Overall it’s been a pretty good year for sledge hockey, so I thought I’d do a bit of a recap.
February saw the annual World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Leduc, Alberta. After Canada won the previous challenge in 2013, this was USA’s turn to take home the gold medal. In a dramatic final game between USA and Russia, it was Josh Pauls who became the hero with his wrist shot just 19 seconds into the overtime period that netminder Evgeny Plotnikov just couldn’t stop.
One of my personal favourite tournaments, the Malmo Open, also took part in February. Seven club-level teams from across Europe participated in the multi-sport tournament with Oslo Tigers and Bremer Pirates taking the gold-medal game all the way to a thrilling shoot-out final. Oslo eventually won with three of their players (Rolf Pedersen, Audun Bakke and Knut Nordstoga) listed as the top points leaders.
In March, attention turned to Östersund in Sweden, where the IPC World Championships B-Pool was taking place. South Korea swept the board of the round-robin tournament, winning all five of their games. Despite not winning a single game at the tournament, Austria’s netminder, Michael Ossimitz was named Best Netminder, in part because of his amazing 158 saves over 5 games. Austria were relegated to the new C-Pool tournament for next season, while Korea and Sweden were promoted to A-Pool.
At the end of April, it was the IPC World Championships A-Pool, where USA were hoping to complete their trifecta of gold medals (along with their golds from World Sledge Hockey Challenge and the Paralympic Winter Games). With the home-ice advantage in Buffalo, USA found themselves facing Canada once more in the gold-medal game. Netminder Steve Cash made some fantastic saves, while Declan Farmer, Dan McCoy and Josh Pauls combined to shut out their rivals and take home the medal.
There were a few quieter months, with teams regrouping, training and participating in league events around the world. But November started up and was a big month for North American sledge hockey, with two big club-level tournaments.
The Cruisers Cup took place in Brampton, Ontario, and featured 25 adult teams and 11 junior teams, as well as a three-game head-to-head between USA and Canada Women’s teams. Winners in each division were KW Elite (A-Div), Team Quebec (B-Div), Kawartha Blazers (C-Div), Durham Steelhawks (Junior 1), Windsor Ice Bullets (Junior 2) and Team Canada (Women’s).
Across the border, the USA Hockey 2015 Sled Classic was taking place. With 20 teams participating, each representing an NHL team, it was a 4-day event that took place in Coral Springs, Florida. Split across four tiers, the Florida Panthers (Tier I), Columbus Blue Jackets (Tier II), Arizona Coyotes (Tier III) and the Buffalo Sabres (Tier IV) were the big winners of the tournament.
In December, Europe hosted an IPC International Tournament, featuring Canada, South Korea, Norway and host nation Italy. While Canada were the clear winners, conceding only two goals throughout the tournament, Italy impressed their home-ice supporters with their performance, and took the silver medal.
A huge boost for sledge hockey in general came from an unexpected source – Labatt Beer. Along with hockey expert John Buccigross, they began an initiative that would raise $250,000 and launch 10 new adult sled hockey programs across the USA. In addition, specially designed cans and packs of Labatt Blue and Labatt Blue Light now feature sled hockey players in a bid to raise awareness of the sport. When their new commercial began running on TV [watch it on YouTube!], people started to notice…
Normally a PBR man, but this hockey season I’ll be switching to Labatt to bring awareness and some $ to US Sled Hockey. #PassItForward
— Jim Byrne (@wearejimbyrne) November 5, 2015
— Tyler Ball (@Bufsledhockey4) November 18, 2015
— Getting Schwifty (@jmart2530) November 19, 2015
Another boost to the sport was when the 2015 US National Sled Hockey Team were named the Paralympic Team of the Year at the Team USA Awards. In addition to the team award, 18 year old team member, Declan Farmer, was a finalist in the Paralympic Male Athlete of the Year category.
With all of this excitement, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 2016 might be a little quieter. But there is still plenty to look forward to, with the World Sledge Hockey Challenge starting at the end of January, and the 40th anniversary games at the Malmo Open, along with tournaments across the world. There’s also the IPC World Championships C-Pool (details to be confirmed), and – I believe – an IPC European Championships!
Comment and let me know what your favourite moments are from the 2015 Sledge Hockey year! And here’s to a fantastic 2016!