By David McCoy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s not an Olympic event, but those who play it hope it will be someday. For now, they’d settle for Americans just knowing it exists.

“I grew up here, not far from the rink,” says Jon Keseley. “And I didn’t know about it until after college.”

The sport is bandy, and it’s kind of like hockey. And speedskating. And broomball. And soccer, with 11 players a side, and a rink the size of a soccer field. Players use a ball kind of like tennis, only harder like racquetball.

“The passing and the stickhandling is more like hockey,” Kesley said. “The shooting is like golf.”

And field hockey.

“We’re playing with a field hockey stick,” Keseley said, “which is curved.”

Except for the goalie, who doesn’t use a stick.

“That’s a unique thing about bandy as well,” Keseley said.

The sport is more than 200 years old. The earliest club on record dates to England in 1813. It’s quietly been around in the Twin Cities for at least 30 years.

“It’s the speed,” says Mikael Sandberg, who plays with Keseley. “This whole game is built on flow and speed.”

Sandberg moved here from Sweden a dozen years ago, where not only have people actually heard of the sport, it’s one of the nation’s most popular.

“Currently I think it’s the third largest sport we have,” he said. “We have soccer, hockey, and then bandy after that.”

Sandberg is now a coach on Team USA, which practices, plays, and has its headquarters at the Roseville Oval, which is the only regulation-size outdoor bandy rink in North America.

“That’s why it makes it very difficult to grow the sport,” Sandberg said.

Team USA is basically Team Minnesota, which is basically Team Twin Cities. Most of the bandy players in the United States — which is estimated in the mere hundreds — are here in the metro area.

“Russia and Sweden have always been the top two teams,” says Keseley, adding that the top player in those countries’ leagues make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in the top leagues. “And in Sweden, people either play bandy or they’ll play hockey. So they grow up playing it, where all of us, we just played hockey and now this is a new thing for us.”

This week, Team USA is taking its annual foreign trip to play in the world championships.

“We’re going to Irkutsk,” Keseley said, “which is right above Mongolia, I believe. So right in the middle of Siberia.”

They’ve got about as good of chance of winning it as they do of getting a tan.

“When we play Russia and Sweden, they have their way with us,” Keseley said.

But it offers a challenge you, quite seriously, can’t find anywhere else.

“A lot more fun for us than going to play bar league hockey.”

David McCoy

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