Playing the sport is the best way to improve at ice hockey
Kévin L’Heureux has played roller hockey all over the world, including in Italy and China. When he plays in Montreal, he goes to Le Rinque in Town of Mont-Royal, the only rink that hosts indoor roller hockey in the city.
“Before Le Rinque [was built in 2017], we didn’t have a spot to train for roller hockey, but now we do,” L’Heureux said. “But the sport is not seen enough; it’s not talked about, it’s just not known.”
L’Heureux plays defence for the Montreal Ducks in the highest level of amateur roller hockey in the city. The Ducks play in the Montreal Roller Hockey League with four total, with three seasons each year—one in the summer, fall, and winter. The Ducks compete in tournaments across North America, and some of their players have played for other competitive teams in the United States and France.
L’Heureux played in France in 2011, and in the United States with the Hartford Fireants for three years. He took his roller hockey career to a new level, however, with the Canadian national team. L’Heureux played at the 2017 WRG World Skate Championships in China and the 2018 World Inline Hockey Championships in Italy.
“It was an incredible experience—you see how popular the sport is,” said L’Heureux about travelling abroad to play. “Around the world, it’s growing in popularity, but here in Quebec, it’s really hard to develop the sport.”
The defenceman says roller hockey isn’t growing enough in Quebec because of the lack of space and resources. L’Heureux also coaches roller hockey to young kids once a week, but still admits he doesn’t have very many kids attending his practices.
“We’re trying to teach more kids because it’s the sport that most resembles ice hockey,” he said. “The better you are at roller hockey, the better you will be at ice hockey.”
Despite the name similarities between ice and roller hockey, L’Heureux said there are many differences between the two sports. Roller games are played on a surface of 164 by 82 feet (versus 200 by 85 in ice hockey), with four skaters on each team, plus a goalie. The goalie also wears roller skates, which makes the position more challenging to play than in ice hockey, or even a ball hockey.
“When you skate, you have to push harder on your legs to go faster,” said L’Heureux about how the technical aspects of roller hockey are different than on ice. “You can’t take two strides then glide like on ice. Then what gives everyone trouble is stopping. When you do a hockey stop, your weight is on your front leg. But in roller hockey, it’s on the back leg, because if you do it with your front, for sure you’re going to break your ankle.”
With a four-on-four game in a smaller rink, roller hockey’s style of play is a vast contrast to ice hockey’s dump-and-chase, “hit whatever you see” mentality. Teams in roller hockey maintain possession as long as possible, and only give up the puck when they make a mistake. “There’s a lot of skating, and it’s all about positioning,” L’Heureux added. “It really is different from ice hockey.”
For players who pick up the sport for the first time, L’Heureux warns they need to have patience, because of its steep learning curve. “If you don’t give it time, you’re going to get discouraged,” L’Heureux said. “You can’t just say, ‘This is too hard for me, I’m going to play ball hockey instead.’”
Main photo courtesy of Kévin L’Heureux.