Most of us are unfamiliar with sled hockey, but the sport received major attention recently in The New York Times, which focused on - of all places - Newington, Conn., which hosts the Northeast Sled Hockey League (NESHL) monthly at the Newington Arena. It is the first-ever organized, multi-state, adult sled hockey league in the U.S, with teams representing Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Western Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Sled hockey, also known as sledge hockey, is a fast, exciting, rough-and-tumble version of ice hockey played primarily by people with lower limb mobility impairments. The game is essentially the same as “stand-up” ice hockey, the major difference being that the players use a sled with two hockey skate blades mounted under a seat.
A full slate of action is scheduled for Sunday, January 6 at the Newington Arena, with all the teams in town to play six back-to-back games set to begin at 10 AM and run through early afternoon. The teams will all be back in Newington again for a full slate on February 10. Connecticut's team, the Wolfpack, is 1-0-1 on the season, in second place.
No strikes, no lockouts, no labor disputes in this league. Just hard work and hockey.
The Times story highlighted Sara Tabor, 31, “in her rookie season with a sled-hockey team sponsored, in part, by the NHL’s Rangers, which explains why players wear red, white and blue sweaters.” The Times reported that “Tabor was partly paralyzed when she fell in a shower in Germany four years ago.”
Each team in the NESHL plays eight regular-season games and there are also playoff games. A 45-minute game is played on a standard rink. Players strap themselves into seated sleds with two skates mounted on the bottom, one at the front, one under the seat. They propel themselves with two half-hockey sticks in a fashion similar to cross-country skiers. The stick blades are less curved than those on standard ice-hockey sticks, and the elbows of the sticks are straighter than those on ice-hockey sticks, in part because the players are lower to the ice.
Two years ago, the Hartford Courant ran a story on the league featuring Eric Veilleux, then 27. Veilleux lost a leg in a construction accident in 2006, which he said sent him into a dive. His old friends said they'd stay in touch, but seemed to fade away, the Courant reported. Playing with the sled hockey’s Wolfpack “has brought him out of his shell, given him a chance to get some aggression out and make new friends, whom he now considers a second family,” Veilleux told the Courant. "I was depressed before I got into sports," Veilleux said. "It's basically brought me back to life." In 2013, Veilleux is now the second highest rated goaltender in the league.
Practices for the Connecticut team are held at Loomis Chaffee School and Westminster School. Volunteers to support and assist the CT Wolfpack are welcome.
There is a US National Sled Hockey team, which competes in the US Paralympics, and has included members of the Connecticut team and others from throughout the NESHL. According to the league website, "these players have competed at the highest level reinforcing our commitment to provide an environment where our athletes can mature and realize their full potential, both on and off the ice."