For many in New Hampshire the arrival of fall means only one thing….hockey season.
The University of New Hampshire Wildcats started their season this month.
And the first tournament for a different kind of hockey begins tonight.
NHPR Correspondent Matt Goisman takes a look at the sport of sled hockey.
At a local rink in Dover, New Hampshire, head coach Taylor Chace prepares his team for their opening tournament on October 21.
Sounds like regular hockey right? But did I mention these hockey players play on SLEDS? Welcome to sled, or sledge, hockey. It’s one of several Paralympic sports offered by Northeast Passage, a non-profit that’s worked with disabled people since 1990, and with UNH since 2000.
The sleds are waste-high. A black plastic seat rests above a simple, U-shaped frame. Beneath that, two narrow blades in back and an elevating piece up front.
Players carry two sticks, each a bit longer that your forearm. The heads, tipped with tiny metal spikes, are planted in the ice when the players skate, pushing off like cross-country skiiers. To shoot, their hands slide along the shaft, lowering the blade down to the ice. It’s a subtle, tricky move, but one Joshua Marran was eager to learn.
"My whole life I’ve been playing able-bodied sports. When you play soccer and you don’t run very fast, you’re not best on the field. But in sled hockey, it’s an even playing field for everybody."
Marran has been playing sled hockey for 11 years since discovering it at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Erie, Pennsylvania. But for veterans such as Staff Seargent Michael Donaghy, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2008, it’s an entirely new sport.
"It was great, because I always played it as a kid, so now I can continue. Little bit different, but still out there on the ice. The only difference is I have no legs."
An improvised explosive device landed Donaghy at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington DC. Part of his therapy was sled hockey.
Coach Chace, who broke his back playing junior hockey and later won a gold medal at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver, says that Northeast Passage tries to meet the needs of both disabled students and returning veterans.
That’s very unique around the US. I don’t think you’d find a varsity athletic program at a division-1 sports college, that integrates adapted athletes as well, considers them varsity athletes, giving them the same type of academic support, giving them the same type of sport performance training.
And for wounded veterans?
They may have gone into battle right from high school. So they’re looking for something else in life now after coming home with an injury. Education is something we can provide them, but then they can also look at athletics as well.
Northeast Passage director Thomas Carr says that of the more than 200 sled hockey players Northeast Passage works with each year, five have played for the national team, and three in the Paralympics. The 2011 World Sledge Hockey Challenge begins November 23 in Calgary.
IN DOVER, New Hampshire, I’m Matt Goisman,