Out on the BMO Centre’s Rink A, Coach Eddy Durand is giving some personal instruction to #10 on the finer points of raising the puck on a shot. He takes the disc and mimics the scooping motion needed to get it off the ice—not easy when Durand is standing and his pupil is sitting in a sledge. Behind him, his daughter Nicole—decked out in pink gloves and in a pink sledge—and about 15 others shoot their pucks against the boards. A few hit the glass with a whack just as a young boy, maybe eight years old, walks by on the other side with hockey gear on his arm. “Whooaaa,” he says with wide eyes, clearly interested.
It’s a common response, says Francis Durand, Eddy’s wife, Nicole’s mom and the manager of this, the adult sledge hockey team in Bedford. She just wishes that initial interest would translate into more sledge hockey players. “We always have lots of people watching us but we just can’t seem to get a larger group than what we have,” she says. “I would love to have every sledge bucket full, but we’re just not quite there yet.”
This isn’t to say the sport hasn’t grown, however. Eight years ago, this was the only team in the province. Today, there are three others: an adult team in Sydney along with a youth group in Kentville and another here in Bedford. Nicole, who has spina bifida, was actually the one who went to Hockey Nova Scotia’s annual general meeting in 2005 and successfully pitched the idea of starting a team. “I had watched my brother play hockey since he was four,” she says, “but I just wanted to actually play ice hockey. When I tried sledge hockey, I loved it, and I was just like, this is it.”
The youth team in Bedford came together about three years ago through a partnership between Easter Seals Nova Scotia and HRM Community Recreation Services (CRS) along with assistance from the IWK Theraputic Recreation Services Division. Every Saturday morning boys and girls between five and 15 years old—some with mobility issues, others not—get on the ice at the BMO Centre and are put through drills ranging from turning and stopping to stickhandling and shooting.
“There’s a whole lot of upper body strength that’s required for this sport,” says Judy Power, the recreation coordinator with CRS who helps organize the group. “If they don’t have that strength when they start, they certainly have it by the end. You might have a child who initially had to be pushed because of balance or strength issues, but by the third or fourth week of the program, they’re pushing the sleds themselves. It’s amazing to watch.”
Power says the youth team has grown since it started—there are now 20 to 25 young people showing up every week—but like the Durands, she would like to see it grow even more. If there were additional players, Bedford might be able to sustain a recreational team, one that’s more advanced than the youth program but less competitive than the adult. “That’s the only thing really missing, that middle ground,” says Power, “so that when they leave us, and they’re not ready for the heavy competitive, they have somewhere else to go. Because that’s what it’s all about—developing skills.”
Power and the Durands are hopeful that the sport will grow in Bedford and the rest of the province, however, and are banking on the Paralympics this February to help them attract more players. In October, Canada’s National Sledge Team held its training camp at the BMO Centre, where in addition to their own practices held on-ice sessions for coaches and players wanting to develop their skills or just hang out with the national team.
The Durands are also looking to attract players through a development camp they’ll run this August. They’re expecting to draw people from around the province and then pick an elite team to go away to a tournament. “Anybody is welcome,” says Francis. “We’re hoping that growing it this way we may find we get some more people coming out of the woodwork who want to play sledge hockey.”
Once they do get them out of the woodwork and in a sledge with two sticks in their hands, they shouldn’t have too much of a problem keeping them around. Take it from Nicole: “It’s great exercise and it’s a sport for anybody and everybody—able-bodied and not. At first it was just a way for me to play hockey, but now it’s more; its getting to meet all kinds of people, taking pride in a team and being able to say, ‘That’s my team.’”
Find out more about Bedford’s youth program by contacting Judy Power at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the HRM Community Recreation Services information line at 902-490-6666.
For info on the adult team, contact Francis Durand at email@example.com or Hockey Nova Scotia at 902-454-9400.
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.