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Hockey Players Sharpen Skills Playing Sweden's Bandy

RICHFIELD, Minn. (WCCO) -- If you want to play the game, it pays to learn from the best. In Sweden, the sport of Bandy is about as popular as a game can get.

"We want Bandy to be seen more here," said Minneapolis Storm executive director, Steve Jecha.

He helped organize Bandy camp at the Richfield Ice Arena, where this week some 150 youth hockey players are learning the sport that paved the way for ice hockey back in the 1800s.

Jecha says camp participation is growing every year.

"We want to get more youth involved in the game," he said. "It's a great complimentary game to ice hockey, because they can work on their finesse skills and skating."

Besides a handful of Swedish bandy coaches instructing the kids, bandy players like Oskar Lonn stand on the ice ready to demonstrate how to shoot the little round ball.

"I'm taking it there, you go like this and it's almost like golf," said Lonn, holding the bandy stick like a golf club while firing off a shot.

When done correctly, the shot is lightning fast and deadly accurate, landing dead center in the net.

As for stopping the shot, bandy goalies are at a distinct disadvantage: They are the only players on the ice not allowed to use a stick.

Finn Larson hopes learning how to play bandy will make her a better hockey player. The skating and stick-handling skills are all the more important, because bandy does not allow body checking.

"It's so much fun, because it's their sport," Larson said. "It's like hockey to us is like bandy to them."

The Swedish players introduced the sport to Minnesota back in 1979. Ever since then there's been a strong cultural exchange between players, coaches and parents in Minnesota and Sweden.

When played on a regulation-sized rink, a frozen equivalent to a soccer field, bandy is all about the speed.

Hopes are that what's learned at the Richfield ice arena camp will bring these young skaters a lifetime of winter enjoyment.

"Bandy," Jecha said, "is more about just having fun at the rink and being outdoors."

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