Sledge Hockey Exhibition at Carleton Puts Everyone on Same Level

By Emma Jiayue Liu

The Carleton Disabilities Awareness Centre (CDAC) hosted a sledge hockey demonstration on March 9 to give students the chance to experience the Paralympian sport alongside Canadian Paralympic medalist Dean Mellway and members of the current Paralympic team.

“Sledge hockey is played sitting down on a sled,”’ said Mellway, director of Carleton’s READ Initiative (Research, Education, Accessibility and Design). “In this way, someone [who] cannot stand has the opportunity to play.”

Mellway, whose Paralympic career is highlighted in a new hockey exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History, donated his own sled as part of the collection.

“It’s nice to see them recognize sledge hockey along with hockey. It’s hockey and we are Canadians,” said Mellway, who started his athletic career in basketball for wheelchair sports.

Recognizing Sledge Hockey Alongside Hockey

“Even though it was founded by a Canadian, it was really an American sport.”

When he learned about sledge hockey, he took an immediate interest.

Mellway won bronze at the 1994 Lillehammer Paralympics and silver at the 1998 Nagano Winter Paralympics for sledge hockey, and gold at the 1976 Toronto Summer Paralympics in men’s snooker.

“Sledge hockey is universal. Even without a disability, you can play,” said Mellway.

The event at Carleton’s Ice House drew three members from the current Canada Paralympic sledge hockey team – Marc Dorion, Rob Armstrong and Tyrone Henry – who led the demonstration.

Sledge hockey is defined by the International Paralympic Committee as an innovative team sport that incorporates the same rules and discipline structure as able-bodied hockey. It was invented by three Swedish wheelchair athletes on a frozen lake in Stockholm in 1961. Instead of skates, players use double-blade sledges that allows the puck to pass underneath. Players use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing their sled and a blade-end for shooting. It is a fast-paced sport that enjoyed by athletes with physical disabilities in the lower part of the body.

“Sledge hockey was first introduced in the Paralympics in 1994. And I was on the team and 1998 as well. Then I retired and Marc took my number, seven,” said Mellway.

Realizing the Challenge

Students trying the sport quickly began to realize how difficult it is, said Dorion.

“I was never able to skate and I saw this on TV (and thought) I have to try that. I did it and I love it,” said participant Chelsea Powell.

“You can’t always see things from the ice level. You don’t know until you actually play it.”

Dorion was especially interested in the equal opportunity that sledge hockey provides for able-bodied and disabled people alike.

“They look at somebody who has a physical-disability [with] a certain limitation. But when you get on to the ice, you really see the limitation disappear. Someone with an able body might actually be at a disadvantage.”

For Dorion, that’s [what it’s] all about – introducing the sport to people and helping them gain an appreciation of what the Canadian team does.

“This is something really special to me.”