Pisces 13, 2078, m249
The launch of a hockey league on Mars has sparked a wave of optimism, with council leaders celebrating "a new era in Martian sport." The highly anticipated series of exhibition games have been billed as proof that this maturing network of colonies is quickly amassing all the comforts of Earth.
The one hitch, though, is no one can skate.
In a glitzy, live-streamed press conference yesterday, founders behind the burgeoning hockey league — calling themselves the Ice Sport Mars Organization (ISMO) — promised a faster, more extreme version of the original.
Less encumbered by gravity, top speeds will dwarf even the most elite players on Earth, ISMO claims. The puck is twice the size. Goalies won’t be confined to the net, with retractable pads so they can better join the action. Defenders are also fitted with pads for advanced shot blocking. And, most surprisingly, there won't be traditional boards. Instead the new arenas, built in subterranean ice mines, will look like halfpipes. The ice surfaces will be sunken into the ground, with ramped edges that players can skate up along vertical walls and even propel themselves into the air.
“Our guys are going to be like acrobats,” ISMO president Fredrick Seulovik said. “They can get unbelievable air. They’ll be flipping and spinning overtop of each other.”
But that wasn't the case at a recent practice scrimmage. This reporter was granted an exclusive preview of the game and it was, well, underwhelming.
Players toppled over each other rather than flipping or spinning. Those who managed to stay on their feet were unable to effectively stop, hitting the ramped edges and catapulting themselves into the air, flailing. A goalie, desperate to return to her crease after joining in a rush to the opponent’s end, ungracefully crashed into her net.
There were two minor injuries and four equipment malfunctions in the span of the 45 minutes of ice time.
“I don’t know if I can take this much longer,” one player muttered to another as they made their way to a makeshift locker room, which was really a heated tent beside the enclosed rink.
Of the players I spoke with, none have ever skated before ISMO started training camps three months ago — except a few who played in pick-up games organized as a morale-booster for ice miners at a facility outside Korolev over the past year.
“Listen, it’ll get better,” said Evgeni Stolbova, the ISMO’s demoralized vice-president of skills development.
He should hope so.
Investors, buoyed by the recent success of the Martian Aero Football League, sunk millions into leasing space in three ice mines near Novymir and two satellite settlements. It was a clever plan, avoiding the costly process of ice-making since the underground mines already have vast sheets of ice available. But it took some maneuvering to convert the mines into usable arenas. The ice can’t be too cold or the skate blades won’t sink in. So ISMO installed climate control rinks to heat the cavernous environment from -125 C to around -3 C.
For any chance at building broader reach, ISMO will have to expand in to markets much larger than Mareotis Fossae and Korolev. The question is, will anyone be interested in hockey outside the predominantly Scandinavian and Russian cultural centres?
Talks are underway to build arenas in Europa and Marineris. Those two major cities, however, do not have adequate ice pockets nearby — forcing ISMO to build a facility capable of housing a rink rather than use a pre-existing ice surface.
But the organization appears content to play the long game. They've insisted this isn't professional sport yet, only an attempt to build interest and new talent. And it appears to be working. Enrolment in their Ice Sport Academy is already full in all 3 settlements, with participants coming from as far as Wendland and Huacheng.
“This is a chance,” ISMO president Seulovik said, “to not be bored.”
Let’s hope she’s right.