Sledge Hockey is a terrific sport that individuals with physical disabilities can participate in. This sport was developed in the 1960s at a Swedish rehabilitation center. By modifying a metal sled (aka sledge) to fit two ice hockey skate blades under the sledge (so that a hockey puck could pass under it, the Swedes allowed themselves to be able to slide around the ice without inhibiting the movement of the hockey puck. They used round poles that had bicycle handles as sticks with which the propelled themselves across the iceâ€”much like skiers use sticks when they are skiing long distance. Their game required no goaltenders, but other than that it was very similar in spirit to regular ice hockey: the goal was to get the puck into the goalâ€”and instead of skating, the players sledged or sledded across the ice in the customized sledges that allowed the puck to pass under them. By the end of the 1960s, the game had won many fans, and many physically-impaired individuals wanted to play: thus, Stockholm, Sweden, fielded the first five-team league. In the league, the physically-impaired individuals and able-bodied individuals competed and played together: the sledge was the equalizer and made it so that no one individual had an advantage over another (IPC, 2017). It obtained its world debut at the Lillehammer Winter Games in 1994 and since then has become a huge draw for spectators of the Paralympics. Today it is one of the most watched sports in the Winter Paralympic Games.
How Sledge Hockey is Played
The rules of sledge hockey are basically the same as regular ice hockey. The only difference between the two games is with regard to those instances wherein the sledge must be accounted forâ€”e.g., teeing, which is when a player charges another player with the front part of the sled (but even this is similar to body checking an opponent as is often seen in ice hockey). Holding is not allowed in the game (just as it is not allowed in able-bodied ice hockey) and in general the same rules and penalties apply. Todayâ€™s sport includes goalies and officials and all the bells and whistles of able-bodied hockey. One difference that sledge hockey must observe (because of the sledge) is the gate that allows players to come in and off the ice: it is even with the ice (USA Hockey Sled, 2009).
The sledge hockey player will attach the sledge to the underside of the legs, so that when playing the player resembles a person sitting down with his legs together stretched out in front of him. He sits on the sledge which rests under his bottom and runs down to the feet. The blade of the sledge is about the size of a hockey skate blade and sits under the playerâ€™s seat. The players wear jersey and gear (helmets too) just like ice hockey players.
Players with and without legs may play (regardless of whether one has legs or not, they are rendered useless due to the design of the sledge). Thus, it is not uncommon to see players who have no legs or one leg playing the sport. The legs are not needed because the players propel themselves across the ice using their sticksâ€”one for each handâ€”which is similar to the way players will propel themselves in wheelchairs, using their arms to create the motion that moves their bodies instead of their legs.
The game has truly gone international, though for many years it was mainly dominated by Canadian, American, Swedish and Norwegian players. However, in recent years Korean para-athletes have begun to become very respected in the game and Korea has done well in international tournaments since 2011. In the 2014 Winter Games, Korea defeated the Russian hosts at Sochi in a remarkable and stunning performance. However, plagued by injuries the rest of the Games, the team wound up finishing in 7th place. The teamâ€™s leader stated, â€œWe tried our best to win the medals in order to be recognized and get the support we need. We did well considering our conditions, but I cannot hide my disappointmentâ€ (Steel Wire, 2017). The Korean documentary Parallel describes the training of the Korean sledge hockey team and what obstacles the team had to overcome to get ready for the Games: it depicts the demanding physical activity that players must endure in order to prepare (Conran, 2014). Sledge hockey is no easy game and requires a great deal of physicality, toughness (both mental and physical), and upper body strength. Endurance is one of the most key aspects of the game and it is one that players must acquire in order to be successfulâ€”just like in any other sport, such as football or soccer.
Showing that needed endurance has been Team USA, which won the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic Winter Gamesâ€”a first for the American sledge hockey team. Team USA took a bronze medal in 2006 and then again took the gold in 2010. The U.S. also took the gold athet 2012 International Paralympic Committee Sledge Hockey World Championship in Norwayâ€”the first team in the world to ever win back-to-back gold medals in world competition.
One of the most respected sledge hockey players is Steve Cash. He is a goaltender and in 2009 he enabled the U.S. to power its way to its very first international title. That year he started every game and played superbly all the way through, such that the U.S. Olympic Committee saw fit to recognize him as the 2009 Paralympic SportsMan of the Year (Blanchard, 2014). The following year at the 2010 Paralympic Games, Cash managed to not allow a single goal in five games: he blocked every one of the 33 shots that came his way. He took home the â€œBest Male Athlete with a Disabilityâ€ ESPY Award that year, and went on to boast a .923 save percentage by 2012 (Blanchard, 2014). Cash has become a legend in sledge hockey for American players.
Canada has its own legends as well. Canadian captain Greg Westlake has had his praises sung by Norwegian defenceman Morten Vaernes, and so to have Billy Bridges (forward) and Brad Bowden (forward). Bowden has been described as â€œthe player with the best understanding of the game, and he has great overall skills. He is always amongst top leaders in goals and assists, great puck and sledge control,â€ and according to Vaernes (2014), â€œthe best sledge hockey player of all-time.â€ To have an opponent like Vaernes identify you as the all-time greatest is surely an honor that any sledge hockey player would gladly welcome.
Bowdenâ€™s story is worth describing. He was born in 1983 with sacral agenesis, which is a condition that has a lot in common with spina bifida: â€œHe started playing wheelchair basketball in the 1990â€™s, winning several national Championships, including a Canada Winter Games Championship in 1999. Bowdenâ€™s biggest accomplishment in the sport was at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, where Canada were crowned champions. Since retiring from wheelchair basketball in 2008, Bowden turned his full attention to one of his favourite sports growing up â€“ hockeyâ€ (Para Ice Hockey, 2017).
Greg Westlake is another: He had his legs amputated when he was just a year-and-a-half old. As the captain of the Canadian sledge team, he has come a long way since then. He began playing sledge hockey in 2001. At the still young age of 17 he was named to the national team in 2003.
Star USA goaltender Steve Cash also is an amputee. Born in 1989, he was diagnosed at just three years of age with bone cancer and as a result had to undergo amputation surgery. Cash did not let that hold him back, however. He found a sport that he could throw himself into it with vigor and at the age of 15 he served as a backup goaltender in the 2006 Games, where his team took home the bronze. The following year, Cash was the teamâ€™s go-to goalie and is now considered one of the best in the world.
Coaching sledge hockey players is all about getting the players, kids and adults alike, to realize that they can do more on the ice than they might initially think possible. Joan Joyce, Director of Therapeutic Recreation and Community Outreach at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital and coach of the Sled Sharks, stated, â€œWe have kids with spina bifida, cerebral palsey, arthro-gryposis and any other number of issues. And they are playing to win and they are really watching their statsâ€ (Schubert, 2016). Once the players are on the ice, itâ€™s easy to see how fast-paced the game actually is. And it is a full-contact sport. That means it gets physicalâ€”and players need to develop their conditioning in order to compete effectively.
The bodyâ€™s core is where a lot of work has to be put in. Therefore, exercises designed to increase core strength are essential. The stronger a playerâ€™s core, the more likely he is to achieve success in the sport. Core training and stretching are focal points for every player and coach.
Beginners should start by practicing sitting in the functional sledge positionâ€”legs outward and a little off the gournd. From that position a number of exercises can be practiced (HC Core Training and Stretching Manual, 2009):
1) seated lateral tilts, which are performed by keeping your shoulders level and tilting the pelvis from side to side; the goal being to mimic turning and to build up core strength;
2) seated side touches, which are performed by doing a lateral tilt, reaching with the fingers and touching the ground; the goal being to remain stable and stay on the ball;
3) seated ball rotations, which are performed by keeping a weighted ball at chest height and arms length, while rotating to the left and then to the right; the goal being to stay stable without tilting one way or the other;
4) seated front ball toss, which is performed by using the same weighted ball and tossing it back and forth with a partner; the ball should be caught at chest height, elbows up and out, arms extended at chest height; the goal being to effectively catch and throw the ball while remaining stable;
5) seated resisted back strides, which are performed by using a resistance band, with one end either held by a partner or tied to a stable object, and the other end attached to the playerâ€™s hands. The player works by extending the arms backward in replication of the on-ice stride, and repeating the stride motion over and over; the goal being to stay stable while doing the stride;
6) seated resisted forward strides, which are performed the same way as the back strides, just in reverse fashionâ€”i.e., with the resistance band held behind the playerâ€™s back, arms extended backward to begin.
Those are all good exercises that a beginner can do to strengthen the core, and at the intermediate and advanced levels there are a number of other options available as well. The important thing to remember is that there are plenty of resources available to coaches and conditioning coaches. That means there are also a lot of opportunities for athletes to develop their strength and skills so as to be ready to play sledge hockey when the time comes.
Just in terms of workouts, the Hockey Canada organization is full of resources that coaches and trainers can use to help strengthen athletes. The Hockey Canada website offers access to guidelines for sledge hockey players and coaches in the HC Core Training and Stretching Manual. There are player development resources, such as Off Ice Training: a manual that is designed to introduce athletes to fundamental and essential information regarding warming up, stretching, plyometrics, balance and coordination. It is good to start with introducing this information off-ice as it gives the athlete a sense of what to expect once he is on the ice and ready for action. Hockey Canada also provides access to Hockey Programsâ€”a manual on High Performance hockey training for elite players.
Loads of coaching practice plan videos can be accessed on Hockey Canada as well for sledge hockey coaches and players. These videos feature a number of guest coaches, like Paralympian Paul Rosen, who explains how to play the game, as well as members of Canadaâ€™s National Sledge Team. Coaching tutorials are also available on YouTube by the dozens.
In the U.S., there are also numerous opportunities to learn and get pro-active in the sport. Disabled Sports USA has a website that offers contact information for anyone interested in finding a sledge hockey team. There are chapters in Chicago, California, North Carolina, Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, Illinois, Idaho, Utah, Vermont, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, Connecticut, New York, and Indiana.
The same site gives information on sledge hockey suppliers as well as resources for finding teams outside of the Disabled Sports USA chapter networkâ€”such as USA Hockey, the United States Sled Hockey Association, and the U.S. Paralympics.
In Canada, there are numerous options for obtaining more information, such as the Ontario Sledge Hockey Association (OSHA), which offers coaching resources for those who are new to the game, associations to contact, and other resources online for free access.
Rehab settings are also available through facilities such as MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, where Joan Joyce acts as Director of Therapeutic Recreation. With sledge hockey growing in popularity and teams developing around the globe, there are more and more opportunities to get involved and get conditioned all the time.
Sledge hockey began as the brain-child of a few physically-disabled Swedes in the 1960s. It caught on as a sport that allowed athletes to play a full-contact game on iceâ€”like regular hockeyâ€”and soon athletes from all over the world, from North America to Korea, were getting involved in the game. It is now an official Paralympic Event and is popular among all ages. Indeed, some of the best players in the world, like Brad Bowden and Steve Cash got their starts at young ages. Even for children who have suffered injuries or sickness that have left them disabled and incapable of walking, sledge hockey can be a way to restore their confidence, vitality, love for competition, and passion for life.
Sledge hockey is a sport that was designed in the 1960s to be like regular ice hockey but for disabled athletes. The original designers made a makeshift sled that they could sit in and propped it on a hockey skate blade so that they balanced their bodies on the blade while resting themselves in the sled, sitting upright. They players propelled themselves with sticks that were about the third of the size of regular hockey sticks, which they also used to hit the puck.
The game was a hit with disabled athletes (though it could be and often was also played by able-bodied athletes) and became a top sport in the Winter Paralympic Games. Countries from around the world field national teams that contend for world titles every year.
The sport is a great way to rehab individuals who have lost their legs or suffered leg damage. It focuses on strengthening the core and allows these same individuals to get out on the ice where the sledge acts as the great equalizer. No matter whether you are able-bodied or disabled, all are on the same â€œfootingâ€ once they are firmly seated in the sledge. This full-contact sport toughens individuals and allows them to achieve glory and adulations, whether they are taking on opponents in the local chapter or competing for a gold medal at the Olympics.
There are many resources available for coaches and players looking to develop their core strength or run sets on the ice. From beginners to advanced level players, Hockey Canada has great access to materials that can enable any type of athlete to advance his game. The lesson plan below provides an illustration of how coaches can go about designing a plan for their team.
Coach is to begin each session off with the following:
The first five minutes should be devoted to stretching: stretches are to include 10 second stretches x 6 sets, followed by 15 second stretches x 4 sets, followed by 20 second stretches x 3 sets, 30 second stretches x 2 sets, and 1 60 second stretch. Stretches should include pecs, traps, wrist flexors, wrist extensors, biceps and triceps. Hip flexors, piriformis, and glutes may also be stretched in variation with the others stretches. This is to be followed by core strengthening exercises:
Â· 10 minutes seated ball toss
Â· 5 minutes lateral tilts
Â· 5 minutes side touches
Â· 5 minutes resisted back strides
Â· 5 minutes resisted front strides
The next 45 minutes should be devoted to ice drills. Drills should include
Â· Turn, cycle and shoot
Â· Passing while moving
Â· Tight turns
Â· Weave variations
Athletes should also do laps on the ice for 5 minutes at the end.
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Steel Wire. (2017). The road to victory for the Korean national para ice hockey team.
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Vaernes, M. (2014). Top 10 sledge hockey players of all-time. Retrieved from