We all know that traditional ice hockey is a physically demanding sport — but there may be a sport that’s even more strenuous and challenging. That sport is called sled hockey, a version of ice hockey that is played by athletes who have a physical disability.
Sled hockey was developed in the early 1960s by group of Swedish hockey players at a physical rehab center who still wanted to play their sport on ice, despite physical limitations. They developed a sport that is very similar to ice hockey in rules and slightly different in equipment — and since its invention, it’s become one of the most rigorous and competitive sports in the world. To learn more about sled hockey, check out the five facts I find most important below.
We all know the goal of both traditional stand-up hockey, and the goal of sled hockey is the same: get the puck in the competitor’s goal. Periods of both are also 20 minutes in length, and sled hockey is played on the same size regulation rink as stand-up hockey — with the same size nets and pucks. Like in stand-up hockey games, there are six players for each team on the ice at once.
Instead of two ice skates, sled hockey players sit on a sled that has two hockey skate blades. They are strapped into the sled for stability. Each player holds two sticks, and they can use the sticks, which have metal picks on the butt, to move themselves around on the ice.
Make no mistake: just because sled hockey players sit on a sled does not mean that they’re not exceptional athletes. The sport is extremely rigorous and intense (and highly competitive), and it’s often called by its nickname: “Murder Ball on Ice.” Despite physical disabilities, Sled Hockey allows athletes who are strong and passionate about their sport (deemed “Ice Warriors” in a recent PBS documentary) to enjoy competition and take advantage of their impressive skills. I often find myself beyond impressed with these exceptional athletes’ capabilities.
Because sled hockey players are outstanding athletes, they can compete at a professional, national level. Many NHL teams have affiliated sled hockey teams, and each year since 2010, more than 20 come together to compete in the USA Hockey Sled Classic — a round-robin format tournament. The 2017 sled classic will be held in Minneapolis, MN.
Even though many Americans aren’t close followers of the sport, there’s one thing we all should know: the U.S. National Men’s Sled Hockey team is really good. In the most recent winter Paralympic Games in Sochi (2014), the USA team took home gold after facing off with Russia in the championship game.