Roughly 200 sledge hockey players have converged on Red Deer this weekend to take part in the 15th Annual Western Canada Sledge Hockey Tournament, also known as the Matt Cook Memorial Cup.
The tournament features both male and female junior and intermediate age players and runs from March 30 – April 1.
Fifteen teams from Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan are all competing with games taking place at the Collicutt and Kinsmen A Arenas.
Tournament Director Stephanie Fleming says it’s the first time the event has been held in Red Deer.
“Our organization, Paralympic Sports Association is trying to start a program here,” reveals Fleming. “We had some ‘try-its’ happening here for the past couple of years, so we’re really trying to promote to the community of Red Deer and let them know that sledge hockey is coming here as well.”
Fleming adds their hope is to establish a sledge hockey team in Red Deer for next season.
“Sledge hockey is actually for anyone,” states Fleming. “It’s designed for people with disabilities, mainly lower body disabilities but it’s a reverse-integration sport, so able-bodied people can play as well.”
Among the highlights on Saturday, a chance to meet Canadian Paralympian and sledge hockey player Steve Arsenault, fresh off a Silver medal win with Team Canada at the Paralympic Games in South Korea.
The Spruce Grove, Alberta native says although it was disappointing to not take home the Gold in a 2-1 overtime loss to the States, he enjoyed his experience and is happy to have earned a Silver Paralympic medal.
“It was a pretty tight game with the U.S., ended up hitting a post with an empty net with 30 seconds left,” recalled Arsenault. “The U.S. came down and then scored and won the game in O.T. So it’s a tough loss but obviously happy to have a Silver medal and be here at events like this, this is awesome.”
Arsenault has played sledge hockey for the past 15 years, competing in two Paralympic Games and is now preparing for his ninth season with Canada’s national sledge hockey team. He says the quality of the players is getting better all the time.
“We’re getting more and more players in at a grass-roots level and it’s obviously helping feed the national team,” states Arsenault. “When we look at the national level, funding has changed in the last 10 years. So now, we’re full-time athletes which we never used to be years ago, like prior to 2005 – 2006.”
He says to see sledge hockey is one thing, to play it is another.
“Getting in a sled is a whole new respect,” exclaims Arsenault. “People don’t realize how difficult it is to sit on blades that are an inch apart, balance and then push yourself with your arms and manipulate the puck and shoot and pass and stuff like that. All those stick skills, it’s pretty hard when you’re using both your arms to push and do that as well.”
For more information on sledge hockey and how to get involved in Red Deer and the surrounding area, visit www.parasports.net.
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