New accessible boards at Canada Olympic Park one feature helping teams play

Sixteen-year-old Harrison Orpe said he has always wanted to play hockey.

But the teen has been wheelchair bound since birth, and he was on the sidelines watching his twin brother, Mitchell, play.

“I found sledge hockey when I was about seven years old — and I fell in love with it,” Harrison said.

Now, nine years later, Harrison and Mitchell are playing on the same sledge hockey team.

“I jumped on the opportunity that I could play a sport with my brother,” Mitchell said.

Both teens said they see that sledge hockey is really developing in Calgary and gaining momentum as a sport.

How It Started

Sledge hockey has been around since 1971 in Norway, and it is slowly drawing more attention.

It became a Paralympic sport in 1994 and has since developed its own technologies while incorporating the traditional rules and strategies of regular ice hockey.

Players are seated on sleds and have two modified hockey sticks. Body checking is allowed in the senior leagues.

The Calgary Sledge Hockey Association has three teams: the most senior team being the Calgary Scorpions; the developmental team, the Calgary Stingers; and the team for new players called the Calgary Venom.

Sledge hockey is open to anyone who would like to play.

“Locally, the sport has become more aware to the public,” said Joe Fisher, coach of the Scorpions. “But nationally, it is still struggling to get out there.”

But Fisher said sledge hockey has come a long way in the last year.

Making a name

On top of the fact that the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association is a member of Hockey Alberta — the first provincial minor hockey organization to recognize the sport in its programing — the sport has made other significant strides in the past year.

In September 2011, the Alberta Sledge Hockey League formed consisting of two different divisions that played at least six games, making this a big year for teams all around the province.

Along with the introduction of the league, the sledge hockey community is seeing changes in Calgary that proves the sport is moving forward.

Special rinks at COP

This has been the first year that the teams have been able to practice in a sledge-hockey-accessible rink.

One of the new ice surfaces at Canada Olympic Park was built with sledge-hockey-accessible boards just for the sport.

The sledge-hockey-accessible boards ensure the players can see the action even when they are on the bench.
Photo by: Deja Leonard
These boards are the same height as any other rink, but they are see-through so that the players who would be seated can see the action.

The ice surface is also level with the floor of the player area so there are no obstacles trying to get in or out of the box.

Jon Bateman, who has played for 15 years, said the boards “give credibility to the sport.”

Sam Hershick-Fraser, the only female on the Scorpions team, said she agrees.

The 26-year-old said that not only are the boards more convenient, but they also provided a safer game. Usually the players would have to line up against the boards during game play at the risk of getting in the way or getting injured.

Involving the community

You may have seen sledge hockey during halftime at a Calgary Hitmen game, or possibly seen players suit up against a local hockey team.

They hope by doing this, they will create awareness and show that anyone can play the game.

“It’s great because it gives sporting opportunities for people with disabilities,” Bateman said. “But it is also available to people without disabilities and that integration is really important.”

Justin Cote, the current goalie for the Mount Royal University hockey team, recently went out to try sledge hockey with the Scorpions.

Cote, who has been on skates for 20 years, said that hitting the ice with the Scorpions was a learning experience.

“It’s honestly like learning to skate all over again,” he said.

He said that as a hockey player, he had a sense for the game, but the basic skills were all very different.

“I have so much respect for how well those people play. It’s not as easy at it looks,” he said. “There are definitely tremendous athletes who play the game.”

The Mount Royal University hockey team and the Scorpions have discussed setting up a game involving the two teams next season.

A bright future

Harrison Orpe notes that sledge hockey has had a big impact on his life. He is grateful to be playing a sport with his brother and said he will continue to do so for the rest of his life.

Mitchell Orpe added that he plans to play for as long as he can and can’t wait to see the sport progress even more.

The Scorpions will hit the ice again for their provincial finals starting April 14 in Leduc.

“The sky is the limit for sledge hockey,” Bateman said.

dleonard@cjournal.ca