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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 eyewear 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, with one exception: if a referee comes out flat and makes poor calls, all players are permitted to voice their displeasure. 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. Clearing the puck over the glass while in the defensive zone is not a penalty, due to the light weight of the puck and the low glass often found on outdoor rinks. However, some refs have been known to call it anyway as an act of vengeance against players they do not like, even verbally taunting the players as they do so.
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, a five minute sudden victory overtime will be played. If a winner still cannot be determined, the game will be decided by a three round shootout. The shootout consists of each team taking three penalty shots on the opposing goalie. A single player may not take more than one of the initial three shots (i.e. three different players must be selected by each team). If a winner is not determined after each team has taken three shots, the shootout proceeds to the "one for one" stage. In this stage, each team puts forth one shooter to take a penalty shot. This stage repeats until one team scores and the other does not. Shooters are permitted to be repeated in the "one for one" stage.