In 2010 when the first USA Hockey Sled Classic was held in Denver only four teams participated. It must have been a hellava show because the next year the number more than doubled to nine teams. In 2015, in just over 5 years, 20 teams joined the competition playing in four divisions. Sled hockey, also referred to as sledge hockey is coming into its own.
Sled hockey has been a part of the Paralympic games since 1994. The sport has experienced a dynamic growth in the past several years and you can bet it’s not because of the BBQ Catering that is prepared for players at team functions. The sport is catered to the needs of true athletes, sled hockey is not a game for wussies. When the word get’s out on something as rewarding as sled hockey, both to the players and the fans, it’s natural for interest to expand.
Paralympian, Josh Pauls, is well known for his playing ability and team camaraderie is one of the most active members representing U.S. sled hockey says, “It’s just exponential growth”. Josh’s team, the St. Louis Blues is a true reflection of the heightened awareness and enjoyment of the fan base. Pauls took up the sport at the age of 8 and now at 22 has brought home several championship trophies in the U.S.
Two from the Paralympics held in Sochi in 2014 and earlier in Vancouver in 2010. He also helped the national team to three world championships. In 2012 the U.S. Won two back-to-back world champions by bringing home the Gold at the International Paralympic Committee Sledge Hockey World Championship in Hamar and the earlier mentioned Sochi title at the Paralympic Winter Games. This was a first to date for any team to win consecutive Gold medals in a single season.
The attention to the sport has attracted more players and top level talent thereby making it an aspect of hockey to keep an eye on. The talented goalie, Steve Cash is another player we all love to watch. He lost the full use of his right leg as a child due to cancer in his knee, and then at the age of three had a foot amputated. A tough road for any child, but Cash started early being an inspiration. He played full-sided hockey as a goalie on his high school team in St. Louis, Missouri.
His skills and love for the sport propelled him into the national arena, and he became the most valuable goalie of the year in 2009. He went on to participate in the U.S. Gold medal win in 2010 over Japan in the Paralympics held in Vancouver. 2015 could be his best year ever and with his family and fans cheering him on, he couldn’t be happier to be a part of it all.
“It’s awesome,” Cash said. “A lot of the guys, including myself, are going to have family and friends in the stands, and when you have the support of your family, not only them, but also people that may not have heard about sled hockey or are fans of the sport in general, you have them there cheering you on, it makes the experience that much better.”
These are just two Paralympic Sled Hockey team members who are outstanding athletes. The men – at this time women are welcome, but there are no women players representing the U.S. – are playing full bore and not letting their fans, teammates or themselves be any less than 100%. Next year’s games being held in Rio are drawing thousands of fans. Have you bought your ticket yet?