“There it is! Get it, Sharks! Get it!” shouted a fan standing just off the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington recently, watching kids on the D.C. Sled Sharks compete against the New York Sled Rangers.
“Get it out of there!” another fan yelled.
With a boom, two skaters collided and hit the boards, or the rink wall. But the play didn’t stop, and the kids continued to hustle to get into position, pass and score.
It may sound like any other ice hockey game, complete with checking, meaning a player can use his body to try to take the puck away from his opponent. But this is a different kind of hockey called sled hockey, and most of the kids who play have a disability that limits the use of their legs.
“I heard about [sled hockey], and at the time I couldn’t play any sports, so I really wanted to try it and I liked it,” said Alex Green, a fourth-grader at Gravely Elementary School in Haymarket who lost full use of his legs because he has cancer. He loved the game from the start and has been playing for two years.
“I like that it’s competitive,” Alex said.
Six players from each team are on the ice at a time, sitting in sleds that have blades on the bottom. They move around the ice by using two sticks with spikes at one end. (Goalies use only one stick.) Players use the other end of the sticks to hit the puck. The game requires balance, stick-handling skills and upper-body strength. (Some kids, because of their disability or lack of strength, are allowed to have an adult push them on the ice.)
“It’s challenging trying to score goals and trying to catch up with the other fast players on the team,” Alex said.
Sled hockey, or sledge hockey as it’s known outside the United States, started in the 1960s in Sweden, a country in Northern Europe. In 1994, it became a sport in the Paralympics, which is a worldwide athletic competition for disabled athletes. The 2014 Paralympics started on Friday in Sochi, Russia, and will run through Sunday. Sled hockey is one of the most popular of the five Winter Paralympic sports.
Kids have also become interested. D.C. Sled Sharks started in 2007. Today, 12 girls and boys, ages 6 to 19, skate on the team, competing against six other teams on the East Coast, from September to March. This weekend they will compete in the league finals in Pennsylvania.
“You got time! Backhand! Go, Connor!” shouted Sled Sharks coach Mike Pool as Connor Delaney, a sixth-grader at Wakefield Forest Elementary School in Fairfax, faced the opposing goal and whacked the puck. Connor watched as it sailed into the goal.
“Woohoo!” the crowd cheered and clapped.
The Sled Sharks won the game, 6-3.
Then the two teams lined up in the middle of the ice and gave each other high-fives. “It feels good to just get on the ice and skate,” Alex said. “It unleashes your inner core of hockey.”
Paralympic Winter Games
What: United States vs. Russia
When: Tuesday at 3 p.m.
What channel: NBCSN
What: Gold-medal match
When: Saturday at 1 p.m.
What channel: NBC
Youth sled hockey
For information on getting involved with the D.C. Sled Sharks, e-mail Joan Joyce, who works for MedStar National Rehabilitation Network adaptive sports/sled hockey in Washington, at email@example.com.
To learn about the league, visit the Delaware Valley Hockey League Web site: dvhlsled.stats.pointstreak.com. Always ask a parent before going online.