This coming weekend, the Dallas Stars Sled Hockey Team is hosting a a big charity game to help them raise funds to participate in the brand new Texas Sled Hockey League composed of teams from Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Not only will you get to see some of the nation’s best sled hockey players in action, but Tyler Seguin and Jordie Benn, as well as Dallas Stars Alumni President Bob Bassen will be there, showing off their sled hockey “skills”.
The Dallas program provides the opportunity to play sled hockey to local disabled kids, adults, and veterans, totally free of charge. The program raises funds to pay for all of the necessary equipment, ice time, and as much of the travel expenses as they can for their players to travel and compete. Ice time for practices run the team $1,200 a month and the projected cost to host a “league weekend,” where each team will travel to play each other in one of the cities, is around $2,500, which for a brand new league like ours, is a ton of money
But what is Sled Hockey? Why should you care about sled hockey in this great state?
The natural progression of sports programs normally runs something like this – initiation of a grass roots program, growth, and then success, but sled hockey in Texas has taken a path of its own.
A direct descendant of ice hockey, sled hockey, called ice sledge hockey outside of the United States, was invented at a rehabilitation centre in Stockholm, Sweden, during the early 1960s by a group of Swedes who, despite their physical impairment, wanted to continue playing hockey. The men modified a metal frame sled, or sledge, with two regular-sized ice hockey skate blades that allowed the puck to pass underneath. Using round poles with bike handles for sticks, the men played without any goaltenders on a lake south of Stockholm. The sport caught on and, by 1969, Stockholm had a five-team league that included players with a physical impairment and able-bodied players (Paralympic.org).
Sled Hockey made it’s way to Texas in the late 1990s, when a group of guys decided to start a team, skating late at night when the ice was free. They, and an exceedingly patient zamboni driver, were the only ones left at the rink. After attending some camps and clinics throughout the northeast, one of the guys began to make custom sleds for all of the players, and their training progressed rapidly.
Within 4 years, 3 players from North Texas (Lonnie Hannah, James Dunham, and Pat Sapp) had made the United States Paralympic Sled Hockey team that was preparing to compete at the 2002 Winter Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. At the end of the Winter Games, Texas had its first 3 Winter Paralympic Gold Medalists, and sled hockey was poised to not only take off in the U.S., but in the Lone Star state as well.
With the success coming early to the sled hockey community in Texas, it kicked off a time of explosive growth. Over the next 10 years, teams popped up in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, in addition to the program in Dallas. Dallas continued to produce world class talent in Taylor Lipsett*, who just recently retired after a 10-year career (2004-2014) on the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, winning 2 Paralympic Gold Medals (2010, 2014), a Paralympic Bronze Medal (2006), and 5 World Championship Medals (Gold – 2009 & 2012, Silver – 2004 & 2013, and Bronze – 2008), making him one of the most decorated sled hockey players in the United States.
Like Dallas, San Antonio quickly ascended the sled hockey ranks in the U.S., becoming one of the top 3 teams in the country and producing 3 of their own Paralympic and World Championship Gold Medalists in Josh Sweeney, Rico Roman, and Jen Lee. Luke McDermott, who began his sled hockey career with the San Antonio program, and Houston’s Kyle Huckaby are the most recent success stories of Texas sled hockey, as they won a Gold Medal at the 2015 World Championships as members of the U.S. National Sled hockey team. Combined, Texas is the home of the most sled hockey gold medalists in the United States.
Despite all of the success, 3 of the 4 teams in Texas have faced major hurdles in the growth of sled hockey due to budgeting constraints. With a required annual budget ranging from $15,000-$20,000, funding continues to be an ongoing issue for all teams. San Antonio, an all military veteran team, has been a part of the Midwest Sled Hockey League for the past 4 years, and now teams in Dallas, Houston, and Austin are coming together to create the Texas Sled Hockey League. Each city will host a weekend tournament, with league playoffs taking place in March, and the league champion taking part of the National Championships in April at the USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival.
Our goal is to continue to grow sled hockey in Texas, and to recruit and retain players who want to learn and love the great sport of hockey. I have personally experienced the positive effects that sports and sled hockey can have on a kids life, going from a disabled 15 year old not involved in any kind of sport to becoming a world class athlete representing my country on the highest stage. I feel like it is my job to make sure this program continues on in the future, and give the next great sled hockey player from Texas has the opportunity to play and excel in the sport that changed my life.
For information and tickets, or to make a donation, visit swaasports.org.
*EN: Taylor was trying to be modest and we made him talk more about himself. DUDE, LOOK AT ALL THOSE MEDALS.