A local floor hockey league for people with disabilities kicked off the 2012-13 season last month with its first two expansion teams.
Amanda Stephen, Centretown News
The Gators and Sharks opened the 2012-13 OPWHL season last month at Carleton University's Norm Fenn Gym.
The Gators and the Sharks, the league’s first two official teams, met at Carleton University’s Norm Fenn Gym, signalling the start of the Ottawa Power Wheelchair Hockey League season.
Power wheelchair hockey is a relatively new sport in Ottawa, starting off in 2009 with just five players. Now, there are two official teams in the league, playing games every Sunday with 27 athletes. Recruitment is an on-going process.
Wheelchair league players have competed in international and national tournaments in the past, as part of the tournament team the Ottawa Capitals. Players from these teams now make up the roster of the Gators and Sharks.
Roddey Harb, recruitment director for the league, organizes demonstrations and recruitment days in community centres and high schools throughout Ottawa to show power wheelchair users what the sport is all about.
“We provide an opportunity for people in wheelchairs to play power wheelchair hockey, which is basically floor hockey for people in electric wheelchairs,” says Harb.
Donna Haycock, the league’s chairperson, says some of the talent on display is amazing, especially among youth playing for the first time.
“The smiles on these young faces playing the game they love makes everything worth it,” she says. “It’s inspirational for these players to come out and show their sport.”
Power wheelchair hockey is played throughout Europe and North America, but the rules are different and neither European leagues nor North American leagues are willing to change at the moment. Harb says he has hopes that power wheelchair hockey will feature in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“There’s many different rules, it’s almost like a different game over there,” says Harb. “But it’s the Paralympics . . . something’s got to give.”
The majority of power wheelchair hockey players have muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, but anyone that uses power wheelchairs and has limited or no upper body strength or mobility can play.
Players are ranked by the level of their disability, one to three: one being players that have upper body strength and mobility, two is players with limited upper body strength and three is players that have no upper body strength. These players have hockey sticks are attached to their wheelchairs.
As in regular floor hockey, there are five players per side including the goaltender.
There is, however, a ratio of the ranking of disabilities that can be playing at one time. On each team there can only be one player in rank one and two of each for the remaining ranks.
Sydney Cameron, a veteran of power wheelchair hockey, says it can be frightening at first because of the number of wheelchair collisions but once spectators begin to watch the game they can see the skill level.
Her son, Hollis Pierce – who plays for the Sharks – started playing power wheelchair hockey at a young age in Calgary before moving to Ottawa.
“It’s amazing that people with such quiet bodies get to live out their athletic selves,” says Cameron.
Power wheelchair hockey is one of the lesser-known power wheelchair sports, according to Harb. Most people focus on power soccer or rugby, but popularity is on the rise, he says.
“It’s hard to get people out to try it,” says Harb. “But once they try it, they love it.”