Sled or sledge hockey is a true tribute to the human spirit. Its a definite statement on how you can’t keep a good man – or woman, down. Not willing to let having limited or no use of their legs led a group of Swedes in Stockholm to invent sled hockey during the early1960s. They loved the sport of hockey to the point that they couldn’t bear to give it up. In their minds, enough compromises had been made since not having the use of their legs, and they weren’t about to suffer another.
Originally, a group of driveway paving contractors, plumbers, electricians and landscapers had improved the sport when they decided to sponsor several charitable events to raise money which helped to pave the way for what would eventually become an international sport. The group began fashioning a body sled using two regular sized hockey skate blades and they positioned the blades on a metal frame far enough apart to allow a puck to slide through. Their makeshift hockey sticks were rounded poles with bike handles. Initially the team didn’t play with a goaltender or in a rink, but on a lake in the southern part of Stockholm.
By 1969 the local club had grown into five teams and Stockholm invited another team from Oslo, Sweden to what was the first international match. An international sport was born, soon to include teams from all over the world. Great Britain followed with a team of their own in 1981, the USA in 1990, Estonia and Japan formed competitive teams in 1993. Ice hockey became official at the Paralympic Winter Games in 1994, several years after a first showing by Sweden’s team in 1976.
The sled is made of an aluminum or steel frame. A standard sled is 0.6m to 1.2m in length. It is designed to have a curved front end. Depending on the physical needs of the athlete, one of two different seating systems is employed. Again, depending on the needs of the player, a backrest is available, but it cannot protrude beyond the armpits of the occupant when seated. Regular hockey blades of 3mm tempered steel thickness are mounted underneath the carriage. The height of the mainframe must be between 8.5cm to 9.5cm above the ice, allowing for a puck to glide easily beneath the skater. To keep the player secure, straps are put around the hips, and when applicable ankles, and feet that are attached to the sled.
In sled hockey the players use two sticks. Each stick has a hooked wooden blade at the contact end to facilitate better puck handling and ambidextrous shooting. Made of wood, hard plastic or aluminum/titanium, the maximum length of a stick length is 1m. The blade is a maximum length of 35cm for all players except the goaltender whose blade is 10cm longer. Regulation requires the pick end of the stick not have any sharp edges so as to avoid slashing another player or the surface of the ice.
The puck is the same as in regulation hockey, and is made of vulcanized rubber.
Hockey is considered a contact sport and players can redirect the puck with any part of their body. This means outfitting the individual with protective gear. All players are required to wear a helmet and mask or “cage”. A protective collar or bib is also regulation. While not a hard fast rule of the game, players most often wear protective shoulder pads, leg and shin guards, elbow pads and large padded gloves. Pucks can travel upwards of 100km/h and while the bulky protective clothing is cumbersome, a real athlete appreciates the purpose and never enters a game without. The goaltender will wear a visor and use a catcher’s mitt along with thick leg pads where applicable.
These are a few of the basics of sled hockey to familiarize my readers with the game. If you are a hockey fan, you would especially appreciate the way the men and women play sled hockey. One does not have to be disabled to be on a team, all things are equal on the ice. Consider a chapter in your community, it’s a great way to participate in a team sport with a different edge.