As the Paralympic Winter Games get set to kick off the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team prepares to get on the ice, the excitement could not be higher. The players have been preparing hard to represent the United States in the only disabled hockey discipline in the Paralympics.
A sport in the Games since 1994 in Lillehammer, it has gained more notoriety, especially in the U.S., since 2002 when the team won its first gold medal. It has since gone on to win a bronze in 2006 and the past three gold medals while chasing an unprecedented fourth-straight gold in Beijing.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the sport, five veteran members of the team give you a breakdown of some of the key elements of sled hockey.
“The sled is the most important piece of equipment,” said U.S. captain, Josh Pauls, who is set to compete in his fourth games. Contrary to some thinking, no two sleds are the same. There is not a uniform sled for every player, but rather, it is molded to each individual’s specifications.
The metal frame has two blades underneath that allow players to carve into the ice like stand-up hockey, and it is important that every player gets a good feel for their sled.
“There are ratchet straps that are used on a lot of snowboards, and we tighten them down to our preference.”
One of the most unique aspects on sled hockey is the set of sticks. Similar to a sled, each individual player will cut their sticks down to their own preferences. The general rule of thumb for a stand-up hockey player is to make the stick length come between the players’ chin and nose. Kevin McKee says that rule is no different in sled hockey. What is different are the picks that are attached to the butt end of the stick.
“The angles we use on the picks are not too far down, but you want to make sure the bottom doesn’t hit the ice. You have to find a happy medium.”
McKee explains more in this video.
It’s been established that the sticks must be cut to length and are created differently than a stand-up hockey stick. Jack Wallace goes on to explain that there are even more intricacies regarding the sticks.
“One thing that is unique is that there are two forehands and two backhands,” he said. “You actually have more shooting options than a stand-up player.”
However, he said, a player must also be in tune on whether or not they need to use their sticks to shoot, pass, or propel themselves forward. All of this is thought about within split seconds on the ice.
A sled hockey goalie is one of the most important players on the ice for a number of different reasons. One of the differences you’ll see between a sled hockey goalie and a stand-up hockey goalie is their goalie gear set up.
As Jen Lee explains, each goaltender varies in their set up. In general, you will see a goalie glove with track and field spikes glued to the outside of the glove. This allows them to use that grip the ice and push from side to side. Among other intricacies is the choice to either use a leg pad or not.
“I have a leg pad on, and it’s a matter of preference. I have played without it before, some people do and some people don’t.” He explains more in this video.
A question that is asked about sled hockey a lot is “Are the rules the same?” It is a valid question since the game is played in two different styles between sled hockey and stand-up hockey.
In general, the rules are the same. Aside from no backward skating, it is full contact, full speed and has all of the same rules. Brody Roybal explains that there is one pivotal rule that is added to sled hockey to enhance player safety.
“The one different rule is called ‘T-boning,” he said. He explains more in this video.
For fans new, old and everywhere in between, there is a lot to be excited about as the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team goes for gold in Beijing. Sit back, relax and enjoy some incredible sled hockey from these elite athletes.