Bruised ego and elbows — how I learned to love sledge hockey, the hard way

It’s all the same, but it’s also all different.

That’s the best way I can describe sledge hockey, as someone who spent years playing standup hockey.

Over the weekend, journalists were invited to share the ice with Paralympian Liam Hickey of St. John’s and members of the Avalon Sled Dogs, as some of the world’s best sledge hockey players prepare for an international tournament in Paradise.

I played a lot of sports as a kid, spent years on the ice and even played university-level soccer.

So when I was asked to try sledge hockey for the first time, it was a definite yes.

How hard could it be? I mean, I’ve had years of intense athletic training and I also spent a few hours beforehand watching YouTube tutorials.

Sitting here now with sore abs and bruised elbows, I am cringing at my overconfidence.

It’s hard.

Why had I been so confident? (Mike Simms/CBC)

Like I mentioned before, lots of things are the same as standup hockey. You need a helmet, gloves, a chest protector and other hockey equipment.

The smell of the arena is the same, the chill in the air is the same and the banter in the dressing room is the same.

Obviously, there are also some differences, the main one being that instead of your legs holding you upright and doing the work, sledge hockey comes down to how strong your core and arms are.

Potato bug

Liam Hickey’s dad, Todd, who didn’t stop smiling the entire practice, held the sled as I climbed in.

Scooch your butt to the very back of the seat and tighten the straps around your thighs as tight as possible, were his instructions.

“You’re going to be fine,” Todd Hickey said, noticing my growing concern. 

Members of the media and the Avalon Sled Dogs took to the ice Saturday afternoon. (NL Sledge/Twitter)

I picked up a hockey stick — which is half the size of a regular stick — in each hand. Each one has a sharp pick at one end and curved blade at the other.

I dug the picks into the ice, just enough to slowly start gliding forward on the two sharp blades that are attached to the bottom of the sled I am sitting on. 

Only three strides in, I lost my balance and the next thing you know I’m tipped over, lying on the ice.

I felt like a potato bug, but in reverse.

Embarrassed, I tried to pick myself up, but my arm strength was no match for the weight of my lower body attached to the sled.

Liam Hickey makes it look so easy. His blades are even closer together than the blades I was using, making it even tougher to balance. (Mike Simms/CBC)

Like the big, bad, tough athlete I am, I mumbled a bad word under my breath. Then, pushing with all my might, I once again found myself upright.

Nursing my now bruised elbow, I forced myself to pick my head up in order to see any oncoming traffic. That’s when I noticed Liam Hickey.

Liam Hickey, a missile

He was skating from one end of the rink to the other at a speed I didn’t think was possible.

He stopped on a dime, like you would on skates, at about centre ice and proceeded to hammer a puck so hard it hit the glass over the back of the net.

He was like a missile, the hockey sticks and sled just a part of his body. 

Maybe more spectacular than watching Liam play is watching the faces of the other kids as he plays.

He knows he has the power to change what people think they’re capable of, and he takes that role seriously.

That’s why he’s looking forward to the tournament, which runs Dec. 1-7 at the Paradise Double Ice Complex. He wants others to see the athleticism for themselves. 

“Hosting big tournaments like this in a smaller province like Newfoundland does a lot for the sport.… I think people will get a real appreciation for it when they see it,” Hickey said after practice.

The sport was originally created to give those who have disabilities the opportunity to play hockey, but when you sit on the ice with the other athletes, the only thing you can think about is just playing the game.

It comes down to how fast you skate, how hard you shoot the puck and how quickly you get up when you fall.

These guys and girls are phenomenal athletes who play a really tough sport.

As for me, I am going to need some more practice and maybe some better elbow pads.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Bruised ego and elbows — how I learned to love sledge hockey, the hard way

Aggregated from: CBC | Newfoundland and Labrador News

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