Category Archives: Sledge Hockey

Women’s Sledge Hockey Makes Its Mark

USA Women's Sled Team [Photo from USA Hockey]

USA Women’s Sled Team [Photo from USA Hockey]

Up until recently, for female sledge hockey players, their only opportunity to represent their country at an international level was as part of a men’s team that “allowed” female players to join them. However, very few women successfully managed this – there are only two currently listed on the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) website; Caroline Bonner from GB and Stine Frydenlund of Norway.

However, this month, something significant has changed in this respect.

Brampton Ontario is the home of the Cruisers Cup, an annual ice sledge hockey tournament open to teams from across North America. This year, the Cruisers Cup has an additional tournament happening alongside – the inaugural IPC Sledge Hockey International Women’s Cup.

This is the first time that women’s sledge hockey has been played at such a high level, and while there are only three teams competing this year, it is hopefully just the first time of many. The format of the event has the three teams – USA, Canada and Europe – play against each other twice in a round robin format. This is then followed by the playoffs in which the 2nd and 3rd place teams face each other, with the winner going through to play the 1st place team for a gold medal. This means that no matter the outcome of the round robin stage, it’s still possible for any of the three teams to win the gold.

The competition started off with the match-up that everyone wanted to see – Canada vs USA.   Both teams have extremely strong women’s teams, but two players stood out from the start. Kelsey Di Claudio and Erica Mitchell of USA combined to score all five goals in their first game, which ended with USA beating Canada 5-2.   Team Canada’s goals were scored by Ashley Goure (you’ll hear that name a lot in this review too!) and Corin Metzger.

There were three games each day, which meant all three teams playing twice. The luck of the draw meant that Canada went on to a second game a couple of hours later, this time facing the underdogs of the competition, Europe. Fielding a team of players from a number of countries, Europe fought their way hard through every game. Their first game had them scoring first from Annika Santanen but Ashley Goure followed soon after, netting the first goal for Canada. Another two from Goure, two from Corin Metzger and one each from Danica McPhee and Geneva Coulter finished the game 6-1 to Canada.

The third game of the day saw Europe in their back-to-back, now facing USA. Europe were unable to find the back of the net in this game, which saw USA finish with 9 goals, including four each for Erica Mitchell and Kelsey DiClaudio. The final goal of the game was scored by Robynne Hill.

Day two of the tournament had Europe against Canada again. Annika Santanen and Stine Frydenlund combined to score the three goals for Europe, including the only goal in the second period of the game. Ashley Goure, Geneva Coulter, Ally Godin and team captain Christina Picton came away with six between them to win the game for Canada.

USA and Canada lined up against each other for the fifth game of the tournament. It was clear how strong the rivalry was getting when you looked at the penalties on the game – the previous four games had only three penalties throughout; this game had five of them, including two which led to power play goals! Canada had suffered an unfortunate blow when Christina Picton was ruled out of the lineup with an injury. Despite this, Canada controlled the majority of the game, but couldn’t quite manage the win. Unsurprisingly, the same names appeared on the scoresheet for this game; Ashley Goure had a hat-trick for Canada, as did Kelsey DiClaudio for USA, with Morgan Hosbrough also scoring for USA.

The final game of the round robin stage saw USA and Europe facing each other once more.   Playing with only six skaters, Europe refused to give up. USA scored six goals before Europe managed to find the back of the net in the last few minutes of the game, thanks to Maren Norheim. Kelsey DiClaudio got herself another hat-trick, with the other goals scored by Nina Nissly and Susan Kluting, who scored two.

The results of the round robin meant that Canada and Europe battled against each other once more, fighting for the opportunity to compete in the gold medal game against USA. Closer than any of the previous games, Canada were boosted by the knowledge that their captain was returning to the ice. It took less than five minutes for the first goal, unassisted from Ashley Goure, but Europe held Canada back until the third period, when Goure scored her second of the game, cementing Canada’s advancement through to the final with a 2-0 win.

The gold medal game was as fast and furious as everyone hoped. No matter the hockey variation or the gender of the players, USA vs Canada is always going to be a fun game, and this was no different. USA dominated the scoring with Kelsey DiClaudio scoring three in the first period (although her first goal was originally credited to Erica Mitchell), and Erica scoring the fourth for the team. The second period was goal-free, despite a power play opportunity for USA after a holding penalty. Shortly into the third period, Canada had a power play chance, but couldn’t convert. A few minutes later, they had their own penalty to kill. USA failed to score on the power play, but an unassisted Kelsey DiClaudio goal followed. Canada managed to pull one back near the end of the game, thanks to Ashley Goure, but it wasn’t enough.

USA were undefeated throughout the tournament, in large part to DiClaudio and Mitchell, who teamed up for an amazing 24 goals and 9 assists, and they thoroughly deserved the gold medals they received. Apparently the two helper dogs that travelled with the team also received gold medals with their teams!

However, winning was only a small aspect of this tournament.

While all-female sledge hockey teams are still rare, this tournament proved that there is a place for them. There are so few women who are part of the mixed gender teams, which may indicate there is a difference in skill level at the moment. This isn’t a negative comment on women’s sledge hockey at all, merely a factor that needs to be considered. If women can’t reach the same level as their male counterparts to compete internationally, there needs to be a separate category for them to compete in.

More international level play will lead to more visibility for female players and the more young women will be inspired to try the sport themselves. Once there are more women involved, the competition level will naturally increase, bringing it in line with the more popular male teams.

The eventual hope is that Women’s Sledge Hockey becomes a sport in its own right, maybe as soon as the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games. Only the IPC can make this decision, and they need to know that there is enough interest and potential participation to make it worthwhile.

For more information on Sledge Hockey, visit the IPC website: http://www.paralympic.org/ice-sledge-hockey
For more information on the Cruisers Cup, visit their website: http://www.cruisers-sports.com/cruiserscup/home.shtml

In Review: 2014 Sledge Hockey Season

One of the photos I took at my first sledge hockey game!

One of the photos I took at my first sledge hockey game!

With the final league game of the 2014 Sledge Hockey season now over, and only the playoffs to go, I’ll soon be writing a review of this season’s UK sledge hockey for the league’s official website, but I also wanted to write something less formal and more fan-based for myself.

So, in the interests of clarity, I’m writing this as CarolinaKaniac (sledge hockey fan) and not as Kim (BSHA social media coordinator)!

This season was my introduction to sledge. Like other people, I’d seen it on TV when watching the Paralympic games in Sochi, but hadn’t really even considered that it existed here in the UK.  After a search online, I discovered that there seemed to be a few teams, but I couldn’t find much information.

I got in touch with the British Sledge Hockey Association through their website to ask for more information and someone I could talk to so I could maybe write a blog post. I got a reply from a guy called Karl Nicholson. A Google search told me he played for Manchester Phoenix as well as the GB team.  He told me about a game that was coming up – the first game of the new season between my closest team, the Kingston Kestrels and his Phoenix team. I couldn’t resist going, and even managed to convince a couple of Sheffield Steelers fans I know to go along too.

You might remember my blog post after that game, where I truly fell in love with the sport.  Nothing has changed, except that I’m lucky enough now to call Karl and a lot of these players my friends. I work with them, and I’m involved with the running of the newest team in the country. A lot can change in a few months.

This season was the first, I believe, to be played in this format. Previous years, the teams trained for most of the year by themselves with a few friendly games, then went head-to-head in one big playoff weekend. This season, each team played three home and three away games, allowing a proper fanbase to start building up, and giving more opportunity for people to discover sledge hockey.

Of the 12 games this season, I’ve only been to half of them (trust me, that will change next season!) but I’ve seen each of the teams play a couple of times at least.

Cardiff Devils are the most interesting team from my point of view. Although they’ve been around for a long time (previously as the Cardiff Huskies), they’re the newest team in the league. Most of their team have only been playing for a couple of years and while they have two Paralympians, they both compete in Summer sports too, so aren’t always available for games. When you look at the scores for the Cardiff games, they tend to look very one-sided, but watching them on the ice tells a different story. They’re becoming a much stronger team, with some players literally improving during the course of the game. Their netminder, Han O’Connor came over from the Cardiff Comets to help the team practice and has just spent her first season in a sledge. With a solid defense in front of her, she’s going to become awesome.

The thing I love most about Cardiff is their eternal optimism. When a team loses 14-0, more than once,  you could excuse them for feeling like there’s no point. But I’ve never ever seen or felt that coming from any of the team. They keep pushing themselves and they’re determined to keep improving. And they will.  I really look forward to seeing how much more they improve during the off-season.

Peterborough Phantoms have had an amazing year. They’ve become such a strong team, with a group of guys who are really finding their form. It’s shown in their results this season – they’ve just come out on top as  League Champions, with only one loss (and that loss was largely down to them having to play with borrowed players and a short bench).  They have some fantastic players on their team, especially Gary Farmer and Matt Coleman who are amongst the highest goal scorers in the league.  Their netminder, Rob Gaze, is also a member of the GB team, and has played 5 out of 6 games and only conceded 7 goals.  Between that combination, and an extremely dedicated team, they are just continuing to get better.  It’s going to take a lot for anyone else to get past them next season.

Manchester Phoenix are one of the two teams I know best.  I’ve been to all of their home games this season and got to know a lot of the players.  They’re a relatively new team, having only been part of the league for two seasons, and it’s fantastic to see how far they’ve come.  I hate to stroke his ego any more than I have to, but watching Karl Nicholson on the ice is one of my favourite things about sledge – he’s fast and extremely talented.  The team also has probably the strongest fanbase right now, thanks to their links with the Manchester Phoenix EPL team, and home games for them are starting to feel like “proper hockey”.  I know that sounds like I’m being critical of the other games in the league, but largely sledge games are treated like rec games.  Manchester are the first, in my opinion, to push the more professional image of the sport.  Quickly putting on my BSHA hat, I’m hoping to be able to make this the norm next season, across all of the teams – it’s something that the sport desperately needs.

Last, and by no means least, the Kingston Kestrels.  My local team (at least until next season when the Sheffield Steelkings join the league!), and the other team I know especially well.  They’re struggling for team members, which can sometimes cause issues, such as a couple of weeks ago when they had to forfeit a game as they couldn’t ice a full team.  But the players that they have are extremely good.  They have one of the highest percentage of GB players and years of experience between them, which shows when they are on the ice together.  Matt Clarkson and Matt Woollias are at the top of the points table, and  their netminder, Bryan Hackworth, is another GB player with only 3 goals against him this season. The team’s other issue this season has been their home rink – Hull Ice Arena.  Needing some essential maintenance, the team has lost their training sessions, and have had to move their last two home games to IceSheffield as a temporary measure.  The lack of training has hurt them badly, and no matter how good your individual players are, when they don’t get the chance to train together, it causes problems.

Next weekend is the playoffs, with all four teams playing – Manchester vs Cardiff for the 3rd/4th place game, and Kingston vs Peterborough for the championship trophy.  I won’t be there as I’m away for the weekend with friends, but if you have the chance to get to Coventry, I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It’s going to be an amazing game with all four teams giving it their all.

Overall, this has been a fantastic season.  I’ve watched some amazingly talented players on the ice, and I’ve managed to introduce a few new fans to the sport.  I’ve made some wonderful new friends, and I’ve had the chance to do things that I never thought I would.

And while it’s the end of the season, it doesn’t mean that sledge hockey stops.  The guys will still be training, and we’re hoping to have some friendly games and mini-tournaments during the off-season.  I’ll still be following things, and tweeting/blogging about it.   But I really can’t wait for next season to start!

Problems at Hull Arena?

For the last 20 years, arguably the biggest event in the EIHA Juniors hockey calendar has been played out of Hull Arena.  In May 2015, when the EIHA Conference Tournament officially turns 21, it will be moving to IceSheffield for the first time.

There’s a lot happening a Hull Arena recently, with various long-standing groups either losing their timeslots, or suddenly having their fees dramatically increased.  Due to “changes in EU regulations” causing some major works to be carried out, the arena has closed its doors for around 6 weeks, making a number of ice hockey teams essentially homeless for the period.  It’s not been the best time for the arena, and now on top of that, they’re going to be losing one of the biggest events of the ice hockey year.

A quote from Tournament Director, Geoff Hemmerman, on the EIHA website:

“Some will ask why are we moving from Hull, when it is the traditional home of the tournament. We lost the use of some of the facilities that had previously been available to us.  We need to ensure the players and parents have a great experience at the event. Unfortunately, we could no longer guarantee this at Hull.

It’s a pity that it’s come to this, and it seems that some organisations – like the EIHA – are now starting to look elsewhere for ice time.   Other than the professional teams playing out of Hull, it’s unlikely that any of them can afford an increase in ice fees – with no other rinks close by there are a  lot of teams who could end up dissolving.

As someone whose closest rink (at the moment) is Sheffield, I’m personally pleased about the relocation of the EIHA Conference Tournament moving there.  I love IceSheffield, and from a personal point of view, far prefer it to Hull Arena.  We have a strong hockey following in Sheffield, many of whom I hope will take the time to watch the Tournament, when they may not have done with it being in Hull.

However, as a hockey fan who is painfully aware of the lack of ice rinks in this country, it saddens me that the arena is gaining such a negative reputation and is losing something as big as the Tournament.  And as someone with a vested interest in one of the teams currently playing out of the arena (Kingston Kestrels Sledge Hockey Team), it bothers me that we may not have a home there for the long term.

As always, these are simply opinions.  I’m not privy to any insider knowledge, and have no personal connections to either IceSheffield or Hull Arena.  If you’d like to discuss this further, feel free to comment here or come and chat to me on Twitter @CarolinaKaniac.

Taylor Lipsett and Andy Yohe Team USA Retirement

My initial discovery of sledge hockey came during the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi.  I was already rooting for Team USA in the hockey, so it seemed natural to switch on and watch Team USA in the sledge hockey too (or sled hockey as they call it in the US!).

Unsurprisingly, it took me about 15 minutes of watching to fall in love with the sport.  And the team.

While my support these days is completely with the GB team, I will always follow Team USA as well.  Which is why I was saddened to hear about the retirement of two of their players.

Taylor Lipsett - photo from USAHockey.com

Taylor Lipsett – photo from USAHockey.com

Taylor Lipsett

Taylor was still in his teens when he helped Team USA win a silver medal at the 2004 IPC Sledge Hockey Championships.  He’s played with teams across the US, including the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Blackhawks team and, most recently, the Dallas Stars team.  He’s been to three Paralympic games, coming away with a bronze and two gold medals.  Over the years he’s played a total of 84 games for Team USA, accumulating an impressive 58 points (33 goals, 25 assists).

Suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta (more commonly known as brittle bone disease) meant that Taylor spent most of his childhood in body casts.  But after discovering first wheelchair hockey, and then sled hockey, he found a sport that he was not only good at, but loved doing too.  Off the ice, Taylor works for Bank of America as a portfolio manager associate –  he’s currently studying for an MBA – and hopes to become a financial advisor for professional athletes.

Yohe

Andy Yohe – photo from USAHockey.com

Andy Yohe

Andy had been part of the USA National Sled Hockey Team for four years when he was first given the Captaincy in the 2009-2010 season. Now in his 30s, Andy is a lot older than some of his teammates (especially the teenagers Brody Roybal and Declan Farmer), but it doesn’t slow him down on the ice at all.  Despite taking a couple of years off from international competition, and switching from a forward position to defense, he has 18 points over 41 games.

Before the accident that saw him lose both legs, Andy played roller hockey for the Bettendorf (Iowa) Young Guns.  He played for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Blackhawks from 2003-2011. Off the ice, Andy works for a prosthetic and orthotic company, and he and his wife have two children.

Both players will be sorely missed – not just by their teammates, but by the fans across the world who love to watch them play.  I wish both of them all the luck in the world, and hope that they achieve everything they want to.

Sledge Hockey Review: Manchester Phoenix vs Cardiff Devils [12.07.2014]

Cardiff Devils (photo not actually from this game!)

Cardiff Devils (photo not actually from this game – credit to Gemma Beer!)

I was really looking forward to this game.  It was the first time I’d had a chance to see Cardiff play (theirs are the only home games that are too far for me to travel to) and after the last time these two teams got together (only last weekend), it was promising to be a good game.

A little background: Cardiff Devils have been around for years – as the Cardiff Huskies they are, I believe, the most long-established sledge hockey team in the UK.

However, they only recently joined the BSHA Planet Ice League, and last year were in division two.  Coming into the top division this year, they were probably considered the underdogs and their first two games of the season saw them losing 8-0 and then 14-0.  However, with the kind of true grit and determination that is only found in hockey, they refused to give up.

Last weekend saw them at home against Manchester Phoenix.  In a result that I’m not sure anyone expected (including the Cardiff players themselves), they came away with a resounding win of 5-2!  If that doesn’t show what good training and dedication can do for a team in just a few months, I don’t know what does.

So yesterday’s game was the return leg of this head-to-head, this time with Manchester having the home advantage.  Having spoken to some of the Manchester players beforehand, I knew they weren’t willing to give this one up easily, but on the other hand, Cardiff were still flying high from their fantastic game the week before.  Neither team was going to go down without a fight, and that was evident from the very beginning.

Both teams played especially hard in the first period, with both netminders – Han O’Connor for Cardiff and Steve Midghall for Manchester – being put to work early and often.  Manchester’s Anthony Booth had some extremely good chances during the period, but O’Connor refused to let him through, and by the end of the first, the score was 0-0.

Into the second, and no sooner had I tweeted “Who’s going to be the first to score?” than Booth finally found a way past O’Connor and got Manchester on the scoreboard.  The second period was largely dominated by big hits, and a couple of patented Karl Nicholson breakaways, although neither of them made it into the back of the net.  Although at one point, Cardiff’s Tim James made it into the net.  Not the puck.  Just him.  Oops.

And then, with just one single second remaining on the clock, Cardiff’s captain, Russell Willey managed to sneak the puck past Midghall where it just barely crossed the line.  Cardiff were ecstatic, Manchester not so much.

But that didn’t matter, because it took just 10 more seconds (and an intermission break!) for Nicholson to give Manchester the lead again.  Which they held onto for about 5 minutes, until Cardiff’s Paul Furber swept the puck neatly into the top corner of Manchester’s net, and we were back at a tie on 2-2.

I was honestly starting to think we might get our first tie game of the season, as both teams were so evenly matched on the ice.  But when Cardiff received two penalties in quick succession, they allowed Manchester more than a minute of 5-on-3 power play time.  Their PK team worked hard, with O’Connor holding them at bay for as long as she could, and they killed off the first penalty.  But a beautiful shot from Manchester’s Rob Allen found the back of the net, giving him his first goal of the season, and giving Manchester the lead with less than 6 minutes remaining on the clock.

As hard as they tried – and they really tried hard – Cardiff couldn’t pull it back and the final score was 3-2 to Manchester (of course, if you aggregate the scores from the two games, Cardiff won 7-5!).

MVP of the game was Anthony Booth who totally deserved it for his goal, although the other standout player in my opinion was Steve Thomas from Cardiff.  Brilliant in the defensive zone overall, he has fantastic puck handling skills as well.  Also, I had a complaint from a photographer friend that Nicholson was too fast on the ice and we needed to slow him down!

Next Saturday’s game is Kingston Kestrels vs Peterborough Phantoms.  Due to Hull Arena closing for a couple of weeks, the game has been relocated to Ice Sheffield, albeit at the much later time of 21:30.  I’m pleased as it’s easier for me to get to than Hull, but I know it’s going to be tough for Kingston, as they officially have the home advantage, but they won’t have their usual supporters around them.  If you’re free on Saturday evening, please come along to the game.

Why I’ve Been So Quiet…

Admittedly, the off season for hockey does make it harder to find things to blog about (unless we want to discuss the ridiculous trade the Philadelphia Flyers just made with the Columbus Blue Jackets!), but there is still hockey happening (the New Zealand season has recently started up – I really need to watch some of those games).

However, in the last few weeks, my life has become a little more hectic.  As well as real life crap, which I’m totally trying to ignore, I’ve become a lot more involved in the British Sledge Hockey League (BSHA), in particular, helping to get the newest team in the league going, the Sheffield Steelkings.  It’s been a chaotic couple of weeks, finding myself learning more about the behind-the-scenes aspect of hockey than I ever previously considered.  And what I’m doing is still barely scratching the surface.

What I have discovered though is how many amazing sledge players we have in this country, and how much determination they all have.  All eyes in the sledge hockey world are looking towards the World Championships, and – eventually – towards the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, and the players on our teams here are no exception.  I’m lucky enough to have met quite a few of the players now, and I truly believe they can make it to the Paralympics in four years time.  And I intend to be there with them, cheering them on.

But the best thing about all of this is how it’s changing me.  If you know me in real life, you’ll know that I don’t do human interaction very well.  I struggle to make small talk, and I can barely hold a conversation (unless it’s about hockey, then I can talk for hours!).  But now I’m having to talk to complete strangers, introduce myself to them without any preparation.  I’m talking to more people online on a daily basis now than I have done in years.

I am still very much struggling though, and if I’m talking to you online and suddenly disappear, or make an excuse why I have to leave, please don’t take it personally.  I’m trying my best to improve at this, and I’ll continue trying for as long as I can be a help to the BSHA.

Just one more think to be thankful to my #HockeyFamily for.

Sledge Hockey Review: Manchester Phoenix vs Peterborough Phantoms [14.06.2014]

Image

Manchester Phoenix netminder, Steven Midghall

This was only the second sledge hockey game I’d seen live, and the first time I’d been to Silverblades in Altrincham.  This was the fifth game of the 2014 Planet Ice Sledge Hockey League season, and based on historical encounters between the two teams, Peterborough were the favourite to win.

However, some pretty serious scheduling issues meant that the Phantoms travelled up from Peterborough with only 5 players.  Considering that there should be 6 of them on the ice at any one time, it was a little concerning.  Two last-minute stand-ins, in the form of retired-player Matt Lloyd and Barry Sprakes (who had never played sledge hockey before) from the Widnes Wild, meant that the game could go ahead.

When Peterborough received their first (and only) penalty of the game less than a minute into the game, it gave Manchester a power play opportunity that team captain Karl Nicholson put to good use.  That wasn’t the last goal he would score in this game.  Not by a long-shot (please excuse the pun).  With Lloyd in goal, the usual netminder for Peterborough, Rob Gaze, was playing outfield for the first period.  But both of them could only watch as two more goals went in for Manchester; another for Nicholson, and one for Anthony Booth (which, of course, Nicholson assisted on).  But Peterborough weren’t going down without a fight and just after Manchester’s third goal, Peterborough’s Matt Coleman pulled one back for the team, much to the delight of the travelling Peterborough supporters.  The end of the first period ended 3-1 Manchester.

The length of his retirement was starting to show, as Lloyd came off at the end of the first having some pain in his shoulder.  Gaze picked up his usual kit and headed back into goal for the second period.  By now, with only 6 players remaining dressed for the team, it meant that there were no more substitutions for the Phantoms.  Every player would be on the ice for every minute of the game.

They still fought back though, causing Gaze to have to make some pretty impressive saves, piling on the pressure, ignoring the obvious exhaustion they must have been feeling.  Despite their efforts though, Nicholson managed to get the puck into the back of the net twice in the second period, taking the score to 5-1.

The third period was much the same, with Manchester not giving an inch, and Peterborough fighting to try and keep some control.  But even despite his brief stint in the penalty box, nothing was slowing Manchester’s captain down.  Another two  goals for Nicholson, taking his tally to 6, and it seemed like that would be it.  However, through the fatigue, relative newcomer to the Phantoms, Jon Le Galloudec, managed to get the puck past Manchester’s netminder, Steven Midghall, with around three minutes left on the clock.  It was his first ever League goal and gave Peterborough a final burst of energy to see them through to the end.

The final score was 7-2, with the Planet Ice MVP beanie going to Nicholson for his double hat trick, although I’m pretty sure that the Most Valuable Players were Matt Lloyd and Barry Sprakes for jumping in at the last minute to allow the game to go ahead!

On a personal note, it was the first time I’d seen Peterborough play, and I knew going into it that they were short of a few of their top players, but they played really well.  For those guys to play two full periods with only a brief intermission in between was one of the more impressive things I’ve ever seen in this sport.  True meaning of teamwork and dedication right there on the ice.  Also, I’m pretty sure that if Manchester wanted to, they could field just Nicholson and they’d still manage a win.  Shout outs to Rob Allen and Graham Wilson for Manchester, for each getting 3 assists in the game.  And special thanks to Graham for advice that helped me actually get to the game on time – stupid public transport in Manchester!

The next two games are head-to-heads between Cardiff and Manchester.  The first leg is in Cardiff on 5th July, with the return game in Manchester on 12th July.