Looking for a sport to complement his running and fitness regimen six years ago, Scott Hutula of Concord channeled his inner northern frat boy.
He started surfing the Web for an intramural sport he played while a student at Ohio University in the mid-1980s. He contacted the coordinator for Carolina Broomball and has enjoyed the league so much, he gave up on his fallback plan of playing soccer.
Hutula is one of several Cabarrus County residents who play broomball, a derivative of ice hockey. The object is to score goals in the opponent's net, but players use a blunt-ended stick and whack at a cantaloupe-sized inflated rubber ball.
Carolina Broomball, a co-ed league, plays at Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail during fall and spring seasons.
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Hutula plays for Dr. Pai's Lumbarjacks, who were two-time defending league champions before getting knocked out of the fall season's playoffs last week. Harrisburg's Greg Krypel plays on a team sponsored by Extreme Ice Center, which defeated the Lumbarjacks and will play in the league championship at 4:45 p.m. today.
Krypel, 38, owns a Charlotte travel agency that caters to people with developmental disabilities. He grew up playing ice hockey in western New York. As the sport is rooted in Canada and the Northern U.S., Krypel said he remembers seeing broomball played during his youth.
Unable to play hockey as an adult because of back surgery, he heard about broomball in Charlotte through a mutual friend of a broomball player.
"It's a non-aggressive league, so you don't have to worry about injuries," Krypel said.
Another major difference between broomball and hockey is that broomball players use a special slide-resistant, rubber-soled shoe instead of skates.
Players who have played both say broomball is more strenuous than hockey.
"The most difficult thing is the level of fitness you have to have," said Hutula, 43, a Wells Fargo vice president. "You have to be in pretty darn good shape to stay out there and keep your speed up."
Hutula caught on quickly and developed into a solid player. In the Lumbarjacks' 6-2 first-round playoff victory two weeks ago, Hutula scored twice and added an assist.
In probably his greatest broomball moment in six years, Hutula was a key factor in last spring's championship game victory over Extreme Ice Center. He scored a goal late in regulation to send it into an extra period. With the Lumbarjacks a man down, he scored the game-winner in the second overtime.
Fellow Concord resident Todd Neely, who grew up in the same Pittsburgh suburb as Hutula, plays for Lanny's Six-Pack. An avid hockey player, Neely, 42, said there have been times when he has played broomball at Extreme Ice Center, then slipped into his hockey gear for a game on an adjacent rink.
A computer software designer, Neely started playing broomball 18 years ago, when it was based at Charlotte's Eastland Mall. Interest in the league peaked in the late '80s, when it had 12 teams and hosted tournaments.
Interest and organization waned earlier this decade until a player named Mondo Normile assumed leadership and provided a booster shot. The number of teams has climbed back to six, but its popularity is still limited to the league's players.
When he tries to tell acquaintances about broomball, Krypel said, the popular response is still "What's that?"