Paralympic Winter Games
7-16 March

Morten Vaernes: Top 10 sledge hockey players of all-time

Norwegian defenceman Morten Vaernes picks out the greatest sledge hockey players in history leading up to the Sochi 2014 Paralympics. 30 Jan 2014
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Morten Vaernes

Norway's Morten Vaernes takes the puck ahead of teammate Rolf Pedersen at the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool. Norway qualified for Sochi 2014 when Vaernes scored the game-winning gold in the fifth-place game against Italy.

ⒸIPC
By Morten Vaernes

Bowden is the player with the best understanding of the game, and he has great overall skills. He is always amongst top leaders in goals and assists, great puck and sledge control, and in my mind, the best sledge hockey player of all-time.

For IPC Ice Sledge Hockey’s “8 for 8” series on the road to Sochi 2014, I’ve been asked to pick my top 10 sledge hockey players of all-time.

There have been so many great players since sledge hockey debuted at the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympics, so this was not an easy task.

Naturally, my list includes many athletes I’ve played alongside or against during the years on the ice, as I’ve personally experienced how they play as opponents or teammates.

So here it goes, my personal list of the greatest sledge hockey players of all-time:

10. Takayuki Endo (Japan, defenceman)

Endo played alongside Daisuke Uehara, the biggest star on Japan’s team at Vancouver 2010, where they brought home an unexpected silver medal. His great puck control and quick turns make him unpredictable and hard to play against.

9. Greg Westlake (Canada, forward)

Canada’s captain is a great goal scorer, and I believe he has one of the highest goal averages over the last several years on the international stage. He has an exceptional talent of getting under the skin of his opponents, which Norway have experienced too many times.

8. Tommy Rovelstad (Norway, defenceman)

No one organises and controls a defensive line like Tommy Rovelstad. He is the natural boss on the ice, and his authority and experience command the attention of his teammates. Alongside Canada’s Billy Bridges, he has the hardest shot in the world, and he became the top goal scorer at Torino 2006 with his nine goals during the tournament.

7. Daisuke Uehara (Japan, forward)

What he lack in size he gains in speed. Uehara is one of the fastest players out there. Great puck and sledge control make him really hard to stop, and he was a big contributor to Team Japan’s surprising silver at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics.

6. Sylvester Flis (Poland/USA, defenceman)

Flis’ career peaked during Salt Lake 2002 Paralympics, where he was named Most Valuable Player and racked up 18 points for Paralympic champions USA. His best strengths are his understanding of the game and his speed. It was an easy decision to include him on this list.

5. Steve Cash (USA, goaltender)

Cash managed a shutout in every game during the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic tournament. He has a great defence in front of him, but that doesn’t change the fact that Steve Cash is an exceptional goalie. He has a great ability of placing his body in front of the puck, which makes it difficult to score on him.

4. Helge Bjornstad (Norway, forward)

A legend in sledge hockey history, he’s been playing since the start at the Lillehammer 1994 Games and is still a very good sledge hockey player. He has a great ability of making his teammates look good, besides being a great goal scorer.

3. Billy Bridges (Canada, forward)

Bridges can be a hothead at times, but his great overall skills as a sledge hockey player makes him a definite top-three on this list. He has been removed from the former top line at Team Canada with Westlake and Brad Bowden, but he has shown he doesn’t need them to play extraordinarily well. Alongside Rovelstad, he has the best and hardest shot of any sledge hockey player.

2. Rolf Pedersen (Norway, defenceman)

He is a hothead as well, but when focused and fit can do things other sledge hockey players only dream of. He is the best offensive defenceman in the world, and he gives Norway the little extra push to win games.

1. Brad Bowden (Canada, forward)

Bowden is the player with the best understanding of the game, and he has great overall skills. He is always amongst top leaders in goals and assists, great puck and sledge control, and in my mind, the best sledge hockey player of all-time.

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