Making the switch from roller hockey to ice hockey
By Chris Ides
Roller hockey is often seen as a spinoff of ice hockey. A summer training regimen for ice players, a stick in the hands of a bored roller skater—anything but its own pure entity. What some people fail to realize is that for many, roller hockey is life, just as ice hockey is to our counterparts.
While several of the vital roller hockey skills are analogous to those utilized in ice hockey, the subtle differences can be enough to throw off one who attempts to make the transition from wheels to steel. This, in and of itself, highlights the biggest difference between the two sports.
It starts, quite literally, from the ground up. The playing surface of a roller rink is a smooth, dry synthetic (or concrete) that provides a good balance of friction: enough grip for wheels to stick and enough slide for puck handling. Many who make the switch from roller hockey to ice will tell you that there is nothing quite like handling a puck on the ice, where the surface is close to frictionless. While it is a marginal difference, a puck moves just a bit more smoothly when traveling across the ice. Conversely, one switching from ice hockey to roller will find him/herself needing to add a bit more “oomph” to their passes or low shots, or put some “sauce” under them for the puck to reach its destination at the same speed.
Skating is arguably the biggest obstacle in the transition. While the contact between wheels and a roller surface is similar to a blade cutting into the ice, some maneuvers just do not translate well. Anyone who has made the switch will tell you that the common hockey stop is an entirely different skill in each of the sports. Ice hockey sees the skates parallel in a quick gyration of the hips; attempt this while wearing roller blades and you most likely will injure yourself (so essentially, do not try this at home). The roller-hockey stop is similar to the figure-skating stop, with skates perpendicular to one another and touching at the heels. This can be used in both ice and roller hockey, but it is unlikely that a hockey player uses the technique regularly. If you’re in that minority, more power to you.
A commonly overlooked facet of the game (in both sports) is goaltending, where there is a world of difference between ice and roller. Ice hockey goalies take advantage of the lack of friction and can slide on their knees, effectively covering sizable distances quite rapidly (think: Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist). Shuffling, a technique ice-hockey goalies use to move laterally while facing forward with their skates parallel, is nonexistent in roller hockey due to the increased grip factor. With these two roadblocks in mind, it is arguably more difficult to play goalie in roller hockey, and goalies often go “freestyle,” incorporating more diving and desperation-type saves to cover for the lack of mobility.
Although the differences between the two sports provide a challenge to those willing to make the switch, the decision to do so will almost certainly improve your hockey skills. A little practice with both concurrently will lessen the differences and increase your proficiency on both surfaces.
After all, what’s so bad about playing more hockey?