As spring rolls around, the snow starts to melt (hopefully!) and the birds start chirping again. But before the winter season wrapped up, Athletes Roll got a glimpse into one of the most exciting winter sports: Sled Hockey.
When I think of hockey, my mind jumps to a mix of aggression and finesse. To be able to skate around effortlessly while taking stick and body checks is an amazing feat (skating for me usually requires a couple stitches even without contact…)
Essentials of Sled Hockey
Sled hockey is an adaptive sport played mainly by people with lower and full body disabilities, long term injuries, paralysis, or amputations. At first look, it seems like a completely different sport from hockey. Sled Hockey athletes are seated in “buckets” which have two parallel ice skates underneath and propel themselves using the back end of two half-hockey sticks. But after these adaptations are taken into account, what is left? Hockey!
All ice hockey rules apply with several added specifically for sled hockey. Notably there are additional rules outlawing butt-ending (due to the aforementioned spikes), guidelines for what happens if the puck is stuck under a sled (the play is stopped), as well as rules for contact (there can be quite a bit!).
There are also guidelines added about the bench area. In hockey, players hop on and off the ice to make line changes quickly. It is difficult to make this transition with a sled in most rinks. Some rinks have accessible benches (with see-through boards), but most rinks require another adaptation: moving the sidelines onto the ice!
With the sidelines brought onto the ice, the line changes and transitions are much easier and the whole team can meet in one spot during intermissions. It may seem like this could lead to tricky situations when the puck approaches this area, but there have been very few issues in the game time I have seen. It actually works similar to when hockey players catch airborne pucks in that they place the puck down in front of them and play continues.
Community Sled Hockey Practice (Everett, MA – 2/5/17)
To investigate all of this we wanted to see Sled Hockey first hand, and this past winter we had that opportunity. First, Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers allowed me to watch a Community Sled Hockey practice at the Allied Veterans Rink in Everett, Massachusetts. I went with full excitement as this was my first time seeing Sled Hockey in person, and (as per usual with adaptive sports) I was not disappointed. People of all ages and skill levels came by, some to give it a try, others to get some extra practice in.
The coach of the Boston Shamrocks Sled Hockey Team ran the volunteers through skating drills first to get used to the sled with the help of a few Shamrocks team members. They learned the basics of skating, turning, and passing the puck (it’s all in the hips!!) and then moved into a scrimmage.
Terry Downey, who organized the practice, set me up with some gear towards the end of the practice. I gave it a shot but I quickly found that Sled Hockey is one of those things that is much harder than it looks! One of the volunteers stayed on one side of the ice with me to pick me up to speed. I got the hang of pushing forward but never truly figured out how to turn. I was too late to join the scrimmage, but the sled ended up giving me an excellent angle for taking pictures!
All in all this was an amazing look into an amazing sport. But we knew there was much more excitement to come in the form of the 2017 Sports4Life Sled Hockey Tournament.
NESHL Sports4Life Sled Hockey Tournament (Exeter, NH – 3/4/17)
The Northeast Sled Hockey League (NESHL) comprises of teams from Maine all the way down to the DC area. The season runs from September to March with weekend tournaments throughout the year. Teams in NESHL are split up into A and B divisions because the Sports4Life Tournament was the last of the year the A Division was split into Tier I and Tier II based on season standings. This way there would be more intense competition in the playoff rounds (and more winners!). NESHL is a coed league and we were thrilled to see women competing right alongside the men throughout the day.
We watched several games on Saturday from all three divisions of play. The excitement was truly nonstop with two rinks alternating start times. We watched the Northeast Passage Wildcats take on the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins. While they eventually fell to the Penguins 5-4, there was an amazing flip to a behind the back pass that nearly tied the game up in the third period!
In another match we saw the New Jersey Freeze show off some incredible goals as they put up 8 and didn’t allow any against the Gaylord Wolfpack. This highlighted the Freeze’s play but they were not satisfied. The first day of competition completed group play with the USA Warriors, NJ Freeze, and the New England Warriors came out on top of A Tier I, A Tier II, and B respectively. The next day those same three teams drove through the playoff rounds and were crowned champions!
As always, congratulations to all of the teams that competed in the NESHL 2017 Sports4Life Tournament. Thank you to everyone at Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers for allowing me into your practice. We have found Sled Hockey to be an amazing sport both for the athletes that put their blood, sweat, and tears onto the ice and for the fans like myself! Anyways, hope you enjoyed our first true #SportSpotlight! More to come soon!