Traditionally, ice hockey is associated with chilly weather and short days: the summer is a time for hockey players and fans alike to take a break not only from work and school, but also from the sport they love. For Yale’s defender Saroya Tinker ’20, however, the summer was a time to continue playing, albeit on the court rather than the ice.

Tinker, a blueliner on the Yale women’s ice hockey team, competed at the World Ball Hockey Federation Championships in June, winning a gold medal with Canada’s 5v5 team. Her squad, which travelled to the Czech Republic, claimed the gold medal after a dominant performance throughout the event. Playing defense, Tinker was named MVP of the tournament, with a total statline of five assists and a goal in six games.

“I was invited to play on the women’s National Ball hockey team and was ecstatic and incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to travel to Prague to play the sport I love,” Tinker said. “Receiving tournament MVP also came as a surprise to me, but it only made me even more grateful for the opportunity I had been given.”

Ball hockey has similar rules to ice hockey, but is played on foot on a non-ice surface and, as the name suggests, involves a ball rather than a puck. Although the official version of ball hockey is a relatively young sport, it has long been played informally by ice hockey players as a way to practice the fundamentals of shooting, passing and stickhandling away from the rink.

“Playing on and off ice is much different from a conditioning standpoint but if you have ‘hockey sense’ you can play any type of hockey,” Tinker said. “Playing ball hockey has helped me with my patience on the ice and overall just increased my love for the game.”

Canada, usually the team to beat on the international stage in any type of hockey, is particularly dominant in ball hockey. Canada has a long history of success at this event; the men and women’s teams have combined to win 10 of 11 possible gold medals since the championships have been held, with just one silver-medal finish marring the country’s otherwise perfect record.

This year was no different, as the Canadian women’s team cruised through the round-robin portion of the tournament, easily beating the Czechs, Slovakia, Hungary and the United States. Over those four games, the team scored a total of 39 goals, and did not allow a single ball into its own net, blanking all its opponents. Canada earned three 8–0 wins and one 15–0 victory, and entered the elimination round seeming unstoppable.

Tinker chalked up four assists during this dominant stretch, and played a key role in shutting down the opposing offenses. Canada earned yet another shutout in the semi-finals against Slovakia, winning 7–0, before taking on the home team. The Czech Republic finally managed to slip a goal past the Canadians, but ultimately Team Canada capped a near perfect tournament with a 4–1 win, in which Tinker had a goal and another assist.

Canada’s success in ball hockey is unsurprising given that the sport originated and is most popular there. The sport was formalized with the founding of the Canadian Ball Hockey Association in 1977. The organization set up an annual national championship event that year while the first Women’s nationals were held ten years later.

But the first formal competitions in ball hockey were actually hosted in the Greater Toronto Area more than a decade earlier, in the late 1960s. This is close to home for Tinker, who grew up in Oshawa, Ontario, just 37 miles away from downtown Toronto. She also has previous experience competing in ball hockey in Ontario, having won a silver medal at the Ontario Summer Games in 2012.

“I’ve been playing in a boys ball hockey league since I was 9 years old in my home town,” Tinker said. “Ball hockey really isn’t that big, but it is definitely making its way up there as it becomes more popular in Canada.”

Tinker’s participation in the World Ball Hockey Federation Championships was not her first time representing Canada in international play. In 2016, the summer before she started at Yale, she was on Canada’s Under-18 team at the IIHF World Championships. Tinker and her teammates won silver in the event, ultimately falling to their rivals, the United States, in overtime.

“Having won a silver medal at the IIHF World Championships … it felt great now wearing a gold medal for my country with the national ball hockey team,” Tinker said. “I hope there are more opportunities to come. Nothing compares to having my team beside me singing the Canadian national anthem as our flag is raised.”

Tinker is one of nine Canadian players on the Yale women’s hockey team.

Masha Galay | marie.galay@yale.edu