March 11, 2019 | 9:00AM ET
By Shawn Hutcheon, The Fourth Period

THE AMAZING EXPERIENCE KNOWN AS RED BULL CRASHED ICE

 
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Cameron Naasz

 
 

BOSTON, MA -- Hockey is a game of action. Non-stop action. It is a game of speed, skill and physical contact, and people who had never seen it played have become instant fans and, in most cases, want to give a try.

Those who are good at it play hockey at different levels before hanging up the blades and getting on with their lives. Then there are those who are not ready to put the skates away. They want to go faster and higher. As in hockey, they want to avoid absorbing the physical contact and they want to show that they are the most skilled athletes on the ice.

Welcome to Red Bull Crashed Ice. An extreme sport that is, literally, the fastest sport on ice.

How much faster? Well, if you like skating as fast as you can up and down the ice during a hockey game, be prepared to increase your speed to an average of 50 miles per hour while skating on a downhill course. And while you are moving at breakneck speeds, try seeing yourself doing it with three other people. Sounds simple enough, you say? Now, picture yourself doing that while navigating hairpin turns, vertical drops, and jumps before you reach the finish line. Did I mention you do all of this while skating 50 miles per hour?

In February, the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition made its way to Boston’s Fenway Park. It was the first time the circuit competed in Boston and in an arena setting. The track was 1,200 feet long beginning above the right field bleachers extending from the outfield through the infield and finishing at home plate. A fitting finish at the home of the 2018 World Series champions.

Don’t worry Red Sox fans, plenty of precautions were taken to ensure that no damage would be done to the field while the six-week building of the track took place as 107,000 square feet of aluminum flooring was laid down to protect the outfield and infield.

A current hockey star skated the course and found it quite challenging. Hilary Knight, who has led Team USA to seven International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships and an Olympic Gold Medal, was back in Boston to serve as a judge of the Freestyle Crashed Ice event – before the competition began, she laced up her skates and gave the Crashed Ice track a try before carrying out her official judging duties.

Knight enjoyed the course, but not without a bit of trepidation.

“It was good,” she said. “It’s fun. It’s terrifying, in the best way. We (hockey players) don’t leave the ice unless it’s to grab a puck when it’s in the air so even the smallest jump is terrifying because you have no idea where you are in the air. You just know gravity is going to hit you and bring you right back down but riding (skating) the course was a lot of fun.

“I wear hockey skates, they wear hockey skates then the similarities go right and left after that. One (difference) is the aerial awareness when you go off a jump or you’re jumping in, where you are and how you’re landing on your steels (blades) on the ice is super-important. I learned first-hand that if you land the wrong way, you’re going down and then also the tactical approach to the course and not going too fast because they could easily overshoot an easier thing and for them it could lead to being out of position for winning so after doing some of the drops and other stuff, you get an appreciation for how to hit a jump and how to land it and then also you add three other racers at the same time and it’s really dynamic and takes a brilliance to get down to the other end of the track all in one piece.”

The Red Bull Crashed Ice circuit sees the best athletes travel the world to compete for a world championship. Competitions have been held in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Austria, France, Japan, Canada, and the United States.

Defending Women’s World Champion Amanda Trunzo hails from Minnesota but played college hockey at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and was eager to skate at the iconic venue.

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“I think it’s super-special,” said Trunzo. “Fenway Park is the most historic ballpark in the U.S. It brings the sport (crashed ice) east. It’s been stuck in the midwest so this is going to gain new riders (skaters) and gain new attention in the east.”

In front of thousands of fans, famously known as the “Fenway Faithful,” the event was part of the world championships circuit attracting over 175 skaters from 22 countries including two-time (2016 and 2017) men’s world champion Cameron Naasz, Trunzo, and men’s junior world champion Johanny (Jojo) Velasquez.

Naasz, a native of Lake Grove Township, Minnesota, grew up playing hockey and took naturally to Crashed Ice.

“I played lots of hockey in Minnesota and lots of extreme sports growing up. In 2012, when the event came to Minnesota, I took part in the event through a friend who worked for Red Bull. It was such a new sport, they were giving away two golden tickets the (Red Bull) student brand manager at my college (St. Cloud State University). He called me and said, ‘Hey, I think you should do this. I want to use one of my passes on you.’ So I took advantage of that opportunity and I was the No.1 American at that event and from that event, they created Team USA,” Naasz explained. “They took the top four guys from that and two and a half weeks later, we were in the Netherlands racing another event and it just kind of snowballed from there. This is my eighth season and I’m enjoying it.”

Trunzo transitioned to the sport after a successful college hockey career.

“I played hockey at Dartmouth College so I had that background but other than that, I was a college hockey coach in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” said Trunzo. “I got into the sport when it became a full women’s sport four years ago. Cam (Naasz) had asked if I wanted to be part of Team USA so that first year I took it as a learning opportunity and have done it ever since.”

Knight admitted that she has thought about pursuing Crashed Ice because there are similarities between her sport and this event.

Catch all the action from Red Bull Crashed Ice here on Red Bull TV

“I think you see a lot of hockey players and skaters go into this sport because you get to travel around the world, compete, and still have that lead up to as if you were playing a hockey game,” said the Olympic champ. “There are a lot of parallels in that way, off the ice and training for something, establishing goals, and all that fun sports background.”

With the Greater Boston area known as a hockey hot-bed, the event drew thousands of hockey fans and players of all ages who withstood the frigid New England temperatures. All were curious to see what the sport was about and after seeing it, many young players left Fenway talking about how they wanted to become Crashed Ice skaters or at the very least, give it a try.

Naasz and Trunzo had some advice for those who pursue pucks and want to see if they have what it takes to master the extreme sport.

Naasz advised that a hockey player should concentrate on the finer skills of skating in order to be successful at Crashed Ice.

“I think having that really strong skating background, specifically stride and body control,” he said. “The ability to use your edges. That’s the biggest part about it.

“You gotta broaden your skills. Just being a hockey player doesn’t really do it. I’ve seen NHL-caliber hockey players get on tracks like this and just fall flat on their faces. You have to do all sorts of stuff growing up and I believe that’s what kids should do. Don’t be just a one sport athlete. Also if they want to get involved, we have races for ages 16 and up and you can go to any of the ATSX (All Terrain Skate Cross) events. This is an ATSX-1000. We also have ATSX-500, 250, and 100. The 500 is the pretty elite level. The 100 is the beginner level. Anybody can get involved. Anybody can sign up for those events and that’s how you earn your way into the big stage which are these ATSX-1000 events. They can go to ATSX.org if they want to check it out.”

Trunzo agreed with her fellow world champion.

“I think if you have that base to start off with, I think you can fine-tune the other things,” Trunzo added. “For instance, in my case, I was a fine skater but my air awareness, body control, and hitting the features (jumps) was something that wasn’t very good so I spent a lot of time at a skatepark in Minnesota working on that.”

Knight added her own piece of advice to young athletes who are contemplating whether to try extreme skating.

“Do it,” Knight said without hesitation. “If you think you want to try something, you gotta go out and do it. Give yourself the best chance to succeed and if you love it, figure out how to do it again. I’m a super-passionate advocate for setting goals and going after them and accomplishing them. Some really amazing things have come just by using sports as a vehicle whether its education, traveling, or hanging out with really cool people on a daily basis, or partnering with amazing companies. The opportunities are endless. You just gotta go out there and take that first step and do it.”

Naturally, as in hockey, all the hard work and competing can lead to rivalries because, after all, nobody wants to finish in second place.

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“On the women’s side, the first two years, (Canadian) Jacqueline Legere won the world championship,” Trunzo explained. “Myself, winning it last year was the rivalry that kind of brewed but I think, when you’re not on the track it’s more of a friendship. (Canadian) Miriam Trepanier is a really good friend of mine. Off the ice, it’s kind of a weird dynamic in the sense of when we get to events, you look at the track and you ask (each other), ‘What do you do here?’ You help each other but then, obviously, when you’re at the top of the track then it becomes a different ballgame. You’re not going to be helping that person next to you. You just want to beat them so, it’s a weird rivalry but I’d say Jacqueline and I are the biggest rivalry.”

“It’s the same for me,” Naasz said. “I’ve been competing against (Canadian) Scott (Croxall). There are tons of guys and the competition is getting stiff but like Amanda said, you’re friends but then once it comes to race-time, the last second that we’re friends is right before we get in the gate for that last Final (race). You say, ‘Good luck, buddy’ then once you step in that gate, I want to win. Once the race is over, we’re back to being friends. The camaraderie in our sport is the real story as well. How everybody is such good friends. We travel the world together, competing against each other. It’s good.”

All of their training and competitive spirit paid off in Boston as Trunzo and Naasz emerged as winners and instead of receiving gold medals, they were given championship rings to commemorate winning a championship at Fenway Park in honor of the Red Sox.

After competing (and winning) in Boston both champions would like to see Red Bull Crashed Ice move to other new venues.

“I’ve always said Times Square in New York would be pretty sweet if they want to shut down the whole city,” said Naasz, half-jokingly. “Back to Minnesota would be great, at the Twins’ ballpark, Target Field. These ballparks are just sitting here all winter, why not let us use them?”

“I’ve always thought Nashville would be super-cool,” Trunzo said. “I’m a huge country (music) person so I’d love to go there.”

Trunzo and Naasz are champions because of the hard work and passion they have for their sport but Red Bull Crashed Ice is really more than just a sport for these elite athletes.

“It means a lot to me,” Trunzo said. “We spend five, six days per week training for it. I absolutely love it. I have a full-time job (Dean of Students) as well at a school so it’s a little bit tough taking that time off from there, but they’ve been great with it too and think it’s awesome but the sport means a ton to me. I love to win. I love to compete so it just keeps bringing me back year after year. Even after last year, winning it (world championship), I just wanted to come back and worked even harder in that off-season.”

“The sport is more of a lifestyle for me,” said Naasz. “I don’t have a full-time job. I do random part-time work during the summer and I train with other athletes in Minnesota. It’s been a wild ride. There is no way I would have seen or done any of the things that I’ve now done in my life in the last eight years without Red Bull Crashed Ice. I was skating at an event in Minnesota one night, then in another country a couple weeks later, then another country a couple weeks later and I was hooked. I wanted to do this all the time. It’s an amazing experience.”

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Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
Follow him on Twitter.