Positioned just behind Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on a chilly Wednesday night, swimmers and water polo players pack UF’s Florida Pool. As their rental time comes to an end, a group of hockey players burst through the gates ready for their time in the pool. But these aren’t your typical ice-loving hockey players decked out head-to-toe in equipment.
It’s actually quite the opposite.
Players head to the changing rooms to take off their clothes, ditching their shorts for Speedos and flippers. The Florida Pool may look calm in comparison to other water sports from an outside perspective, but beneath the surface there’s an entirely different world.
One that Jono Saunders first experienced in this exact pool. And that world has not just given him one of his best friends, but it’s also allowed him to compete and reach the pinnacle of every athletic dream: To represent your home country on the sport’s biggest stage*.
Underwater hockey, at its core, is actually quite simple. Players from each side attempt to pass around a puck and score at the goals placed on both ends of the pool. The catch? It’s all entirely underwater with the puck never leaving the pool’s surface.
“I had someone actually, I think, like a week ago say, ‘It’s really similar to hockey,’ but I would say it’s extremely different,” Saunders said. “The puck goes at the bottom of the pool, you’re holding your breath and you're playing a sport with teammates so there’s no ball hogs, really. You can’t be a ball hog for very long.”
The sport has been around the University of Florida for 16 years. The club team was first founded in 2004, culminating with a National Championship win in the summer of 2010 led by Saunders and David Wiles. This experience was just the beginning of Saunders’ illustrious underwater hockey career, going from student to National Champion to Team USA representative. To learn more about Saunders’ journey and the unique sport that is underwater hockey, watch the feature below.
*At the time of filming, the 21st UWH World Championships in Australia was still scheduled for the summer of 2020. It has since been postponed to next year due to COVID-19.
Follow Victor Prieto on Twitter @victorprieto_11.