The broomball action at Lord Fletcher’s near Lake Minnetonka
Photo by Ryan Taylor
No sport runs deeper in Minnesota than hockey. We’ve got 10,000 frozen lakes and enough chip-toothed toughs to take on the rest of the union.
Here’s the thing, though: Modern ice hockey is about as beginner-friendly as getting cross-checked straight into the glass.
“As you know, in Minnesota, if you’re not skatin’ by 3 years old, you’re not gonna be a really good hockey player,” jokes Al Stauffacher, a 55-year-old sports marketing professional from Ham Lake. Fortunately, hockey’s not the end-all of ice sports. “With broomball, you can go out there and figure it out,” he adds. “If you’re a good athlete, you’ll catch on to this game.”
Stauffacher has been using that line to wrangle teammates for broomball games since the ’70s. Back then, kids played in snow boots using taped-up broomsticks, as the first Minnesotan broomball players did in the ’30s. Since then, Stauffacher has watched those duct-taped O-Cedars turn into carbon-fiber broomball sticks.
“As I progressed, so did broomball,” he says. “There were maybe six leagues back in the day and a couple of indoor tournaments. Now there’s a slew of leagues and tournaments almost every weekend in the winter throughout the state.”
Stauffacher went from the lakes of Irondale High School in New Brighton to a World Championship trophy in 2002 as part of Minnesota Red, currently the only U.S. team to steal the cup from our dominant northerly neighbors. Add that trophy to his state and national victories, and it’s no wonder Stauffacher was inducted into the Broomball Hall of Fame in 2016.
But even the highest tier of U.S. broomball is still a localized, grassroots pursuit—like softball. It is growing, though. The Schwan Super Rink in Blaine and Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge in Spring Park regularly field up to 70 teams a season. Stauffacher attributes this growth to broomball’s accessibility compared to other ice sports.
“You’re not gonna be a superstar right away,” he says, “but I’ve seen good athletes who have never picked up a hockey stick pick up broomball.”
Watch a lower-level game, and you see why. Ice is a great equalizer; even with grippy broomball shoes, you go sliding. There’s less emphasis on stick-handling than in hockey, necessitating more teamwork. Plus, no checking.
There are many co-rec leagues, and Stauffacher regularly sees women besting men on the ice. It’s a gritty, tight-knit community with a welcoming ethos. Just remember: You’ll probably get to use the rink only after the hockey players are done with it.
“I always say broomball is the step-sister of hockey, so hockey always gets the great ice times and broomball players are used to playing at 10 or 11 o’clock at night,” Stauffacher says, laughing.
Broomball is the softball to hockey’s baseball. The two ice sports play by similar rules, but broomball is more accessible to all skill levels.
Broomball is played six-on-six, with one goalie per team. Instead of skates, broomball’s shoes feature grippy, rubber-bottomed soles. The brooms are fitted with hard, plastic broom heads. The ball is six inches in diameter, made from either plastic (indoor) or leather (outdoor).
Broomball’s goals are slightly larger than hockey’s, and offsides rules differ slightly. The ball is heavier than a puck, and there’s no checking, so players can wear much lighter and more flexible pads. A full-face helmet is still mandatory. Players can also kick-pass the ball for soccer-like strategies.
How is it different from…?
The European-derived sport of bandy is played 11-on-11 on an iced-over soccer field. Players use hockey skates and sticks (except goalies, who block with just their bodies). Rink bandy is a condensed version played six-on-six on hockey rinks. Field hockey is similar to bandy, but on grass. Curling is arguably completely dissimilar, but it does involve a sweeping motion, creating some confusion with broomball.