Sledge Hockey on the Rise in Britain
The 2014 Winter Paralympics begin on Friday, with sledge hockey set to be a popular event in Sochi.
Interest in sledge hockey has grown in Great Britain over the past few years; with the national side aiming to qualify for the next Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang, and the British Sledge Hockey League set to expand to 9 teams this season, when Sheffield SteelKings join the league.
I caught up with British Sledge Hockey Association Chairman Matt Lloyd to learn more about the sport, and its expansion in the UK.
We started by talking about the differences between ice hockey and sledge hockey – but the reality is the two sports are not as different as some may expect. Aside from using a sledge instead of skates, and an extra stick to move around the ice, Lloyd quickly explained the other differences between the two variants.
“None! Zip! Zilch! Although admittedly we can’t skate backwards, which means we’re rely on anticipation more than able bodied hockey”
And it really is that simple. Whilst special adapted sledges and an additional stick may make sledge hockey seem different, the other equipment used is exactly the same as for ice or inline hockey.
Sledge Hockey is also full contact sport, and the rules are the same as you’d see in any other hockey game – with a couple of minor additions to allow for the different equipment.
Like ice hockey, Canada and Team USA are among the favourites to take gold in Sochi; but Lloyd explained the development of sledge hockey programmes around the world somewhat differs from the ‘traditional’ view that the top ice hockey nations also dominate sledge hockey as well.
“That is slightly simplistic. The top sides tend to be the ones that have hosted Paralympic games.”
Sweden and hosts Russia will also battle it out for Paralympic glory, but 2006 hosts Italy and Norway both qualified and 2018 hosts South Korea will be looking to raise the profile of the sport ahead of the next Winter Paralympics.
Team GB (@GBSledgeHockey) missed out on their initial target of qualifying for these Paralympics; but as Lloyd, who represented Team GB at the Turin games in 2006, explains – things are heading in the right direction.
“It’s still a work in progress. We’ve got some great players coming through and a world class coach.” he said, adding “2014 was always, in reality a stretch target. However if you don’t aim high you won’t achieve – if you aim for the stars, if you fail you’ll still land on the moon.”
Lloyd’s passion for the sport and ambition are infectious, and he hopes the BSHL can expand further in the near future.
“We keep trying to move into Scotland, however the Scottish Ice Hockey Association have been less than supportive. We did put a number of sledges and kit into a rink, but no one took it forward.”
It’s not all ‘doom and gloom’ North of the border, and Lloyd is confident they are only a small step away from a successful programme in Scotland, and Ireland, as well.
“If we could secure ice time and a coach we could put a strong programme together. There is a sledge hockey programme in Northern Ireland, put they haven’t chosen to engage with the BSHA, however this could change if the rink in southern Ireland reopens.”
With the expansion the BSHA has already overseen, the future appears bright for the sport within the UK. I finished by asking Lloyd where he hoped sledge hockey would be in 10 years time.
“In ten years’ time I would expect to see a team at every English full sized rink and talking about medalling in 2026. I’d also hope for a women’s team. ”
As always with Lloyd, it’s ambitious but also incredibly simple when it all boils down.
One thing is for sure, if anyone can help guide Great Britain to sledge hockey success, it is Matt Lloyd.
You can learn more about sledge hockey in Great Britain, including how to get involved, information on the BSHL teams and some great introductory videos and articles on sledge hockey, on the BSHA official website – www.sledgehockey.co.uk
And you can follow all the action from Sochi both online at www.paralympic.org/ice-sledge-hockey and on Channel 4.
Thanks to Matt for his time. You can follow him on Twitter: @SledgeWomble