Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Cold Steel on Ice

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Cold Steel on Ice

Article excerpt

The wing cuts away from a defender, fields a crossing pass, and fires a slap shot pasty the outstretched glove of the goalie for a score. Cold steel on ice, power plays, a crashing check into the boards, breakaway goals. This is an old-fashioned hockey game, eh? Well, yes, but with a twist: the players are all seated on ice-hockey sleds. The description above could just as easily describe the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Finals as it could the World Cup Sled Hockey Tournament. Sled hockey has emerged from relative obscurity to recognition as an international and Paralympic sport for persons with mobility impairments.

Established in Scandinavia several decades ago, hockey enthusiasts adapted crude, heavy snow sleds to play the first ice-hockey game form a seated position. "Sledge" is the Scandinavian word for sled. Today, however, sleds are constructed of lightweight materials, usually stainless steel or aluminum, and mounted or regulation ice-hockey skate blades. The average weight of today's sleds is 12-18 pounds. New designs weighing less than 10 pounds, utilizing composite materials, are also being tested and developed, much in the same manner that hockey skates continue to improve in weight and performance.

Sled hockey allows persons with disabilities, who are prevented from participating in regular standing ice hockey, to enjoy and benefit from a vigorous, physical team sport that some describe as a cross between ice skating, rugby, bumper cars, and ballet. Each player must have a permanent disability that would preclude him or her from playing regular competitive ice hockey.

To equalize team abilities and ensure equal participation by players with differing levels of disabilities, a classification system has determined three ability levels. In most competitions, team point total of players on the ice cannot exceed 14 points. Each level is assigned a point value as follows:

One point -- Players with no functional sitting balance or with major impairment of upper or lower limbs

Two points -- Players with functional sitting balance, impairment of limbs or the truck/hips, and serious sensory limitations

Three points -- Players with good sitting balance and minimal functional disabilities or only slight impairment of limbs or sensory perception.

In some programs -- especially juniors -- when there are not enough players with disabilities, or to promote integrated programming, able-bodied participants are allowed to play with a classification of three points.

When playing sled hockey, the athlete sits low to the ice, strapped to a sled. The sled is basically a tubular frame balanced on a pair of ice-hockey blades. The blades are positioned under the seat cushion at the player's center of gravity. The sled contacts the ice at three points: the two blades and a small runner "ski." At the front of the sled a bent portion of tubing forms the front runner. Effective balancing on the player's part creates minimal contact with the front runner, except when the player is leaning forward. Sled-hockey frames, like sport wheelchairs, come with 14- to 18-inch seat dimensions and can be customized to an individual's specifications. The frame is uniformly 18 inches wide with adjustable lengths form three to four feet. All sleds are built to be three-and-one-half inches off the ice. This standard guarantees that sleds will contact one another (frame-to-frame) during competition, and ensures that sleds will not spear the bodies of opponents. Sleds are checked and measured before a game to guarantee safe participation.

A seat cushion is mounted on the frame with a backrest of varying lengths to promote whatever upper-body support a player may require. Two straps secure the player to the sled. One is tightened around the seat of the sled and the player's waist; the second is placed over and under the sled frame at the ankles or the thighs (in the case of an amputee). …

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