Sled hockey made its debut in Wellesley at the new Boston Sports Institute on Saturday afternoon, pitting members of the Boston ICE Storm sled hockey team for physically disabled athletes against Wellesley Youth Hockey players who are used to skating on their two feet. For this game, though, all of the players used sleds.
Using the equipment shipped in by USA Hockey proved especially challenging for the Wellesley Youth Hockey players, whose legs are generally more powerful than their arms. Maneuvering and speeding around on the sleds, which have a seat on top and skates on the bottom, takes a ton of arm strength. Players use shortened sticks with spikes on one end to grip the ice and propel themselves.
Then there’s the whole other matter of balance: The youth hockey players spent much of their time on the ice righting themselves, only to quickly tip over again.
The Boston ICE Storm players, a mix of youths and adults, skated circles around the sled hockey newcomers, allowing the them to have a few extra players on the ice to help even things out a bit. And that was part of the point: To give those who can skate swiftly on their legs a close-up view and appreciation of those who can’t, but who have adapted to play an exciting brand of hockey themselves.
It reminded me of words shared by Wellesley Public Schools’ new director of diversity earlier this week when she advocated for getting into closer proximity to those whose differences you can’t fully appreciate unless you do get close.
All of the players clearly enjoyed the experience on Saturday, and finished the game with a traditional handshake line, plus a group picture at center ice.
The game attracted parents, coaches and the likes of Andy Wrobel, former Wellesley Recreation Commission chair, who said seeing the sport played there “fulfilled a dream” of his, especially after seeing a documentary on sled hockey that shed light on what it meant to the players.
A unique feature of the new Boston Sports Institute is that one skating rink is outfitted to accommodate sled hockey players. The bench area lets players slide onto the ice directly, rather than taking a big step down like on most rinks. Even sliding out of the bench area proved to be a challenge for those athletes not used to playing on sleds.
One frustration for sled hockey players and parents is that despite the rink being equipped to accommodate their sport, they haven’t until now been able to get ice time, which is pricey. In this case, Wellesley Youth Hockey Association funded the event. Meanwhile, local sled hockey supporters are looking to apply for grants that will fund additional ice time locally, so they don’t have to travel out of state to get it.