“I’ve played in front of nobody for a long time. There were times I was going home after training five, six or seven days a week wondering why I’m doing this, thinking nobody cares. But now, I think we’re really seeing a reaction from people. Right now, the NHL playoffs are going on and people just want hockey, no matter what kind.”
Canada’s ice sledge hockey captain Greg Westlake has noticed his sport has taken a dramatic turn since the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games – one that all athletes in the sport should be proud of.
Westlake currently leads all players with six goals at the 2015 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool, a tournament in which he is playing in front of more people than ever before outside of the Paralympics.
“I’ve played in front of nobody for a long time,” said Westlake, a three-time Paralympian. “There were times I was going home after training five, six or seven days a week wondering why I’m doing this, thinking nobody cares.
“But now, I think we’re really seeing a reaction from people. Right now, the NHL playoffs are going on and people just want hockey, no matter what kind.”
Westlake is not alone, as several athletes at the Championships have been praising the unprecedented media coverage for ice sledge hockey.
In the sport’s first World Championships since the Sochi 2014 Paralympics, six of the eight competing countries are broadcasting the competition and word is spreading on social media like lightning.
Italy’s RAI Sport, USA’s NBC Sports Group, Russia’s KHL TV, Canada’s CBC Sports, Japan’s SKY PerfecTV and Germany’s SportDeutschland.tv are all showcasing the Championships either on television or their live online platforms.
Each day at the Championships, which are taking place in Buffalo, New York in the USA, spectators have been trickling into HARBORCENTER and leaving fascinated after seeing how fast-paced and intense ice sledge hockey can be in-person.
Through two days of preliminary round action the HARBORCENTER has drawn 5,179 spectators, and tickets are still available for the remaining games of the Championships at Buffalo2015.com.
For two-time Paralympic champion and Buffalo native Adam Page, the atmosphere has been extra special. He has been playing on the USA’s national team since 2009, but for the first time in his career, his grandmother is able to see him sport a red, white and blue jersey in-person.
“It gives me goosebumps thinking about that, for family and friends being able to see me at this level,” Page said.
Italy’s Andrea Macri, a Torino native, echoed his opponents’ sentiments, saying sledge hockey players have been waiting a long time for spectators to fill empty seats and broadcasters to televise their games between Paralympic years.
“It’s so important for the Paralympic Movement,” Macri said. “RAI are doing a lot of things for us in Italy, and it means something to us and our families that we are being recognised.”
Westlake added that athletes must continue to do their part to promote the sport and further their game on the ice to attract even more viewers ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Games.
“If we continue to be the athletes we have been, then we can continue to further this sport of sledge hockey in the world,” Westlake said.
“It’s up to us to build it, and people will come.”
All teams have a rest day on Tuesday (28 April) before the final day of preliminary round action. On Wednesday (29 April), Germany will challenge Russia at 10:30am (ET), and that will be followed by USA-Italy at 2pm (ET), Canada-Czech Republic at 5:30pm (ET) and Norway-Japan at 9pm (ET).
Live coverage of all the games at the World Championships, along with results, statistics and ticket information can be found at Buffalo2015.com.
Up-to-date details of where games can be watched live nationally can be found at Buffalo2015.com.
IPC Ice Sledge Hockey will tweet live updates from on site in Buffalo from @IPCISH and is encouraging all fans to use the #Buffalo2015 hashtag when tweeting about the tournament.
Images from the Championships are available at www.Flickr.com/Photos/Paralympic. Media wishing to receive high-resolution images should contact Lucy.Dominy@paralympic.org.