Today I went to my first sledge hockey game and it was awesome…
(Please excuse the crappy photo, I only had my phone and was taking photos through the glass)
Seriously though, I enjoyed myself far more than I thought I would. The teams were fantastic, with lots of goals (okay, so maybe they were a little one sided, with the Kestrels winning 7-1, but still fun), and a lot of speed, skill and determination. Despite being in a sledge, the hits seem just as hard as regular hockey, with more than one of them leaving me wincing in sympathy.
The rules are almost identical to IIHF hockey rules, with a few exceptions, so it’s easy to follow, but the style of play is rather different. Board battles are still the same, but there is a lot more passing and bouncing the puck off the boards than I expected. Because it’s hard to build up speed in a sledge while controlling the puck (the sticks are also the means of propelling themselves on the ice), there are less breakaways, and more long passes.
There were two big things that I noticed about the game though.
The first was the clear difference in skill levels between the Team GB players and the others. Not that the non-international players were bad, at all (hell, the fact that they’re on the team means they’re pretty damn good), but the GB players were a step above the rest. The goals in the game were scored by Matt Clarkson (Kestrels, 3 goals), Ian Warner (Kestrels, 3 goals), Matt Woollias (Kestrels, 1 goal) and Karl Nicholson (Phoenix, 1 goal). All four of them are Team GB players. Everyone was great to watch, but those guys really stood out for me.
The second thing I noticed made me sad. There were only a tiny amount of supporters there, and I strongly suspect that most of them were family and friends of the players. In fact, when I mentioned to someone that I was there and didn’t already know one of the players, they seemed almost shocked. So, fair warning. I’m going to continue to promote sledge hockey on my blog and my twitter. I’ll keep promoting it until it’s no longer needed (so probably for a fair while yet). It’s a fantastic sport, and close enough to regular hockey that if you’re a hockey fan, you’ll enjoy this too.
For me, personally, one of the other endearing fact about the sport is that the players and teams are so happy to interact on social media. Having players favourite my tweets, or retweet me makes me happy. It makes me more likely to keep tweeting and talking about them, and it makes me feel like they actually want me there at the games. I’m a big believer in the power of social media in any case, but this is proving my point again. Both the Kestrels and the Phoenix have been so friendly towards me on twitter, it just makes me want to support them more.
Oh, and while I wasn’t sure which team to support at the start, I think it’s going to be Kingston. Two hat tricks in my first game pretty much seals the deal – unless Manchester can pull out something spectacular for their next game against Peterborough on June 14th. For those who want to watch Kingston play, their next game is May 24th against Cardiff.
So, in conclusion, sledge hockey is awesome, and you should all go watch a game or three.