FORT WAYNE – If you ever walk by the north end of Memorial Coliseum while heading to a Komets game, you may want to be careful.
You could get hit by a soccer ball. Or be drawn into the addictive, competitive world of sewer ball.
It’s one of the favorite pregame activities for several Komets players – namely Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, Brandon Marino, Andrey Makarov, Nik Pokulok, Scott Fleming, Simon Danis-Pepin, William Lacasse and Jeremy Gates – and watching can be almost as entertaining as playing.
I remember, it was Frankie (DeAngelis) who got me to play in my rookie year (of 2009-10), said Schrock, explaining that the games normally take place after coach Gary Graham’s meeting with the players but before they get into uniform for pregame warm-ups. We’d go to games at Dayton and I would be pumped to play, just so pumped to play sewer ball. It gets you excited to be at the rink. It’s a little extra incentive, and it does help get you going.
Maybe there is some psychology about it helping us to get into compete mode’ before the game. I don’t know. But it can get heated. It gets out of control. (Former Komet) Mitch Woods would just lose his mind and throw tantrums during games.
Sewer ball can best be described as hacky sack with a soccer ball, and it’s played at all levels of hockey.
A player will kick or head a ball to another player, who gets two touches to move it on to someone else. If the ball hits a guy and it falls to the ground, that player is out. The last man standing wins.
I have to keep it in the air and hit it to somebody to get them out, Schrock said.
We’ll play 10 or 15 games. Whoever wins in the final is the champ for that day. A lot of teams, the winner will sign the ball.
So why would it get heated? That’s where the sewer part comes in. Sometimes players will intentionally give another player a bad pass – that’s sewering him – and he’s still expected to try to hit it. But if he doesn’t go after it, or if he gripes about the pass, that’s where the group has to mediate.
One other interesting rule: If a new player comes out of the locker room and wants to join the game, then everyone is back in.
Everyone who is out of the game will happily yell, New guy!’ said Schrock, whose Komets play host to Florida in the annual Thanksgiving game tonight.
Sometimes the intrigue of sewer ball continues once the players are on the ice.
(Former Komet) Bobby Chaumont used to call it The Pregame Gordie Howe Hat Trick,’ if you could win sewer ball, score the last puck in warm-ups after we’re all lined up in the semicircle and then score in the game itself. Marino and I will play for this, so he’ll literally defend me in the warm-ups because he doesn’t want me to get it.
The other big game played before games is pingpong. To stay on the table, you have to win. The Komets are so serious about it that there’s a challenge ladder and rankings.
The top spot is currently occupied by Marino, followed by Schrock, Lacasse and Mike Vaskivuo. Pokulok uses a penhold grip, common among Asian Olympians, that gives some of his opponents fits.
Before Gary even has his meeting, I’ll be there playing pingpong. It sucks if you lose, though, because then you have to find something else to do, Schrock said.
Some of the best pingpong players to come through include Guy Dupuis, P.C. Drouin, Konstantin Shafranov and Jamie Milam.
There is another game the Komets love to play – an old standby at pretty much any hockey practice – and that’s juice boy.
Anybody who wants to can play, Mickey Lang said. You shoot from the hashmarks and then you can skate in and deke. You score, and you’re out of the line. It goes all the way to the end and the last guy who hasn’t scored has to get a cup of Gatorade for everyone who plays and after practice put it in their lockers. So you could be filling up for, and walking Gatorade to, 15 guys or so.
Schrock said there is a lot of strategy. For example, if you score from the hashmarks and then choose to shoot a second puck, and you miss, you’re still in the game.
And a major violation is stepping in from the hashmarks to shoot.
Some guys, they’ll skate in a little bit and it’s a hashmark violation, he said. Guys will go crazy and arguments will ensue.