Street (or ball) hockey is more than merely an alternative to ice hockey—it’s a vastly more accessible version of the game that appeals to athletes far from any ice rink. All you really need is a stick, a ball, and a goal. When your access to ice is limited by season, general availability, or, as of 2020, a pandemic, street hockey is the best way to play a fast-paced game, while maintaining and improving your stickhandling, passing, shooting and general gameplay skills. To get started playing street hockey, you’ll need a few essentials, the right space, and some basic knowledge about how the two versions of hockey are different.
Street/Ball Hockey vs. Inline Hockey
The most noticeable difference between street hockey and inline hockey is the footwear: In street hockey you’re running in sneakers, whereas inline hockey requires skating in inline skates. But there are also some subtler differences, especially in the rules, where street hockey includes some possibly new-to-you rules like the floating blue line. Street hockey usually requires fewer pads and is officially played using a ball, whereas inline hockey officially requires a plastic puck with risers for gliding.
Setting Up Your Rink
If you’re playing organized street hockey, your rink will already have been selected for you. Larger communities will often have both indoor and outdoor spaces designed for street hockey and that meet regulations, with permanent painted lines. In colder climates, these may be the same outdoor rinks that are flooded and frozen in the winter for outdoor ice hockey. Even if you’re not playing in an organized league or pickup play, it’s worth doing some research to see whether you have a regulation street hockey rink in your area, as you’ll benefit from playing on a regulation rink with regulation goals.
If you don’t have a designated rink in your area, it’s easy to set up your own. All you need is the right space. The International Street and Ball Hockey Federation (ISBHF) mandates that the game be played on concrete or asphalt, so finding a large, flat concrete or asphalt space will be your top priority.
Full Rink or Half Rink?
Whether you need or want a full rink depends on two main factors:
- How many people you plan on playing with, and
- The size of a flat concrete or asphalt space that’s available.
Can you get only three other friends together to play? You’ll probably have plenty of fun on a half rink. You can mark a blue line, and when the defending team clears the ball (takes control) past the blue line, possession changes and they are now on offense attacking the single goal, the same way half-court basketball works. If you can field four or five-a-side, then a full rink space is ideal.
The ISBHF mandates the following dimensions for a full ball hockey rink:
- The full rink should be a maximum of 61×30 meters, and a minimum of 56×26 meters
- The corners should be between 7 and 8.5 meters in radius
- Smaller rinks of 45×21 meters can be used for four-a-side play
It’s worth noting that if you’re looking to build a regulation ball hockey rink, the boards should be 1.02 to 1.22 meters with glass or netting 2 meters above that, and additional regulations will apply.
Goalie or Empty Net?
Once you have your space, another important factor is to decide whether you plan to have a goalie(s). If you’re throwing together a pickup game with a few friends, a goalie might not be available. No goalie? No problem—use a smaller net. A 3×1 foot pond hockey net, or an even smaller skills net will make you earn your goals with targeted, low shots in open-net setup.
Assuming you already own quite a bit of hockey gear, once you have your rink set up, the second step is to assess what ice hockey gear you can use for street hockey and whether you’ll need any new equipment. Fortunately, most of your equipment can cross over to ball hockey. Most likely, the only other equipment you’ll need is a street hockey ball.
Street Hockey Sticks
Yes, you can use your ice hockey stick to play street or ball hockey. In fact, the ISBHF recommends it. You may want to use an ABS blade for street, as they tend to be more durable and can better hold up to the wear and tear of asphalt. Taping your street hockey blade is a topic of some debate. Asphalt will quickly rip tape on the bottom of the blade, leaving a mat of tape strands flapping in the wake of your slapshot. It’s annoying and ugly at best, often interfering with the glide of your blade along with the ball, so most players avoid it. But taping the shaft is a common practice in street hockey, and you can use the same taping pattern on the shaft you prefer when you play on ice.
Padding and Protective Gear
Unlike inline hockey, the ISBHF requires only the use of hockey gloves, and for international (highest level) games, requires players to wear a certified hockey helmet. Additional padding is up to the player as long as it’s regulation hockey equipment designed not to hurt others.
By definition, ball hockey is played in sneakers, and not skates. The ISBHF allows “running shoe” type footwear, including indoor soccer shoes, basketball shoes, and other similar styles.
There are a number of options out there for street hockey balls. To better resemble a puck, they’re designed from a low-bounce rubber. Official street hockey balls are orange, but you can grab whatever color you prefer for practice and pickup games.
Getting set up to play ball hockey is pretty easy, especially if you already play ice hockey. Whether you join a league or simply gather a few friends, you’ll see that street hockey is surprisingly accessible, which also makes it a great opportunity to introduce new people to hockey. Grab your stick, gloves, ball, and sneakers, and go have some fun!