Unicycle Hockey: No Ice Required


Published: January 31, 2008

There is a sport; a real sport, a sport with its own leagues and tournaments, called unicycle hockey. That’s it, there’s the punch line.

Give it a minute to sink in before we discuss this obscure, and some would say senseless, but nevertheless, real sport. Hockey. Played on a unicycle. Unicycle hockey comes complete with rules for players and referees, as well as specifications about the size of courts and the requisite equipment. It is played in a boarded-off field on a basketball court which is slightly smaller than an ice hockey rink. Equipment includes gloves, knee pads, a standard hockey stick and, because most of the players have no hidden aspirations for death, a helmet.

The game plays much like a standard hockey game. The two teams of four to five players apiece, depending on the size of the particular field, compete to score goals in a relatively fast paced flurry.

According to unicycle hockey’s official Web site (www.unicycle-hockey.org), the most recent major unicycle hockey tournament was held in Japan in 2004. The majority of unicycle hockey players come from Germany and the U.K., as these are the only two listed countries with leagues of their own. It is worth noting, however, that the 2004 champions were in fact Swiss.

The strangest thing about unicycle hockey, however, is how unremarkable it is. The initial image of people on unicycles playing hockey is a startling one, but the game is surprisingly unexciting. Videos of unicycle hockey, or einradhockey, as it is known in German, can be found on YouTube, and are oddly tame. When the excitement of a “weird” sport is sucked from its very veins by the sad reality of the sport’s mediocrity, changes must be made. As such, I’ve proposed a list of changes that would bring the reality of unicycle hockey more in line with the mental image it conjures.

First, ice. Unicycle hockey is played on basketball courts, and while inline hockey is indeed popular, especially in areas without much access to ice, it was a failure on the nationally televised level when ESPN’s short-lived Pro Beach Hockey league closed its doors in 1999. So, logically enough, the same theory should apply for unicycle hockey. Certainly the wheel would need to be converted into a blade, and the spinning blade atmosphere would probably seem more violent, but keep in mind, helmets, knee pads and gloves are required. Perhaps a neck pad could also be added to the necessary equipment list, as well.

Second, checking. Checking is a key element of ice hockey that is conspicuously absent from its unicyclic variant. The most interesting effect of adding checking to a game played high above the ground would be the addition of specific clauses pertaining to re-mounting the unicycle. Certainly it would be a faux pas to attempt to participate in the game while dismounted, but how exactly does one mount a unicycle without some sort of assistance, either from a person or a crane-like contraption? Whatever the answer, checking would undoubtedly make unicycle hockey more interesting.

Third and finally, bicycles. There’s a bit of a gray area about whether or not upgrading to the bicycle would be a core shift in the game itself, but it’s safe to say that a shift from one wheel to two would not only allow for better speed, which would prove useful on the power play, but would also facilitate players taking considerably smaller falls from their riding positions. These changes, while unconventional, should be enough to move unicycle hockey from the category of unremarkable but off beat into the hallowed halls of the Weird Sport Hall of Fame.