Sledge Hockey: Can Team Canada Catch Team USA?

The fierce rivalry between Team Canada and Team USA is alive and well in the Paralympic sport of sledge hockey. If you haven’t seen a game yet, sledge hockey made its debut at the Lillehammer Paralympic Winter Games in 1994. The sport is fast-paced, highly physical and played by war-veterans and other male and female athletes with a physical impairment in the lower part of the body.

Here are some highlights from the last Paralympic tilt between Team Canada and Team USA in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

What is Sledge Hockey?

Sledge Hockey follows all of the same rules as set by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) with just a few modifications. Instead of skates, players skate on double-bladed sledges and maneuver down the ice with their arms, using two sticks which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting the puck.

It’s a demanding game with Team Canada, Team USA, Team Russia, Team Japan and Team Norway all typically battling for world supremacy. However, as the sport grows, more and more international teams are showing they are on the rise.

The 2016-17 Season

This year, Team U.S.A. enters the new season with five consecutive international tournament victories under their belt and there’s a big push from Team Canada to bring that streak to a halt. Most fans expected some changes on the 2016-17 roster but when the new group was announced it demonstrated a new commitment to an entirely new philosophy based on some bold tactical changes focused on speed and youth. Ken Babey, Team Canada’s head coach, highlighted the importance of the selection camp when discussing his players.

[quote_center author=”Team Canada Coach Ken Babey”]In the end, all of them will take away some level of growth and development from the experience. And for the nineteen who were selected to represent Canada as part of the National Sledge Team, I want them to take a few days to enjoy this hard-won accomplishment before we resume our preparation for this season’s events.[/quote_center]

Perhaps the biggest move on the Team Canada roster is the transition of Brad Bowden from winger to defense for the upcoming season. It’s a surprise because Bowden has long been one of the world’s top playmaking forwards typically playing on a line with team captain, Greg Westlake and experienced veteran Billy Bridges.

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Sledge hockey was first played in Medicine Hat, AB in 1994. (Photo courtesy Paul Walsh, Flickr)

This move signals a more of a focus on speed from the defensive core to add to the great skating ability and puck skill of defender and key playmaker, Adam Dixon. In addition, Team Canada have brought in speedy teenagers James Dunn and Zach Savage, both rookies born in 2000, to their nineteen-member squad.

These two rookies will join a youthful group that includes defenders Rob Armstrong, Tyrone Henry and Kevin Sorley who are all in their early twenties along with forwards, Dominic Cozzolino, Ben Delaney and Tyler McGregor. Westlake resumes his role as team captain since the 2011-12 season and McGregor, Dixon and forward Bryan Sholomicki will split duties as assistants.

The team will hold a preparation camp next month in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, ahead of the Dec. 4-10 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Team USA Roster

Sled Hockey keeps growing (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Sled Hockey is growing in the USA thanks largely to its Wounded Warrior program for U.S. veterans. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a more business as usual approach for Team USA as they prepare for the 2016-17 season. Their group will include 14 veterans from last year’s team that won the 2016 World Sledge Hockey Challenge and the 2016 Pan-Pacific Championship in Buffalo, New York.

“The competition at tryouts this past weekend was tremendous and demonstrated the fact that clubs across the country are doing an excellent job developing quality players,” said Dan Brennan, director of inline and sled hockey for USA Hockey and the general manager of the 2016-17 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. “While the depth we have made finalizing our rosters was difficult, we’re excited about the players chosen to represent the United States this upcoming season.”

On the Team USA roster, only forward Noah Grove and defenseman Jack Wallace will be making their national team debuts as their season also begins at the upcoming World Sledge Hockey Challenge in December.

George Kingston Signs on as Head of Development

In other news, the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Sport Technical Committee (STC) has appointed legendary Canadian coach and former NHL bench boss George Kingston as its Head of Development.

Kingston, is a former head coach of the San Jose Sharks who also had assistant coaching stints with the Calgary Flames, Minnesota North Stars, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers. He also coached the Canadian national men’s hockey team to their first World Championships gold in more than 30 years in 1994. Among many of his duties, Kingston will train aspiring sledge hockey players on and off the ice to help them with stick-handling, skating and in improving their physical fitness.