Floorball is an exciting sport whose origins can be traced to Canadian floor hockey played in school gymnasiums in the 1960s. The rules were later changed to add some common to soccer, like corners and fouls. This new sport exploded in popularity in Nordic countries, later spreading to other areas of Europe. Unfortunately, the sport has remained relatively unknown to most Canadians.
In 2008, St. Mary’s Secondary School decided to add the sport to their Physical Education program. Greg Conway, a physical education teacher at the school, noticed the availability of equipment for Floorball from one of the school suppliers. He remembered seeing the game on his travels in Sweden in 2002 and thought it would be popular among his students. Sticks and balls were purchased and classes from Grades 9-12 began playing it regularly. It quickly became one of the most popular activities in Phys Ed classes.
In 2011, Conway was approached by Todd Crawford, a high school teacher at Moira Secondary School in Belleville, about helping start a Canadian Women’s Under-19 National Team. Crawford knew that St. Mary’s was one of only a handful of schools that played Floorball – the others being Crawford’s own school as well as a couple of schools in Hamilton. Crawford would be the Head Coach and Conway would join the staff as an assistant. Together, they would develop local female talent and enter a Canadian team at the upcoming Floorball World Championships in Slovakia in 2012. Conway agreed and the local development and popularity of Floorball moved forward.
Conway then started a Girls Floorball team at St. Mary’s. They would compete in a number of tournaments – in Belleville, Toronto, Hamilton, and in Cobourg at St. Mary’s. As a result, Crawford and Conway were able to identify several high-level athletes - mostly hockey players – who could naturally transition into Floorball and make Canada a competitive team. Of the twenty girls selected to the team, five were from Northumberland County. Hannah Rowe, Tayler Weatherby, Katie Linker, Lauren Valyear and Katie McAllister were all selected to the team.
Team Canada travelled to Nitra, Slovakia in 2012 and competed in the B-Division at the Floorball World Championships, joining Denmark, Latvia, Germany and Austria. The B-Division was essentially a second tier of teams trying to qualify for A-Division to eventually compete against powerhouses Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, etc. Canada was picked to finish dead last in their division as a new team. Instead, they finished with 1 win, 1 loss and 2 ties – coming within a goal of winning the division! As a result of their performance, Canada immediately earned the respect of the international Floorball community. They were invited to return every two years to compete, as the Women’s U-19 Championships happened every other year.
Upon returning home, Floorball exploded at St. Mary’s. Conway was soon coaching both a Girls team, as well as a Boys team the following year. The same formula was used – organizing and competing in high school tournaments around the province, from Ottawa to Hamilton and everywhere in-between they could find them. As a result of the popularity of the sport, St. Mary’s invested in a set of official Floorball boards for their gym.
Conway remained with Crawford coaching Team Canada, and in 2014 they selected the next team to compete in the World Championships – including six more girls from Northumberland County. Sarah Bernier, Katie Linker, Meghan Behan, Stacey Orleck, Mackenzie Deseure and Stephanie Ford all made the team. The team traveled to Babimost, Poland to again compete in the B-Division, this time against Norway, Germany, Ukraine and Austria. The team did exceptionally well, finishing with 3 wins and 1 loss, capturing the B-Division Silver Medal, clinched following a thrilling 5-4 win over Germany.
Floorball continued to grow at St. Mary’s. Conway was now coaching two Girls teams and three Boys teams from his school every year. Floorball was also growing in in other regions in Ontario, so much so that the International Floorball Federation awarded the 2016 Women’s U-19 World Championships to Belleville. In order to prepare, Conway and Crawford took a team of Canada prospects to Los Angeles, California to play the United States in a pair of exhibition games. Canada swept their southern neighbours, winning 20-0 and 15-1.
Four more girls from Northumberland were selected to Team Canada for the 2016 world Championships in Belleville – Aislyn Stretch, Kieva Earle, Olivia DiVona and Dara Killoran. The team again competed in the B-Division – which had grown to include teams from Germany, Thailand, Japan, Austria, Hungary and the United States. As hosts, Canada was granted a privilege no other Canadian team at any level had been offered – a game versus the World Champions from Sweden.
The game ended as anyone would expect, but the Canadians held their own and proved they were a rising power in the world of Floorball. Following their exhibition game, Canada took their competitive play into the round-robin, finishing atop their pool, beating Germany, Thailand and Japan. They then defeated the United States 10-3 in the semi-finals before losing a heartbreaker 5-4 to Germany in the Gold Medal game.
Floorball continued along the same path at St. Mary’s – Girls and Boys teams competing in tournaments – though schools in Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto no longer offered as many tournaments. This meant St. Mary’s would have to host most of the tournaments themselves. This would result in filling spots with several teams based from the school – a testament to how popular the sport had become at St. Mary’s.
In 2018, Conway and Crawford would select their fifth team to compete at the World Championships, this time competing in St. Gallen, Switzerland in 2018. Conway had become the General Manager of the team. Four local girls would be selected to represent Canada this time around – Aislyn Stretch, named team Captain, along with Meg Quigley, Hunter Jones and Marlie Owen.
They would compete in the B-Division once again, this time against Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Hungary, Latvia and the United States. Canada would finish the tournament 2-2, dropping games to Russia and Hungary before beating New Zealand and then Australia – in a game both countries dubbed the “Unofficial Commonwealth Floorball Championship”.
Following the tournament, both Conway and Crawford decided it was time retire from coaching Canada in order to give the team over to a new generation of coaches. After successfully building the program for 7 years across 4 World Championship campaigns, the team finished with an international record of 13 wins, 6 losses and 2 ties. The team match summaries are posted here: https://floorball.sport/team/1251892390/
Floorball continues to be a very popular activity at St. Mary’s, though finding teams to play against at other schools proves to be the biggest challenge currently. The sport also seems to be growing in other parts of the country, with Halifax hosting the Men’s U-19 world Championships in 2019. Hopefully local athletes continue to seek out opportunities to play, both here and on the World stage representing Canada.