OLD SPORT – NEW PLAYERS
Hockey in Minnesota is a big deal. From peewees to Northstars its a popular spectator sport and a big challenge for the participants. “Regular” hockey is played with long sticks and hockey skates by guys who don’t seem to mind losing a few teeth in the pursuit of the sport. Hardly a sport for wheelchair athletes, right?
Wrong! Using the old “where there’s a will, there’s a way” concept, a new version of the sport called Sledge Hockey is now available locally for those who must have their contact sport on ice. And you don’t have to be able to skate!
Sledge hockey is played using a sled made of tubular stainless steel, similar to the light weight wheelchair. The frames are 18 inches wide, adjustable from 3 to 4 feet long, and sit 3 inches off the ice. A bent portion of pipe forms the front “ski” of the sled and the back end rests on the blades of two hockey skates. Players propel themselves by picks used like short ski poles. The picks have a row of metal teeth similar to the toe of ice hockey blades on one end and a small hockey blade on the other. Sledge hockey is played by the same rules as regular hockey with players wearing full personal protection equipment.
The sport is currently being played in Britain, Norway, Sweden and Canada. Last year in February, an international sledge and ice picking (speed-skating in sledges) tournament was held in Ottawa, Canada. The Canadians wanted a team from the U.S. to be represented but no team was in existence. They contacted John Schatzlein, the program director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Sister Kenny in Minneapolis, in early January of 1989.
In November of ‘89, Schatzlein took on the challenge. Forming a team, raising the funds necessary to pay for equipment and travel expenses for the team. He was able to borrow Olympic hockey uniforms from USA Hockey an amateur hockey association.
The team was comprised of six persons with spinal cord injuries, an amputee and three able-bodied people. People who do not have an obvious physical limitation can be a member of the team, but only two able-bodied people can participate on the ice during a given shift. Abled-bodied participants can only compete in games played in North America.
The team only met for two-hour practices before leaving for Canada in February 1990. They played five matches during the three day tournament winning one game and losing four. In February of this year, they were invited to compete in another tournament in Ottawa where they won 2 out of 5 games earning the team a Bronze medal. Then, in March the team traveled to Oslo, Norway where they placed 5th in the world.
The team is currently trying to interest others, “Our goals are to make this activity available to a wide range of persons with disabilities so they may enjoy ice skating and hockey in addition to wheelchair sports,” said Schatzlein.
For more information and how you can become a Sledge Hockey participant call John Schatzlein at 863-4148.