LANCASTER, Pa. — The squeak of sneakers sounds out across the gymnasium floor. Teammates run about, working together towards a common goal, or just trying to get a goal.
Welcome to the sport of floorball.
"Literally every single person, the conversation starts off with, 'So, what is floorball?'" said USA National Floorball team coach Mark Gallagher
It’s a question he has no problem answering.
"A simple idea of the game is to score goals into the net," he said. "Floorball, very simply, is a game that combines various elements of roller hockey, ice hockey, street hockey."
Yet, it’s a bit safer, as it uses plastic sticks, instead of wooden ones, and light plastic balls, instead of a solid puck.
"Our big goal is to get a team to represent the USA in Sweden at the world's largest outdoor floorball tournament,” Gallagher said.
Floorball started back in the 1960s in Sweden and has since spread across Europe and the world.
"There's millions of people playing the sport,” Gallagher said. “It just hasn't trickled over here."
The game first gained a foothold in the U.S. when a Swedish player brought it to Boston more than 20 years ago. A U.S. Floorball Association followed shortly after and now teams can be found in at least 26 states.
On a recent weekend night, the first practice sessions of the new, first-ever Pennsylvania Floorball Club began.
All ages and abilities are welcome.
"It just brings me back to when I was a kid playing street ball,” said Shea Stevens, who brought his whole family to play. "It's just good fitness and it's good family bonding. We talk afterwards about what happened and how we played and everything, so it's fun."
Is America ready for floorball? He wholeheartedly thinks it is.
"Oh, yeah!” he said. “I mean, look at pickleball – it took off! This is going to take off, too."
When Carrie Wilson heard about floorball, she decided to give it a try.
"I had never heard of floorball before," she said.
Wilson and a friend attended the practice session and threw themselves into the game.
"We played field hockey when we were younger," she said. "It's really fun. It's super fast-paced. It's a great workout. The people are great to play with and just kind of learning as I go."
One duo with no need to learn is Oleg Durbala and his son, Bogdan.
"In Ukraine, it's like a higher level," Bogdan said.
The family fled Ukraine in July and settled in Pennsylvania. They know all about floorball and played it back home.
They didn't think anyone would know about it in the US, so when they heard about the new league starting up nearby, they were thrilled.
"Amazing!" Oleg said.
For the father and son, playing floorball helps them feel closer to the home they had to leave behind.
“It's like, it feels closer to what we do we did in Ukraine,” Bogdan said.
When Coach Gallagher heard about their interest in joining the club, he was touched.
“Yeah, that was special," he said. "When I was talking with [Oleg] through his son, who was translating, and he said, 'Oh yeah, it's been 18 months since I played this' and he was teary-eyed because they came from Odessa."
They may be far away from home, but they’re now finding comfort in the familiarity of floorball, as those in their new home share in the fun of learning to play.
If interested in more information about the Pennsylvania Floorball Club, you can reach out to Coach Mark Gallagher at email@example.com and for teams elsewhere in the country, click here.