Eight teams will qualify for Sochi 2014, where they will play at the Maly Ice Palace in front of 7,000 cheering fans.
Editor’s Note: Here is an excerpt of the sport profile from the latest edition of the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) magazine, The Paralympian.
Ice Sledge Hockey only made its Paralympic Games debut at the Lillehammer 1994 Games but has quickly become one of the biggest spectator attractions at the Winter Paralympics.
Much of this can be credited to improvement in both the quality and quantity of the resources required for the sport.
“It’s been almost like an explosion,” said Eskil Hagen, who scored Norway’s winning goal with 3.6 seconds to go in its bronze-medal match against Canada at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
“In 1993, the equipment was really basic but has improved a lot since then.”
The development of the sledges in the last decade has transformed the sport into an elite competition, thus attracting more athletes and countries.
The sport originated in Sweden during the 1960’s and then spread to Norway and Great Britain before reaching Canada and Estonia. Those were the first five nations to field teams at the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games, and since then it has spread across Europe and to Asia and North America.
Now, USA and Canada are driving the growth of the sport, as they are the biggest markets for grassroots due to their number of resources, youth development programmes and injured war veterans.
Across the Atlantic, Norway has been nursing the Netherlands and Sweden has been helping Finland set up a programme, and Japan is thriving in the Pacific after just starting up a team in the mid-’90s.
While the growth of Ice Sledge Hockey has been exponential, Hagen said it will take some time before the younger teams reach the podium.
At next spring’s 2012 World Championships, USA and Canada will start as favourites, while host nation Norway could play a spoiler role.
Looking further ahead, eight teams will qualify for Sochi 2014, where they will play at the Maly Ice Palace in front of 7,000 cheering fans.
And with the rate the sport is growing right now, Ice Sledge Hockey is bound to create some of the most unforgettable memories at Sochi 2014.