Organizers have announced the formation of a new professional inline (roller) hockey league. Known as the International SpeedHockey League, the sport is planning to launch its inaugural season in 2004. But fans of inline hockey won't have to wait that long to see the action.
While the International SpeedHockey League will not begin its premier season until 2004, play will start with an "Inaugural Series" of games this September. Bob Elder, the Commissioner and General Manager of the new league, told VOA Sports about the fans' first chance to see the action.
"Our first game - and we're really looking forward to it - will be September the 13 out in California, and then October 18 we'll be on the East coast with our second exhibition, in Trenton, New Jersey," he said.
Elder says the SpeedHockey League will be careful not to overextend itself and will begin with just a dozen teams. But he says they have plans to expand with more teams over the next three years.
"We have put together a plan where there will be the six in the East, and six in the West in 2004. We will only expand six more [teams] in 2005, and then come 2006, we'll be international in that we'll have some teams in Canada and we'll also be entering the United Kingdom," he said.
SpeedHockey has been designed to emphasize speed, utilizing the best aspects of ice hockey and inline hockey. To that end, the goals are recessed into the end boards to keep players from taking the puck behind the nets. Icing and offside stoppages which slow down the game have been eliminated. Competition is to take place indoors on a smooth synthetic surface measuring 26 x 26 meters.
Elder says even the playing surface has been designed for speed.
"It's called 'Ice-Court' and that is a surface that looks like ice," he explained. "You put it in pieces right onto a floor with dasher boards and you have the plexiglass and everything. So it's a pretty fast, smooth surface and it's like watching an NHL game, only it's guys flying [moving about] on wheels instead."
Another big difference between ice hockey and the SpeedHockey League is that the number of men on the court has been reduced from the traditional five skaters and a goaltender. Elder says that will also make the game faster.
"Ours is going to be three-on-three with a goalie, so you'll have three guys out there shooting the puck, defensing, and you'll have a goalie," he said. "And it really opens it up. It gives the guys a lot more chance to skate around and show off their skills."
Another big departure from ice hockey: longer shots taken from a circle near the center of the surface will be worth two points.
"We'll have a two-point line out there, that if a guy can throw [shoot] one in from there or flip one in, or whatever you want to say, they get two points; which puts a little more pressure on the goalie so teams can start coming back [from a deficit] quicker," he said.
Bob Elder was one of the top executives of the Roller Hockey International League, which debuted in 1993 and folded in 1999. But he believes the lessons learned from mistakes in that league will translate in success for International SpeedHockey.