Hamilton sledge hockey group always looking for players
Mike Cavanagh and Owen Taylor love getting out on the ice at the Chedoke Twin Pad Arena.
Both are members of the Hamilton Sledgehammers, part of the Hamilton and District Sledge Hockey Association.
“I can’t play stand-up hockey because of my legs,” said 22-year-old Cavanagh who has cerebral palsy and plays defence on the Sledgehammers intermediate team. “I get to look forward to something twice a week.”
The west Mountain rink has been home to sledge hockey since the mid ‘90s.
“Get on your butts and play” is their slogan.
Sledge hockey is played on specially designed sleds with runners.
Players, who are strapped into the sleds, wear full equipment and get around by pushing themselves along the ice using the spike ends of the shortened hockey sticks they carry in each hand.
Most players have a physical or mental challenge that prevents them from playing regular ice hockey.
“I like getting on the ice and getting exercise,” said 12-year-old Taylor, who has been playing mostly defence with the Sledgehammers’ development or junior team for the past seven years. “My job is to knock the puck from (opposing players).”
Last spring Cavanagh resident played sledge hockey at the Ontario Para-Sport Games and Taylorsaid his goal is to one day move up to a higher level of sledge hockey which is a Para-Olympic sport.
Dave Kisel president of the Hamilton and District Sledge Hockey Association said they are always looking for new players, physically challenged or not.
“At the developmental level any player can come and play sledge hockey until they reach a certain level or proficiency (and move up to intermediate),” Kisel said.
Most of the developmental players range in age from 7-20 while the minimum age for intermediate play is 16.
There are 14 players on the intermediate team and 25 on the developmental squad.
Some are people who used to play ice hockey but are no longer physically able to.
Sledge hockey rules pretty much mirror ice hockey rules.
Each side ices five players and a goalie and Kisel noted there is body contact at the intermediate level, although players are not permitted to ram their sleds into each other in T-bone fashion.
“The spirit of the sport give people with varying degrees of disability the hockey experience,” he said. “It’s absolutely fun, but the players have the same competitive drive as any other player would when they step onto the ice.”
Kisel said there are twice a week practices plus as many as 20 games per season against teams from outside Hamilton, including playoffs and tournaments.
The Sledgehammers also play exhibition games against ice hockey clubs to give ice hockey players a chance to experience sledge hockey.
Over the years they have faced off against the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs and some junior and rep boy’s and girl’s teams.
Kisel said there is a $425 registration fee to play sledge hockey each year.
The association provides the sleds and sticks and players are responsible for the rest of their equipment.
Kisel said a basic sled costs $600 and they can run upwards of $1,000 and the association provides free use of a sled to anyone who wants to try the sport.
See: hamiltonsledgehammers.ca for more information.