Hermantown, Scholastica graduate travels with USA BandyBrent Palmer has played hockey since he was four years old. His hockey career led him to a successful high school career with the Hermantown Hawks (he was the first-ever high school hockey player to score a goal at the Xcel Energy Center) and a stint with the St. Scholastica men’s hockey team.
By: Sarah Packingham, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
Brent Palmer has played hockey since he was four years old. His hockey career led him to a successful high school career with the Hermantown Hawks (he was the first-ever high school hockey player to score a goal at the Xcel Energy Center) and a stint with the St. Scholastica men’s hockey team.
Nearly four years ago, while playing men’s league hockey, he was introduced to the sport of bandy. Bandy, a sport similar to hockey and soccer, is not very popular in the United States yet, but it had become widespread in European countries like Sweden and Finland, and in Russia, Palmer said. “There are kids who grow up playing bandy like we grew up playing hockey.”
Bandy is played on ice and skates, which makes it like hockey. However, the rules are mainly those of a soccer game. The ice rink is the same size as a soccer field, and there are ten players on each side, as in soccer.
Instead of a puck, there is a ball. The stick itself is shorter, and the blade is straight, instead of curved. Each game is 90 minutes long, and penalties are ten minutes long, as in soccer.
“It was a pretty big adjustment,” Palmer said of diving into bandy headfirst. Now, however, he wouldn’t switch back to hockey. “I like it more than hockey,” Palmer said. “It’s all about speed and finesse, it’s the style of hockey player that I was.”
Currently, Palmer is a member of the USA National Bandy team, which just returned from the World Championships in Kazakhstan. All the members of the USA National team have played hockey at a high level, either in college or even at a professional level, making their adjustment, at least on skates, somewhat easy.
Like Palmer, a handful of players on the National team are from the Northland; however, a majority of them are from Minneapolis and St. Paul. The only bandy-sized rink in the state is in Roseville. Players from the area drive there weekly, sometimes more often, to practice and play in weekly games.
In the Twin Cities, Palmer is able to hone his bandy skills in a bandy league. League members may try out to compete on the national level, and only the top players are allowed to compete.
The sport has grown in the past five years. “In 2007, I had never heard of it, but now it’s starting to grow,” Palmer said. “When people see my USA Bandy jacket they know what it is.”
Palmer spent one year in Sweden playing bandy and working on the game. “It’s a great chance to learn the game,” he said. “You learn all the fundamentals. Playing it every single day really helped me improve. It was also an awesome experience living in another country.”
Currently, there is a bid in progress in order to get bandy as a sport in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Most recently though, Palmer and his teammates returned from Almaty, Kazakhstan, and the World Championships.
“The city was up in the mountains and the stadium was close to 8,000 feet up into the mountains,” he said. “It was unbelievable. When you look up, you see mountains all around you. I’ve never played in a setting so amazing.”
Palmer said the games were tough, as the other teams have more experience than the USA team. The teams from Europe actually pay their players to play the game, while the USA team is made up of amateur players.
The team had a number of moments where games were close. They were able to control play and sometimes even dominate the game, but came up short on the scoreboard.
Besides hoping for the Olympics, Palmer hopes that in the coming years the game continues to grow, so others can create the same memories he had. During one game in the World Championship, it began to snow hard, making it sometimes difficult to see and move the ball. “It was so much fun to play,” Palmer said. “It makes you feel like you’re eight years old and you’re out there learning for the first time.”
Duluthian Sarah Packingham writes a weekly sports column for the Budgeteer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.