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On the Ice

Online Exclusive posted Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 1:30pm

Hit the ice this winter with sled hockey

How is sled hockey different from the “stand-up” version? While the rules and concepts are similar, the main difference is that instead of standing up to skate, participants use specially designed sleds that sit on top of two hockey skate blades.

The sport, which is referred to as sledge hockey outside the U.S., was started at a Swedish rehabilitation center in the early 1960s. Athletes use two shortened hockey sticks with a blade on the end and a pick on the other end that enables them to propel themselves across the ice. Just as in able-bodied hockey, sled hockey features six players (including a goalie) on each team. Rinks and goals are regulation Olympic-size, and games consist of three 15-minute stop-time periods. The sport is open to individuals with physical disabilities such as amputation, spinal-cord injury, and cerebral palsy/brain injury/stroke.

Goalies wear basically the same equipment but do make modifications to the glove, which features metal picks to allow them to maneuver. A few rinks around the country are sled accessible, which allows players to remain in their sleds and skate off the ice into the bench area. This requires the bench area to be flush with the ice and clear plexiglass replaces the white boards. Hard checking, elevated puck shooting, and 60-mile-an-hour slap shots are as much a part of sled hockey as they are in the stand-up version.

Sled hockey became a Paralympic medal sport at the 1994 Lillehammer, Norway Games. Team USA won its first hockey medal, gold, at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, then took bronze in 2006 (Turin, Italy) and gold in 2010 (Vancouver, Canada).

At the most recent international sled hockey competition, the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge, held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the U.S. clinched the title over Canada, 1–0. U.S. goalie Steve Cash turned aside eight shots and earned a shutout. In the final period, Canada nearly tied the game on a breakaway. Cash made a diving save, but the puck continued toward the net. Decian Farmer came down on the back check and saved the puck from going across the goal line to preserve the one-goal lead. The final five minutes saw a U.S. penalty kill and heavy pressure from Canada, but Team USA’s defense sealed the tournament title.

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