November 16, 2018
Sledge hockey is a sport I had watched before but never tried. And when I say I watched – I watched in awe as players flew around the ice on their sleds making incredible plays. So much talent and determination in these athletes. Tina and I had a chance to try it recently and had a blast. It’s a fantastic sport that is certainly not as easy as the athletes make it look.
When we arrived at the rink, there was a game underway between Team Ontario and Team Quebec. Immediately, you can’t help but notice was how physical the game is. The players from both teams were unbelievable to watch – obviously very skilled as they maneuvered their sleds with the intensity and purpose. Just the sound of the sleds turning on a dime let you know how much power was going into those moves. We couldn’t wait to get out there and give it a try.
Sledge hockey has been around since the 1960s. It was invented by three Swedish wheelchair athletes and first introduced in Canada in the late 1970s. It has grown in popularity ever since – and for good reason. It is an interesting twist on ice hockey that is challenging, aggressive and strategic.
The national sledge hockey program for women is supported by Women’s Sledge Hockey of Canada. The goal of the women’s program is to provide Canadian girls and women with disabilities with a lifelong opportunity to play the game, to have an elite level program to strive towards and to grow the sport from coast to coast. Canadian female sledge athletes are working hard to improve awareness internationally and at home to help women’s sledge become a medal sport at the Paralympics – and to gain the support of Hockey Canada for our female sledge athletes.
If you have ice hockey equipment – you are well equipped for sledge too. The protective gear is the same as is required for ice hockey – elbow pads, shin pads, shoulder pads, helmet with cage, gloves and skate boot for the protection of foot and ankle area. Goalies use blockers and gloves as well as pads. Accommodations to protective equipment can be made based on individual players needs – depending on their physical abilities.
The sled is a bucket with straps to hold the player firmly in the seat and a metal frame in front to hold the player's legs in place. The sled has two skate blades on the underside – and the better you are the closer together the blades are positioned. And much like skaters do, sledge players shift their weight in the sled to use the edges on the blades to turn and stop.
Players are also equipped with two sticks both with blades on one end and teeth on the other. The sticks serve a dual purpose – to maneuver the puck and propel the sled around the ice.
The sledge game is based on the same rules as ice hockey. It is played on the same ice surface with all the familiar markings – centre ice, face-off circles, red line and blue lines. There are six players on the ice a side – five players and one goalie.
Some arenas have modified the benches and penalty boxes to accommodate the sleds going in and out with a low entrance and clear plexiglass to allow players to see the game while not on the ice. If arenas are not modified for sledge, players sit on the ice in front of their bench between the blue and red lines when not involved in play.
One additional penalty is in place for sledge called teeing. This infraction is assessed if a player charges or makes contact with an opponent using any part of the front frame of her sled.
Tina and I had the opportunity to try sledge at a tournament put on by our local hockey association – Central York Girls Hockey Association. This tournament hosted the first ever Women’s Sledge Hockey National Championship – and what an amazing addition to the tournament it was. Two try-it sessions were offered to anyone interested in giving it a go. All you needed was a helmet and cage, elbow pads, and hockey jersey – the sled and sticks were supplied.
Before we went on the ice, we listened to an introduction from Monica, president of the Alberta Women’s Sledge. Monica travels across the country introducing this great sport to new players and teaching them the basics to get started. Check out her “getting started” instructional video here.
Getting into the sled: You plant your bottom in the back of the sled and swing your legs into the frame. Then you buckle up, and adjust the frame to fit your legs – knees slightly bent.
Choosing your blade: As beginners, we used sleds equipped with blades fairly far apart – much like bob skates. Monica explained that as you get better and more confident, your blades are moved closer together – to where national players have their set at less than an inch apart. It’s easier to learn to maneuver the sled when the blades are farther apart which means you give up a little stability when moving around.
Using the sticks: To move forward, you hold the stick near the top of the blade to get moving and dig the teeth into the ice to propel yourself forward. The closer to the top you hold, the better your momentum. To shoot, you slide your hand down the handle closer to the blade and flick your wrist.
Turning: This is much like paddling a canoe – to go left you push with just the right stick, to go right you push with just the left stick.
Stopping: To stop, you dig the teeth into the ice or for the all-important emergency stop you cross your sticks under the sled and dig the teeth in hard. It makes a rather unpleasant sound to do it but is very effective in stopping quickly.
Falling and getting back up: Expect to tip over as you are learning. Since you are so close to the ice, it doesn’t hurt at all. To get yourself up – remember the tipping over part – you use your hands or sticks to push yourself up and get the blades back on the ice. To shoot, you slide your hand down the stick and hold near the teeth and shoot.
Women’s Sledge Hockey of Canada has some excellent video clips highlighting a number of skills and drills – various types of passes, turns, stops and starts. Check them out here as you prepare to give sledge a try. The clips are a great resource for coaches as well.
With our protective gear on, and brief how-to instructions complete, Tina and I headed to the dressing room just as the game finished up. As the players came into the room, it was obvious they left everything out on the ice…not one dry head in the room. The atmosphere was abuzz with energy and we couldn’t wait to get out there. We picked out our sleds, were given two sticks and got ourselves strapped in. A few volunteers helped push us onto the ice and away we went. This is our view from the sled as newbies.
Several of the sledge players stayed on to help us newbies. They were so enthusiastic and happy to share their knowledge with us – it was amazing to see their love for this sport and how much they wanted us to enjoy it as well.
Right off the bat, I was surprised by how much speed you could get from just one push. Pretty quickly, I was propelled forward using both sticks to push. This wasn’t too hard so far. Then I decided to try turning – remembering the sled responds like a canoe. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I tipped over almost instantly trying to move to the right – steering a canoe isn’t really my forte either. Laughing to myself – or at myself – I pushed up with both hands and got the sled and blades on the ice again.
There were pucks and balls all around the ice so next up was shooting. I headed towards a puck and slid my hand down the stick to take a shot but not before I tipped over again and this time right into the boards. That one-handed maneuvering was proving to be a little bit tricky. Back up I got and then one of the Team Ontario gals came over to give me some tips. She said not to worry about the tipping over – mastering the balance comes easier when the blades are closer together. She showed me how to shoot – from a standstill position – which worked much better for me. Hand out from the hip and give the wrist a little flick. She was awesome – raising the puck – top shelf every time. Me – not so much. The pucks seemed so much heavier than I was used to – the shorter stick was going to take some getting used to.
We had lots of time to shoot around, stop, start, tip over and get back up. It didn’t take long before I was getting the hang of the stopping and starting. But the turning was just not coming to me. There was a lot to think about all at once – holding your stick to move, holding your stick to shoot, maneuvering without tipping – most certainly a bit of a learning curve.
All the while the Team Ontario players were very attentive, making sure to give us lots of tips and encouragement as we raced around the ice. A few players showed us how to get up speed and do a hockey stop in the sled. That move was going to take a lot more practice to master for sure. They were so impressive as they whipped their sleds around.
Next, we split into teams of three for a bit of a scrimmage. We played across the ice and had to shoot at and hit a pylon to score. The scrimmage added a whole other element of fun to the experience. The two refs that officiated the Ontario – Quebec game were giving it a try too – one on my team and the other on the opposing team. They were so into it. With the added level of competition, it wasn’t long before I did my first wheelie. I was on my back with feet in the air. Getting out of that was not in the how-to briefing. Again, a Team Ontario player came to my rescue with a huge smile on her face helping me out of my predicament. They make it all look so easy. Next time I think I am ready to try a sled with the blades a little closer together. And there for sure is going to be a next time.
Before trying sledge, I had a strong admiration for the athletes playing. Now having seen how tricky it is to keep your sled upright on the ice, play the puck, and stop on a dime I have a huge respect for the abilities of these athletes. And I was so impressed by how much they wanted to share their expertise and their love for the game with others. A tremendous experience that I would highly recommend – and I am already looking forward to my next opportunity to get out there and try it again.
I discovered the game of hockey in my late 30’s and quickly became a lover of all things hockey. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to give sledge hockey a try and particularly excited to be mentored by the top female sledge hockey athletes in the country.
My heart beat with excitement from the very first push onto the ice. It was like being pushed down a toboggan hill on a sled – only you can use your sticks and the edges of the blades on your sled to control where you were going and how fast you are going.
We started by watching demonstrations by the very talented National Women’s Sledge team as they whipped with speed down the ice, used their edges to turn, carried the puck and shot on net. As a visual learner, this was key to picking up the basics.
Elite para-athletes from across Canada were encouraging, instructing and inspiring us for almost an entire hour creating a real sense of warmth and community. The ice quickly became a place where you could race, turn, fall and get back at it with absolutely no intimidation factor at all.
Within no time, we were chasing down opponents, defending, stealing the puck and shooting in a game. What an adrenaline rush!
I was disappointed to hear the sound of the Zamboni buzzer, calling us off the ice. Having the basics under my belt, I am determined to get back out and give it another try. In the meantime, I’ll continue to watch our new National Team friends as they battle it out on the ice.
Women’s Sledge Hockey of Canada would love for you to come out and give this sport a try. There are provincial programs that will help you to get started. Find a try-it program in your community.
Follow the National Women’s Sledge team. Don’t miss out on a chance to see these women play at an event near you.
Find the Women's Sledge Hockey of Canada and the Central York Girls Hockey Association in our Athlete Advisor – your online business directory for all things active. Rate and review your favourite sledge hockey club, program or camp. See what others have to say about the ones in your community.
Find or start a group or event. Organize a try sledge event. Visit our SWSCD Hub.
Explore fresh thinking, inspiring articles and advice on sledge hockey under our Ice Hockey activity page.
Join our SWSCD Women's ParAmazing Circle. Find more details on our SWSCD Women's Circles here and head to our ParAmazing Circle activity page to find stories, info and more.
Share your story about sledge hockey – whether you are just trying it for the first time or are a seasoned pro – directly on our Discover blog or by using #seewhatshecando in your social media posts. We want to hear how you DO.
Written by Judy Coultes-MacLeod and Tina Finelli.
Judy loves to share her view of the world from her keyboard – most often with a dose of tongue in cheek humour. When she is not using her mom spidey-sense to juggle the hockey, basketball, rugby, soccer and work schedules of a family of five, Judy may be at the gym in spin class, walking the pooch, playing hockey, or skiing.
Tina is a Canadian-bred storyteller and Co-Founder of SeeWhatSheCanDo. Lover of all things outdoors, Tina's happy place is surrounded by forest, water, and mountains. In moments when she isn't moving outdoors, crossfitting or playing hockey, you'll find her watching her daughters on the dance floor or playing hockey, reading a book, or cooking up a storm.
Photos by Caroline Wiley. Caroline bridged her 20+ years of professional experience in the sport and recreation industry together with her passions for photography and supporting women in sport to create SeeWhatSheCanDo. Her vision is to create a welcoming space where active women find a sense of belonging within a local community, see themselves in authentic and awe-inspiring ways and find resources to help them be their best active selves.
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