An Overview of Sled Hockey for Wheelchair Users

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

It is played under similar rules to standard ice hockey, but some differences include players being seated on specially designed sleds that sit on top of two hockey skate blades and using 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 but wear modified gloves with metal picks that are sewn into the backside to allow the goalie to maneuver.

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Who Can Participate in Sled Hockey?

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

Adapted Rinks in Sled Hockey

Not only do hockey players use adapted equipment when playing the sport, but they also play in an adapted rink. 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 adapted 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.

Benefits of Playing Sled Hockey

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

Sled Hockey Competitions

Unlike most adaptive sports, sled hockey does not have a classification system that athletes need to go through before being able to play.
The International Paralympic Committee acts as the international sanctioning body for the sled hockey, under the name Para ice hockey, while in the United States, the national governing body of the sport is the United States Sled Hockey Association (USSHA). 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 getting involved in competing, many Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA) chapters offer sled hockey opportunities, as do other independent clubs across the country. However, if you cannot find a DSUSA chapter in your area, USA Hockey and the US Paralympics have sled hockey teams and programs all throughout the country. If you are a student, you may consider checking the University of New Hampshire, which offers winter sport athletes an opportunity to become student athletes.