For the first time, the Western Canada Sledge Hockey Tournament and the Matt Cook Memorial Cup is coming to Red Deer.
The 15th annual tournament, from Friday to Sunday, will feature 15 teams from Alberta, B.C., and Saskatchewan.
Close to 200 athletes will be at the Kinsmen Community Arenas and the Collicutt Centre to participate in the Paralympic Sports Association’s tournament. The Albertan team players will be coming from Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Calgary, Medicine Hat, and Edmonton.
There are no Red Deer sledge hockey teams, but the organizers are hoping to change that.
Amy MacKinnon, Paralympic Sports Association executive director based in Edmonton, said there’s a demand for sledge hockey in Red Deer. She said she hopes to raise the interest and awareness in Central Alberta by bringing the tournament here.
“Paralympic Sports Association encourages anyone who is curious about this unique sport to come out and watch and get involved with the event,” states a news release.
Sledge hockey incorporates the same rules and strategies as “stand-up” ice hockey. Players sit on a sled with skate blades under the seat and use two sticks, to pass, stick handle, shoot the puck, and propel and maneuver their seats.
MacKinnon said there was a Red Deer sledge hockey team about five to six years ago but the team collapsed due to lack of funding.
“The concerns were cost and funding because the coaches were busy running ice time and coaching,” she said.
MacKinnon said from September to earlier in March, about 11 players – mostly from Red Deer – practiced sledge hockey at city rinks.
“And that’s a good number of players for Red Deer’s size,” she said.
MacKinnon said during the 2018-2019 season, the association is hoping to increase ice time for those who are interested.