History of Inline Hockey

The USA Roller Sports predecessor organization was the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association (RSROA).  In 1940 the RSROA published a set of roller hockey rules drawn from a booklet by the NHL which was designed to grow interest in the playing of hockey on roller skates.  However, because of the intervention of World War II, the organization of roller hockey tournaments did not receive significant development until after this war in the late 1940’s.  At first skating club interest was confined to the northern tier of the United States, including the bordering Canadian cities.  Puck roller hockey’s spread in popularity during that period was helped along by the attention of local commercial television, which was also getting its start and in desperate need for events to fill air time.  The increased interest in the sport led in 1959 to the selection of a National Puck Hockey Committee to formulate special rules for the performance of puck hockey in the variety of rink sizes available to roller skaters. The American Roller Hockey Association was formed with Joe Spillman, a roller rink operator from San Antonio, Texas as its first Commissioner.  Under Spillman’s direction, the sport of hockey on roller skates grew rapidly throughout the United States. 
During the 1960 RSROA National Roller Skating Championships held in Little Rock, Arkansas, exhibition games for ball and puck roller hockey were held.  Following these Nationals, the first full competitive season officially began in North America for roller hockey.  This, of course, had puck roller hockey entirely performed on quad skates, for at that time there were no in-line skates available.  State and Regional competitions determined the teams that would move on to the North American Championships. 
In 1962 at Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska both Ball and Puck Hockey took part in the North American Championships, with the Arcadia Wildcats from Detroit, Michigan becoming the first Puck Hockey national champions on quad skates.  Inline skates were not commercially available during that era. 
On September 1, 1965, during their semi-annual board meeting, the RSROA installed puck hockey as an equal and separate division of roller hockey, which included ball hockey, a format most popular in Europe and South America.   It was decided that both ball and puck hockey would compete under the same rules and award separate gold medal winners.  Budd Van Roekel, RSROA president, was quoted in the January 1965 issue of Skate Magazine, “We believe this move will spark further growth of our roller hockey program.  While we recognize the popularity of the international ball-and-cane version of hockey, we also realize that thousands of potential United States and Canadian players are more familiar with the Canadian stick-and-puck type sport.  We see no reason why the two versions of the sport cannot grow side by side.”
The 1966 North American Championships marked the return of puck hockey after a four-year hiatus.  The final game was a nail biter and the crowd appreciated the fast pace and excitement of puck hockey.  The final game was between the Canadians of Windsor, Ontario and the Wildcats of Detroit, Michigan, the defending champions from 1962.  The score seesawed between the two teams and was finally decided in favor of the Canadians with a final score of 5 to 3.  The win gave the Canadian team their only gold medal for the whole North American Championships.  One Canadian team player was quoted in the 1966 Fall issue of Skate Magazine, “We simply had to win the (puck) hockey championships, otherwise our fathers wouldn’t allow us to return home.”
Another milestone occurred for puck roller hockey in 1977, when the North American Puck Hockey Championship was held in a venue away from ball hockey for the first time.  The 1977 puck championships were staged in Houston, Texas to large crowds and a great amount of publicity, as fourteen newspapers and television stations covered the event.  The year 1977 was also a milestone for women with this championship marking the debut of a women’s hockey national championship.
The very first inline roller hockey team to earn a USA National Championship title did so at a USA Roller Sports National Championship held in San Diego in July 1993.  At the previous 1992 USARS National Championships, also staged in San Diego, the San Diego Hosers won the Senior Gold Division title wearing their customary quad roller skates.  As of that time, the Hosers manager/coach Paul Chapey felt that while inline skates were obviously faster, the advantage was to quad skates because of their assumed greater maneuverability.  Some teams and individual players at the 1992 Nationals had been equipped with inline skates, but perhaps had not yet mastered their new vehicles.  During the ensuing year, Paul Chapey became an inline convert and the San Diego Hosers came back to the USAC/RS Nationals in 1993 entirely on inline skates and recaptured their national title.  This significant event took place at least a year before all the other major roller inline hockey organizations were even in existence, including NIHA, USA Hockey InLine, NARCh and AIRHS.
USA Roller Sports, under the auspices of FIRS, established and hosted the first World Inline Roller Hockey Championships for Men at the Odeum Arena in Chicago, Illinois in 1995.  USA Roller Sports established the first Inline Hockey World Championships for Juniors, again in Chicago in 1996, following the USA National Championships.  The first World Inline Hockey Championships for Women occurred under sponsorship of USA Roller Sports in Rochester, New York in 2002. Since the introduction of these events, FIRS National Federations around the world have annually perpetuated inline world championships.  USA (Ice) Hockey/IIHF began their men’s inline hockey world championship in 1996, after the first such world championship by FIRS and has yet to organize a women’s inline hockey world tournament or one for juniors.
In March of 2002, the USOC Membership and Credentials Committee officially reaffirmed that USA Roller Sports as the governing body for inline hockey in the United States, which continues to this day.  This determination was based on a conclusion by the USOC that internationally the sport of inline hockey is recognized as a discipline of roller sports.  Then, as now, USA Roller Sports is a member in good standing of Federation International de Roller Sports ("FIRS"), the international federation for roller sports as recognized by the International Olympic Committee, and FIRS is also recognized by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) as the controlling international federation for inline hockey, a sport of the Pan American Games. 
Inline roller hockey was introduced to the World Games for the first time in 2005, an IOC sanctioned event under the jurisdiction of the International World Games Association (IWGA), an affiliate of the General Association for International Sports Federations (GAISF). The United States won the Gold Medal, with Canada taking the Silver and Switzerland the Bronze Medal.  Inline roller hockey replaced Rink Roller Hockey (ball and cane) on the World Games program for Duisburg, Germany at the 2005 quadrennial World Games.  Rink roller hockey had been part of the World Games since its first organization in 1979 at Santa Clara, California, as have the other disciplines of roller sports.
During the General Assembly of the IWGA, which took place in Madrid on May 14, 2003, the IWGA unanimously agreed that inline roller hockey was the responsibility of FIRS and that this variant form of roller hockey would be included on the program of the 2005 World Games in place of the previous format.  This same scenario had previously played out before the Pan American Sports Organization in 1999, when inline hockey made its first appearance at the Pan American Games in Canada, and repeated again four years later in the Dominican Republic.  PASO extends continued recognition of the inline hockey under the jurisdiction of FIRS.

Most of the principal independent organizers of inline hockey tournaments and leagues in the USA obtained their initial puck roller hockey experience through the USARS structure, with many serving on USARS hockey rules committees.  The USARS rules contain significant differences from ice hockey, and these represent the consensus of inline hockey players and clubs.  These rules differences from ice immediately posed a problem for USA Hockey when it belatedly formed its own inline division and tried to make its inline hockey rules exactly coincide with its ice hockey rules.  Resistance among inline hockey players was so great, that USA Hockey for the most part conformed with its own inline program rather than be “the odd man out.”

NATIONAL INLINE HOCKEY ASSOCIATION (NIHA)  – In early 1994, NIHA was formed as a spin off of RollerBlades Corporation’s IIHF recreational inline hockey league.  Later that year, NIHA announced to it members in its monthly news letter that they had affiliated with USARS, the NGB for roller hockey because of USARS history of quality roller sport programs.  This arrangement was to provide a free flow of players between the two groups.  NIHA recognized inline hockey as a sport discipline under USARS.  The investors tired and NIHA was later purchased by USA Hockey.
USA HOCKEY INLINE  - USA Hockey launched its inline hockey program in December 1994, at a time when inline hockey was at its peak of popularity.  USA Hockey staff member Mark Rudolph was appointed Director of USA Hockey InLine.  In December 1994, USA Hockey Inline applied to USARS for USARS Class IV membership as a Chartered Association and sought to enter a USA Hockey InLine team in the FIRS World Championships.  Instead, in July of 1996, under the banner of IIHF, USA Hockey Inline organized its own World Championship in Minneapolis.  The inline hockey program of USA Hockey has been deemphasized and on the wane in recent years.
NORTH AMERICAN ROLLER HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS (NARCh) – Paul Chapey and Jeff Mason, a former publisher of InLine Magazine, teamed up in 1994 to organize for-profit inline hockey tournaments.  Paul Chapey was Meet Director for USARS for its 1990 through 1992 National Puck Hockey Championships, as well as a member of the USARS Puck Hockey Committee.  Initially NARCh was openly supportive of USA Roller Sports against the incursions of USA Hockey InLine, and because of Chapey’s roots in USARS, their games used USARS playing rules with little modification
AMERICAN INLINE ROLLER HOCKEY SERIES (AIRHS) – Founder by Todd Melton, AIRHS once produced about 21 regional tournaments per year, patterned after the operations of NARCh, which qualified teams for a national championship that he conducted himself.  Melton was originally a partner of Chapey in NARCh until there was some falling out and Melton organized AIRHS from New Jersey around 1996-97.  Melton’s background was also as a USARS meet director for USARS’ 1993 National Championships in Berlin, New Jersey, as  well as a member of the USARS Hockey Committee.  Chapey and Melton were co-coaches for the first USA World Inline Hockey Team that won the 1995 FIRS World Championship at the Odium Arena in Chicago. AIRHS, to my knowledge is now defunct.
OTHER ORGANIZATIONS – One of the largest and oldest of the independent regional inline hockey organizations is the Metropolitan New York City Parks and Recreation Department that has built outdoor roller hockey rinks and sponsored youth roller hockey competitions since the 1970’s.  Like USARS, the New York roller hockey program started on quad skates and transferred to inline with the public’s change of skate preference. There is probably as much independent inline hockey activity in rinks, clubs, parks and recreation, etc. as there is organized on a national scale.
USARS has conducted continuous annual national championship for inline hockey for all age groups, skill levels and for both men and women athletes.  Puck hockey has been played as part of the National Championships of USA Roller Sports since 1962, prior to the re-invention of the inline roller skate, and in 1993 USARS conducted the first hockey national championship in the world involving inline skates, and at the same time continuing the playing rules formerly in use for quad-puck roller hockey. This USARS National Championship tradition continues to this day.
The US Olympic Committee’s Constitution as well as the Federal Sports Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-606) passed by Congress describes as an obligation of all  National Governing Bodies that they cooperate with other sport groups of a similar nature in order to maximize athlete opportunities for participation and to benefit grass roots sport development.  The leadership of USA Roller Sports, the National Governing Body for inline roller hockey, has found common interest and agreement with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in nurturing grassroots development for our sport of inline hockey.  At the same time this cooperation provides the AAU with an upward path for its athletes, as they mature in skills and experience, to attain the goal of every athlete to represent their country at International competitions.  This is under the aegis of the International Federation of Roller Sports (FIRS), of which USARS is a member.
In an agreement between AAU and USA Roller Sports (USARS), the AAU has acknowledged USARS as being the National Governing Body for Roller Inline Hockey and subordinates its own national inline hockey activities to the well understood functions of an NGB under the USOC Constitution.  This accord is been carried out in practice as well as the written word by the ensuing relationship which has developed between these two organizations.
We should pause a moment here to briefly compare the similarities and the differences between inline and ice hockey:

  • Ice hockey's rink size is the same as the ideal for inline hockey rink specifications, but in practical fact, many matches of inline hockey games are played throughout the year on smaller surfaces since that ideal is not always available for inline games. 
  • Ice Hockey surfaces are divided into three zones: defensive, neutral and offensive.  This creates restrictions on passing the puck and the entry of an offensive player into a defensive zone ahead of the puck.  Play is then halted, a face-off occurs and the game once again resumes.  The dynamic of the ice game is far different than that of the free zone inline game.
  • The attention of the referee and two linesmen in ice hockey is perhaps 85% dedicated to off-side and icing stoppages and to restarts of play.  This is eliminated in inline hockey, which uses two referees and no linesmen.  FIRS members, as well as most inline leagues in the United States believe this makes for a faster paced game and more scoring opportunities. 
  • Team size on ice is restricted to a maximum of six players on the surface at a time, including the goalkeeper, while FIRS inline hockey restricts the maximum to five.  Team substitution is similar for both.
  • Board checking is permitted for ice hockey players, which frequently leads to retaliatory fighting and other game violence. None of this is permitted under FIRS regulations.
  • Icing of the puck is prohibited on ice unless the perpetrating team has less players on the surface.  No such restriction exists for inline hockey, creating a fast breaking offense similar to basketball.
  • Inline hockey games are played in two – 20 minute halves for championship play, ice uses three – 20 minute periods. 
  • In FIRS inline hockey world championship play, the goal cage size is about 6 inches smaller than ice cages in all dimensions.  However, many national federations use the more readily available standard ice hockey goal cages for domestic games.
  • Except for skates, equipment usage is the same and playing rules otherwise similar, except as noted.
I speak of these events as a first-hand witness to their occurrence and testify to the 65 years of leadership provided by USA Roller Sports,  the direct descendent of the RSROA which began and nurtured this sport since the 1940’s.
George Pickard -  President FIRS Inline Hockey Discipline
Chairman – USARS Inline Hockey Committee
Lincoln, Nebraska
Revised 2007