An Overview of Sled Hockey for Wheelchair Users

Sled hockey was invented in the early 1960s at a physical rehabilitation center in Stockholm, Sweden. It is a form of ice hockey that was adapted for athletes with disabilities, also known as ice sled hockey or sledge hockey, outside of the United States. By 1969, Stockholm had a five-team league that included both disabled and able-bodied players. Because sled hockey is a fast-paced and full contact sport, it has quickly increased in popularity.

The sport is played under similar rules to traditional ice hockey, but there are some differences. One key difference is that players are seated on specially designed sleds that sit on top of two hockey skate blades. Hockey players use two hockey sticks with metal pics or “teeth” on the tips of their handles to propel themselves on the ice. Goalies mostly wear the same equipment as standard ice hockey goalies but wear modified gloves with metal picks that are sewn onto the back to allow themselves to maneuver.

Who Can Play Sled Hockey?

Anyone with a disability that would inhibit them from playing “stand-up hockey” would be qualified to play sled hockey, such as people with spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, amputations and able-bodied people with hip, leg or knee injuries. Sled hockey requires a great amount of upper-body strength and balance, as well as the ability to handle the puck.

Benefits of Playing Sled Hockey

Sled hockey increases your upper body strength and coordination, especially in the arms, and even in the back and abdominal muscles because of the required balance used to propel, play the puck, and turn and stop. Those who play regularly quickly notice an increase in overall strength and balance both on and off the ice. It is both a great way to exercise and stay fit.

Adapted Rinks in Sled Hockey

Ice rinks have been adapted to be more accessible for sled hockey players. The entranceways to the players’ benches and penalty benches from the ice are designed evenly with the ice so the players can access them without the help of a coach or able-bodied person. Another quality that makes a rink accessible is the surface area inside the players’ benches and penalty benches, which are made of smooth plastic or ice, designed for the purpose of avoiding any damage to the players’ sleds.

Sled Hockey Competitions

While most adaptive sports require that players get evaluated and classified according to a specific classification system, sled hockey does not have a classification system that athletes need to go through before being able to play.

In the United States, the national governing body of the sport is the United States Sled Hockey Association (USSHA), while the International Paralympic Committee acts as the international sanctioning body for the sled hockey, under the name Para ice hockey. Ice sled hockey was first demonstrated at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sweden in 1976, and then again at the 1988 Innsbruck Paralympics. Sled hockey has been played in the Winter Paralympics since 1994.

If you are interested in competing, many Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA) chapters and other independent clubs across the country offer sled hockey opportunities. However, if you cannot find a DSUSA chapter in your area, USA Hockey and the U.S. Paralympics have sled hockey teams and programs throughout the country. If you are a student, you may consider checking the University of New Hampshire, as they offer winter sport athletes an opportunity to become student athletes.

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