This past weekend, the Triangle Special Hockey Association hosted the second annual Carolina Sled Classic at the IcePlex in North Raleigh. Co-ed teams representing seven different cities participated in the weekend round-robin tournament, including a skills competition and a league championship game.
Sound mundane? It’s anything but. In fact, watching a sled hockey game is one of the most amazing and inspiring things you’ll ever do at a hockey rink.
First, some background. Sled hockey is largely identical to standard ice hockey, regulated by USA Hockey with most of the same rules. Players who compete in sled hockey - some as young as age 12 and as old as 50 - typically have some sort of disability that prevents them from skating upright, and they propel themselves by using picks on the end of a pair of sticks, one in each hand, similar to cross-country skiing but across a sheet of ice. Able-bodied players are also eligible to play, although there is a limit to how many such players can be on a team, and they are likewise restricted from using their legs.
Goalies use specially-designed sticks and have a pick on the back of their gloves to help them skate. The “benches” are simply areas in front of the boards where the players who are not in play wait for their next shift, and if the puck goes into those areas, the players on the bench are supposed to function as extensions of the boards, playing the puck back out immediately as if it had bounced off a dasher.
And yes, too many men on the ice is a penalty that can be called in sled hockey. In fact, it happened twice over the weekend.
The TSHA has been around since 2007, and the Carolina Hurricanes’ sled hockey representatives started competing in the South East Sled Hockey League in 2010. There are three other teams in the SESHL which were represented at the tournament: the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators and Space Coast (Fla.) Blast. The three teams that bear the names of NHL teams receive assistance, both financial and logistical, from their local NHL teams. (And moral support, as well: Hurricanes alumni Erik Cole and Bates Battaglia made appearances at the tournament over the weekend.) Additionally, three other teams - from Knoxville, Tenn.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Atlanta - played in the weekend tournament.
The four league teams compete in four tournaments over the course of the season to determine the league championship, and this weekend’s tournament games doubled as the final league competition of the season. The Blast won the SESHL Cup as the league champion, defeating the Hurricanes 1-0 in the final on Sunday, but the hosts did not leave the weekend empty-handed. The tournament’s round-robin format, involving all seven teams, saw the Canes earn ten points, the most of any team, which awarded them the Carolina Cup as tournament champions.
On Saturday night, the teams competed in a skills competition, which included a skills challenge relay, a fastest skater competition, a shooting accuracy drill, and a goaltending breakaway challenge. The relay, including obstacles similar to those in the NHL all-star skills competition — stickhandling, skating through cones, and so on — was won by the Blast’s foursome of Brett Bolton, Beau Corbett, Tripp Skinner and Jasmine Stewart in a time of 56.57 seconds, the only team to complete the relay in under a minute.
Sean Rombousek of the Virginia Beach Destroyers won the shooting accuracy challenge, hitting all four targets in 53.06 seconds, one of just three players to hit all four. The Destroyers’ James Jones was the winner of the fastest skater competition, doing a half-loop of the rink (split in half the long way) in 24.37 seconds. His attempt at setting the tournament record of a full lap of the rink fell just short, timed at 32.6 seconds, just behind the Hurricanes’ Wolf Hulslander who made the circuit in 32.38 seconds at the 2016 competition.
Finally, the goaltenders competed in trying to shut down breakaways from the other teams in the breakaway challenge. Both Virginia Beach’s Mike Lake and Jamie Reeves of the Nashville Predators went 5-for-5, stopping all of the shooters in the competition.
Hurricanes PA announcer Wade Minter and yours truly split time as the announcers for the event, and it was a pleasure watching these athletes compete and have a great time doing so. More information is available at trianglespecialhockey.org and donations are tax deductible - and you’re invited to join the Canes at next year’s event (admission is free, although donations are welcome).
Below is a photo gallery from the weekend’s games. Thanks to photographers Jodi Foy and Kelly Jacoby for their contributions, and to Hurricanes coach Joe Ribar, Brian Jacoby and Kris Kenney for their assistance over the weekend!
2017 Carolina Sled Classic Photo Gallery
- Game 1: Carolina 8, Nashville 0
- Game 2: Atlanta 2, Virginia Beach 1 (SO)
- Game 3: Tampa Bay 3, Space Coast 0
- Game 4: Virginia Beach 4, Knoxville 3 (SO)
- Game 5: Carolina 2, Space Coast 0
- Game 6: Atlanta 6, Knoxville 5 (SO)
- Game 7: Tampa Bay 3, Nashville 0
- Game 8: Virginia Beach 4, Knoxville 3
- Game 9: Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 2
- Game 10: Virginia Beach 2, Atlanta 1
- Game 11: Space Coast 2, Nashville 0
- Game 12: Knoxville 8, Atlanta 4
- Semifinal 1: (1) Carolina 4, (4) Nashville 0
- Semifinal 2: (3) Space Coast 2, (2) Tampa Bay 1
- Final: (3) Space Coast 1, (1) Carolina 0