Karsten Lansing has been playing roller hockey for the North Coast Hockey League for the last 10 seasons. Over the years, he has developed from a wobbly 6-year-old squirt to a veteran powerhouse on his Bantam team.
But roller hockey is only his summer gig. During the rest of the year, Lansing lives in Oslo, Norway, where he plays a very different skating sport: bandy.
If you’ve never heard of bandy, you are not alone. Little known in the United States, the sport is extremely popular in Europe, especially in the Nordic countries and Russia.
Bandy is sort of a mix between ice hockey, field hockey and soccer. It is played on an enormous ice sheet the size of a soccer field, with 11 players on each side. The goal is big, about the size of a soccer goal, and instead of a puck, players use a small ball that can move extremely fast.
Lansing is a defenseman on his bandy team. He says lobbing the ball is a big part of the game because the field is so big. He catches those zooming balls on his chest and usually ends up with a bunch of red welts at the end of a game.
But there is no checking in bandy. “You don’t have to worry about someone hitting you,” he said.
Bandy skates are different from ice hockey skates; they are long and flat instead of curved and sharp. They are built for speed rather than maneuverability, resulting in a fast game with long, fluid circles and lots of passing.
“With 22 people on an extremely large field, you rely so much on your team,” said Lansing. “You don’t get anywhere without passing.”
Last March, Lansing competed on the U.S. team in the under-17 Youth Bandy World Championship in Russia. The team had three Norwegian-American bandy players. The rest were converted ice hockey players, most of whom had never played the sport before.
The stateside players practiced once in Minnesota at one of the only bandy rinks in the United States. Then the team got 45 minutes to practice together before their first game.
Five countries sent teams to the competition: Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway and the United States. The tournament consisted of a round-robin to establish ranking, with the top four teams advancing to the finals. The U.S. team did not advance.
Trying to play a very team-oriented sport with players who had never played together, many of whom had never even played the sport, was difficult, to say the least.
“Basically, we did a lot of raids, where you try to get from one end of the rink to the other and score,” said Lansing.
The U.S. team did get one ball into the net.
“They scored one goal against Finland, which was pretty impressive,” said Kevin Lansing, Karsten’s dad. “It was humbling, but also a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the boys to play at this level.”
One fun aspect of the tournament was the international camaraderie between teams. After the game against Russia, the two teams gathered on the ice, snapping photos together. There was also an impromptu gear swap in the lobby hotel after the tournament.
“We had Russians, Fins and Swedes, so there was a huge language barrier,” said Lansing, who picked up a Norwegian team zip-up hoodie and a Finnish sweatshirt.
The Youth World Championship happens every other year, and there is talk of pulling together a U19 U.S. team for 2021. But for now, Lansing is enjoying reconnecting with Coastside friends at the Half Moon Bay rink. This may be his last NCHL season. Under current rules, Lansing will age out this summer.
“I always look forward to roller hockey. It is nice to come back to Half Moon Bay and play,” he said. “Bandy is so strategic. The NCHL is friendly and more personal. You almost can’t compare it to bandy.”