Sledge hockey is the Paralympic version of ice hockey. It is fast-paced, highly physical, and played by athletes with a physical disability in the lower part of the body. Sledge hockey is an extremely exciting game for players and spectators and is currently played in 20 countries. To date, Canada, Norway, the USA, and Sweden have dominated international competitions, although strength is growing among other national teams.
Since its debut on the Paralympic program at the 1994 Lillehammer Paralympic Winter Games, sledge hockey has continued to grow in popularity, becoming one of the biggest attractions for spectators at the Paralympic Winter Games.
Sledge hockey has essentially the same rules as ice hockey. The first set of international rules were created in 1990. They were drafted from Canadian rules, with the main modifications involving the athletes’ abilities and equipment. While usually played by all male teams, this year the IPC approved an entry provision to allow qualified teams for the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games to enter female athletes onto their roster.
All players are required to have standardized ice sledge hockey equipment as per the guidelines set by the IHEC (Ice Hockey Executive Committee). Instead of wearing skates, each player sits strapped to a two-blade sledge that is raised high enough to allow the puck to pass beneath. Players also use two 75cm long hockey sticks, with spikes on one end and blades on the other. The spike is used to propel the sledge across the ice while the slightly curved blade is used to handle the puck. The goaltender may have an additional pick at the base end of his stick and may use an additional stick with a blade or a trapper glove with teeth.
Similar to ice hockey, each team has six players on the ice, including the goaltender. Teams are comprised of a maximum 15 male players per team, including two goaltenders. Games consist of three 15-minute stop-time periods. Each team attempts to outscore its opponent by shooting the puck (a hard rubber disc) across the ice and into the opposing team's goal while preventing the opposing team from scoring.
Sledge hockey is governed by the IPC through the International Paralympic Ice Hockey Committee. It follows the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) with a few modifications. The National Sport Federation for sledge hockey is Hockey Canada
To participate in IPC competitions and sanctioned events (i.e. Paralympic Winter Games), athletes must have an impairment of permanent nature in the lower part of the body of such a degree that it makes ordinary skating, and consequently ice hockey playing, impossible. Examples include amputation, spinal cord injury, joint immobility, cerebral palsy and leg shortening of at least 7cm and "les autres."
Ice sledge hockey (also known as sled hockey in the United States) was invented in the early 1960s in Stockholm, Sweden at a rehabilitation center by men wanting to continue to play hockey despite their physical disabilities. Their design used two skate blades on a metal frame that allowed the puck to pass underneath. They completed the ensemble by including 2 round poles with bike handles for sticks. Although there are many restrictions to the measurements and weight of the sledges used in the Paralympic Games, little has changed from the original design to the ones that exist today.