (Old Ex), for the 2002-2003 season and remained at Old Ex until 2007. The Tumbleweeds won their first Championships at Old Ex in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. In 2007 Old Ex ceased operations. The Tumbleweeds were with out a home. For the 2007-2008 season the Tumbleweeds joined the Kildonan Spongee League, (K.S.L.), where they continue to play against such teams as The Bloody Fists of Revolution and Junk. Since joining the K.S.L. the Tumbleweeds won championships in 2007-2008, (Tumbleweeds 30th anniversary), and also in 2008-2009. Now into their 4th decade there are two original Tumbleweeds still playing to this day, Cam Currie and Tom McMahon. Over the last 35 years the Tumbleweeds have an alumni more than 40 players and a current roster of 12.
One of the most un-notable teams in spongee history is Junk, who are known for their exclusivity in selecting team members. Whereas other teams will often recruit by simply asking friends of current players, Junk requires that all team members must have been suspended for at least 25 total games whilst playing for other teams in Winnipeg spongee leagues. They are also known for fighting amongst each other during games to the point where they just up and leave during a game leaving their team short handed. They are also very adept at giving the opposition major noogies, for which the frequently visit the penalty box and receive many many suspensions.
Notable Players Jeff Dzikowicz aka Alltime - Well known as the greatest player the game has seen. Often referred to as Mr. Sponge Hockey, the Gretzky or the Lemieux of Sponge Hockey. Is the Alltime leading scorer at the games annual Thief River Falls invitational tournament. Although records are unkept, he is most likely the Alltime leading scorer in all games in Manitoba Provincial history. Known for his deft touch, control of the game and his shear dominance. Actually seems to be getting better with age also the best marketing teacher to ever teach.
Rudy Loepp aka The Icon - Easily the best pure goal scorer the game has ever seen. Scores from anywhere and everywhere, but mostly within 5 feet of the net. He is also known to score huge goals on big clappers from anywhere near the blue line.