In continuing with my examination of other forms of hockey, I go back to the ice for this next sport. Thanks to the Olympic Games, this sport has developed a huge participation rate for people with disabilities. I am talking about ice sledge hockey. Sledge hockey will be featured in Vancouver during the 2010 Paralympic Games from March 12 to March 21, 2010. This sport rivals ice hockey in the intrigue and drama, and the athletes are just as gifted. And, of course, there are powerhouses and also-rans.
First, some history on the sport and the Paralympic Games.
The Paralympics are open to athletes with physical and sensory disabilities, including those with cerebral palsy, mobility disabilities, visual disabilities and amputees. The name "Paralympics" derives from the Greek word "para," which means "alongside," in reference to the competition being held in parallel with the Olympic Games. Winter host cities have has the privilege of hosting both Games since 1992, when Albertville, France became the first city to stage both the Olympics and Paralympics.
Of all the sports played in the Paralympics, only sledge hockey and wheelchair curling each consist of a single tournament. These sports are open to those with lower-limb disabilities.
Ice sledge hockey was invented at a Swedish rehabilitation centre in the early 1960s, when a group of athletes with a disability decided they wanted to continue playing hockey. The Swedes took two regular ice hockey skates and built a metal frame - a sledge - to fit on top, with enough room for the puck to pass underneath. Using short poles to propel themselves along the ice, the men played the first ice sledge hockey match outdoors on a lake south of Stockholm. By 1969, Stockholm had a five-team ice sledge hockey league.
Ice sledge hockey debuted at the 1994 Paralympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, and medals have been awarded since its inclusion to the Paralympic Games.
So how is it played? Sledge hockey follows the same rules as ice hockey, having been set by the International Ice Hockey Federation for Olympic play. However, there are a few adjustments that have been made.
Sledge hockey players must sit themselves atop the sledge, propelling themselves around with two shortened hockey sticks that have picks on the butt-end to grip the ice. The other end has a curved end to be used as the stick for shooting and passing. There are six players per team on the ice, and 15 team members make up the sledge hockey team. Normally, there are two goaltenders included in the 15 players, along with nine forwards and four defenseman. A regular game consists of three 15-minute periods.
Rather than retyping all the rules for sledge hockey, I will direct you to this handy Adobe Acrobat document containing the rules of sledge hockey. It is highly informative.
As I stated, there are powerhouses in the sledge hockey world. Norway has won a medal at all four Olympic sledge hockey events since the 1994 Paralympics, collecting a gold medal in 1998 at Nagano, and three silver medal finishes. Canada has medalled three times: gold in 2006 at Torino, silver in 1998 at Nagano, and bronze in 1994 in Lillehammer. Sweden has also medalled three times: gold in 1994 at Lillehammer, and bronze in both 1998 at Nagano and 2002 in Salt Lake City. The United States is the only other nation with medals, having won gold in 2002 at Salt Lake City and bronze in 2006 at Torino.
However, there are other countries who have participated. Great Britain, Italy, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Japan, The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia, and South Korea all have sledge hockey teams.
Of course, there are stars in the game as well. Billy Bridges of Canada is regarded as one of the best sledge hockey players in the world. He has spina bifida, but that hasn't slowed him down one bit. Born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Billy moved to Guelph with his mother, Mary. It was there that Billy got his start in sledge hockey in 1996 with the Kitchener Sidewinders organization at 12 years old. Astoundingly, Bridges made Team Canada at age 14. He holds the record for being the youngest player ever to be selected to Canada’s National Sledge Hockey Team. He currently lives in Oakville, Ontario with his fiancée.
Overall, the growth of sledge hockey in both the Paralympic community and in the non-disabled community has been astounding. Like wheelchair basketball, there are non-disabled people joining this community as a new challenge. Below is a video of the 2006 gold medal winners from Torino, the Canadian Sledge Hockey team. Take a look at the game, and tell me that it isn't just as action-packed as regular ice hockey.
Sledge hockey is certainly a growing game. And I am proud to have profiled this game on this site. Look for it at a local rink near you!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!