The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games were arguably the biggest breakthrough event in history for the sport of ice sledge hockey, with the Shayba Arena selling out for games and NBC clearing its schedule at the last minute to show the gold-medal match live in the USA.
But what was perhaps even more surprising was how well that success carried over post-Paralympics into the 2014-15 season, particularly the buzz created by this year’s IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool, which took place in Buffalo, New York in the USA.
The success of the Championships enters in as No.22 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2015.
A record six broadcasters from the eight competing countries had live coverage of the World Championships, at which the USA stormed to gold, Canada settled for silver and Russia escaped with bronze.
NBC Sports Group aired 40 hours of live coverage on its platforms in the USA, while CBC Sports (Canada), RAI Sport (Italy), SKY PerfecTV (Japan), KHL TV (Russia) and SportDeustchland.tv (Germany) all showcased games on either their networks or online platforms.
“For it to be on national and international TV like that and to maybe have a disabled person watching it on TV at home and seeing that something’s out there for them could be pretty special,” said USA’s two-time Paralympic champion and Buffalo native, Adam Page.
“Now, I’ll go out to eat or whatever and people will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, didn’t you play sledge hockey at the HARBORCENTER in Buffalo?’ They’ll start a conversation about it.”
There was also extensive editorial coverage in the host nation by key outlets such as NBC Sports, USA Today and the Huffington Post, while BBC’s World Service highlighted the competition’s international coverage, with hourly news items reaching a global audience of more than 230 million people.
The week of the Championships, USA Hockey, Labatt USA and ESPN sportscaster John Buccigross announced plans to expand the sport nationally by creating 10 new adult sledge hockey programmes, as well as a national advertisement, which has just recently started running on NBC Sports Network during NHL games this season.
More than 1,000 pieces of media coverage referenced the Buffalo 2015 event, with the IPC’s Facebook posts from the competition reaching more than 700,000 people and its Twitter posts reaching more than 10 million.
Several journalists even tried out the sport for themselves during one of the tournament’s off mornings. Page and his father and USA Hockey representative, Norm Page, along with team captain Josh Sweeney assisted them in the sledges.
“A lot of people don’t realise how much work we actually put into playing and how hard it really is to play the game of sledge hockey,” the younger Page said. “They couldn’t believe how hard it was just to stay up on a sledge and how much strength it takes. A lot of people don’t realise that, and so it was a good wake-up call for them to try that.”
The HARBORCENTER, which sold out for multiple USA games, went wild every time Page touched the puck, with the local hero leading his team with 11 points (five goals, six assists). Page set the record for most points by a US player at a single World Championships, and he now also has the most World Championship career points by any US player in history with 19.
“Nothing can ever beat playing in your hometown and winning a World Championship there,” Page said. “It was a lot of my family’s first time seeing me play at an international level and even on the national team, so it was pretty special to be able to have it here in my hometown.
“It was a really specially moment that I’ll remember for a really long time.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2015, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.