With the Winter Paralympic Games coming up in Sochi, Russia, it’s time to get familiarized with the sports on the roster.
Ever heard of sledge hockey? You might know it as “sled hockey”, which is what it’s called in the United States. It’s a form of ice hockey for athletes with physical disabilities, and is one of the most popular sports in the Paralympic Games.
Read on to get to know the story behind sledge hockey.
Let’s Go Back to the 1960s…
It all started in the early 1960s: two physically disabled Swedish men in a rehabilitation center decided that they wanted to develop a way to play hockey. This sparked the invention of the “sledge”, a metal frame seat supported by two skate blades.
They created some makeshift sticks, used both to handle the puck and to propel the sledge around the ice, and the sport was born.
Throughout the 60s and 70s, sledge hockey remained a mostly European sport. It wasn’t until the 80’s that hockey-loving Canadians decided to give sledge hockey a try. Americans followed in 1990, and Japan wasn’t far behind.
Welcome to the Paralympics
Sledge hockey was officially included on the roster for the Winter Paralympic Games in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway. It was quite fitting that Sweden, birth place of the sport, took the first gold medal.
Who Can Play?
In recreational leagues, sledge hockey is open to anyone, whether they be physically disabled or able-bodied. To play in the big leagues, athletes must be classified by the International Paralympic Committee, permitting only athletes with a disability in the lower part of their body to compete.
The design of the sledges used in today’s sledge hockey is actually quite similar to the original Swedish prototype, though there are now weight and measurement restrictions set by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council (HECC) to keep the playing field level. The HECC also sets regulations for sticks, helmets, and skates.
Women Allowed… Technically
For a long time, Paralympic sledge hockey teams allowed men only. In 2006, the Swedish team tried to include a female on its roster. They were unsuccessful, but it did spark a change in the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.
The Vancouver games saw the debut of the concept of mixed teams, where teams were allowed to include both men and women. A team’s roster is normally capped at 15 players, but if it included at least one female, the team could be expanded to include a total of 16 players.
Despite the change in the rules, no country elected to include a female on its roster during the 2010 games.
How the Game is Played
Overall, sledge hockey is quite similar to your typical hockey game, right down to the ice surface and markings, pucks, nets, and number of players on the ice.
There are a few differences, like the teeing rule, which prohibits an athlete from charging an opponent with the front of their sled.
Players also use two sticks, which are about a third of the size each of the single stick used in ice hockey. The sticks have metal picks on the tips, allowing players to use them to push themselves around on the ice.
Who to Watch For
USA, Norway, Canada and Sweden are all strong contenders in sledge hockey—each have won an Olympic gold medal (two, in fact, for the US). But you never know what to expect—last year, Japan took the silver medals in its first ever podium finish. Canada lead the 2013 World Champions, but anything can happen at the Paralympic Games!