All Summer One Sport: Sledge Hockey (Para Ice Hockey)
No Disability Needed
Tick, tick, tick. This was the first sound that I heard when I walked into the Shane Homes YMCA arena to meet Monica Sparling from the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association. I was going to take my All Summer One Sport blog into new more accessible territory. First stop: sledge hockey (para ice hockey).
Since its creation in 1961 on a frozen lake in Sweden, sledge (as its known) has enabled all to play hockey. I wanted to see how this sport has enabled thousands to play one of Canada’s national sports.
So, you want to play sledge hockey? Naturally, the first step is to get the right equipment. Just like stand-up hockey, sledge hockey requires the use of blades to glide across the ice. However, limited skating and balance are required as you are in a bucket (with straps to keep you secure).
When I first got on the sledge I thought that it was going to be very strange and restrictive. This fear was quickly put aside as soon as I got on the ice. I didn’t even notice that my legs weren’t doing anything (although I can’t say the same for my arms). Within no time, I was skating around the rink.
Getting around the rink is a breeze as the sticks have metal picks on the bottom of them. To turn you can use your body weight to tilt the sledge or push off with a stick. I chose the second option as I wasn’t very fast and subsequently couldn’t get enough momentum to turn.
These sticks, which you get two of, allow you to stick handle under your sledge (my favourite part). Unlike with stand- up hockey, you can keep possession of the puck by repeatedly doing crossovers; I felt like the sledge hockey (para ice hockey) version of Michael Jordan when I did this.
While sledge and stand-up hockey use the same rules, with the different equipment, there are two additional rules in sledge (para ice hockey). As I mentioned before on the bottom of the sticks there are metal picks. You can’t use these metal picks against other players. Similar, to stand-up hockey purposefully checking is allowed in sledge, with one exception you cannot purposefully T-bone another person’s sledge.
By now, you probably are wondering if only people with disabilities can play. This common misconception (which I had) is one that the sledge hockey community is trying to shed. Allowing able-bodied participants onto the ice allows for everyone to play together rather than one person sitting on the side watching.
Now, families that have one member with a disability (of any kind) can now play a sport together on an equal playing field (or in this case, rink). Able-bodied people can even play for their local club and even their provincial/territorial team!
So, what exactly makes an arena sledge hockey (para ice hockey) accessible? First the normal half a foot lip at the entrance to the ice needs to be around 2 inches. This lets the sledges move on and off the ice with ease. While this may seem like not a very big lip on skates, once you get in the sledge and try to get over it, I am sure you will reconsider. The next change is that there needs to be plexiglass in the players' bench. This allows players to see what’s happening on the ice.
There are currently four sledge accessible arenas in Calgary for players to use. They are:
If no sledge accessible rink is available, players can train at the Stew Hendry arena using the Zamboni door to gain access to the ice. This is not favourable, however, as the players must stay on the ice when not playing in front of the players' bench as there is a large lip to enter it.
One of the major reasons that I didn’t play in an organized hockey team growing up is that the fees were simply too high. The Calgary Sledge Hockey Association has it built into their mandate that they want this sport to be as accessible as possible.
With this mandate in mind, they own 40 sledges, sticks and all the equipment that one would need to play. They can loan this equipment to you for your first season, so you can try this sport out without having to worry about the cost associated.
“People who play sledge hockey are the type of people that realize that physical exercise is important, no matter the obstacle,” says Monica Sparling, coach at Calgary Sledge Hockey. This association makes everyone feel welcome regardless if you are able-bodied or not.
So, what’s stopping you from strapping into a sledge and trying something new?
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