Para ice hockey, also known as sledge hockey (or, in the United States, sled hockey), is a sport that was designed to allow participants who have a physical disability to play the game of ice hockey. Para ice hockey was invented in the early 1960s in Stockholm, Sweden, at a rehabilitation centre. It is currently one of the most popular sports in the Winter Paralympic Games.
The International Paralympic Committee, which serves as the international governing body for the sport, officially changed the sport's name to "Para ice hockey" effective 30 November 2016. The change, made at the request of the sport's community, was partly driven by the fact that the meaning of "sledge" differs between languages. Due to the fact that the 2016–17 international season had already started by the time of the rebranding, only the sport's world championship was immediately rebranded; a full rebranding will occur in time for the 2017–18 season.
Two men from Sweden designed the sledge for Para ice hockey in the 1960s because they wanted to continue to play hockey despite their physical disability. Their design included two skate blades on a metal frame that allowed the puck to pass underneath. They completed the ensemble by including two 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.
Despite the initial decline of interest after the invention of sledge hockey, competition between sledge hockey teams started up in 1971 that included five teams in Europe. In 1981, Great Britain established their first sledge hockey team, and that was shortly followed by Canada in 1982. It was not until 1990 that the United States developed their first ice sledge hockey team. Sledge hockey continued to expand when Estonia and Japan developed their teams in 1993. International ice sledge hockey became an official event in 1994 for the beginning of the Paralympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, with Sweden claiming the first gold medal for ice sledge hockey competition. In 1998 the following Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan, Norway won the gold medal as Canada and Sweden took the silver and bronze respectively. For the 2002 Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, the gold medal belonged to the United States with Norway and Sweden finishing second and third. The 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino, Italy, saw the gold medal go to Canada, silver to Norway, and bronze to the United States. In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, it was the first time the tournament was competed by mixed teams; teams were permitted to have female athletes on their rosters, previously having been only competed by men.
Essentially all of the regular ice hockey rules in able-bodied ice hockey leagues apply to Para ice hockey. The differences are those necessitated by the ice sledge and the athlete. The first set of international rules was created in 1990 and was drafted from Canadian rules. The only rule unique to Para ice hockey is Teeing-charging an opponent using any part of the front radius of the sled.
The entrance ways to the players’ benches and penalty benches from the ice are built flush with the playing ice so the players can access them without the help of a coach or able-bodied person. Additionally, the surface area inside the players’ benches and penalty benches are made of smooth plastic or ice, to avoid damage to the players’ sledges.
All players are required to have their Para ice hockey equipment follow the standard that has been set by HECC (the Hockey Equipment Certification Council Inc.), including their sledges, sticks, helmet, skates (if applicable), and other protective gear. The sticks for Para ice hockey players have a blade curved at one end in a manner similar to regular ice hockey, and generally six to eight metal teeth at the opposite end of the blade for maneuvering and propulsion. Movement is achieved by using the metal teeth as a means to grip the ice and push oneself forward. The metal teeth cannot be too pointy nor protrude farther than 1 cm beyond the stick, to prevent damage to the ice or injury of other players.
- Ice sledge hockey at the Winter Paralympics
- IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships
- IPC Ice Sledge Hockey European Championships
- British Sledge Hockey Association, the governing body for the sport in the U.K.
- USA Warriors, a sled hockey team consisting of combat-wounded U.S. soldiers
- Power hockey, electric wheelchair hockey
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