Tracy Stevenson didn’t experience excitement like this the past two times.
Charlottetown, P.E.I., is set to play host to the World Sledge Hockey Challenge (WSHC) for the third time, with the 2016 event opening on Dec. 4.
Stevenson, executive director of ParaSport and Recreation PEI, was a part of two prior WSHC events, when Charlottetown hosted in 2008 and 2009.
A lot has changed in seven or eight years.
“Things are starting to get really exciting,” says Stevenson. “I know here in our office, we’re fielding a lot of calls. I have a giant stack of volunteer
registration forms that people want to get involved. Last time, people didn’t know about it, people didn’t know what sledge hockey was all about, and now
“And there’s momentum in the schools, they’re talking about it to the students and they want to get involved. I’ve had calls requesting athletes to visit
their schools. This didn’t happen last time. It’s really exciting to see the community coming together and wanting to be involved.”
Charlottetown has somewhat quietly become a national leader in the sport of sledge hockey. Before the island capital welcomed the world in 2008 and 2009,
Stevenson says sledge hockey didn’t exist on P.E.I. Sure, there were a few sleds kicking around here and there but no one played the sport and, she
chuckles, those old sleds couldn’t even be used.
Following the two successful World Sledge Hockey Challenges, a legacy fund was created with Hockey PEI to develop the sport on the island. Stevenson says
money was initially used to purchase 10-12 sleds. Following that, sledge hockey proponents such as Eric Payne – well-known in the sport and on the island –
went “tip to tip” on P.E.I. with sleds to demonstrate and promote the sport.
“What excites me? It is like myself when I was shown the sport in 2007 at the Soldier On launch,” Payne says. “I was in a world of can'ts and this was a
part of my life before I could. If I could with this, what else can I do? I like that I have the ability to offer that to others.”
Anyone who has attended a sledge hockey game or practice demonstration would likely agree that seeing the sport live makes one want to give it a try.
Stevenson certainly echoes that, as she sees proof all the time.
“We just started doing ParaSport festivals in the schools,” she says. “It’s a full-day event where we invite schools to bring students with a disability to
our festival. We did eight sports in the gym and then we played sledge hockey. And everybody wanted to play sledge hockey, which was awesome.
“We were fortunate enough to have [Canada’s National Sledge Team members] Billy Bridges (a native of Summerside, P.E.I.) and Adam Dixon on P.E.I. for that
event. They led the session on the ice and I’m pretty sure that 70 out of 80 students who were in attendance tried sledge hockey. It was awesome. That was
the first time that we offered sledge hockey at our ParaSport festival on the ice.”
The legacy of the 2008 and 2009 World Sledge Hockey Challenges has stretched beyond buying equipment and demonstrating the sport in communities from Borden
to Summerside to Alberton, and many others.
In 2010, thanks in large part to the WSHC, P.E.I.’s first sledge hockey program began. At first, a group of eight or so players would meet once a week for
fun practices and games. It then evolved into the formation of the P.E.I. Ice Breakers, the island’s sledge hockey program that runs from November to
The team competes against Cape Breton, another Maritime community with a sledge hockey team, and also travels to major tournaments like the one put on by
the London Blizzard.
“We are long past demos on P.E.I.,” says Payne, a soldier with more than 20 years’ experience who was introduced to sledge hockey in 2007 (he had his left
leg amputated below the knee following a motorcycle accident).
“We have been playing as a team for the last five years. That year, we played against a team in Halifax. The following year, we went to London for the
annual Blizzard tournament and returned two years later. We have had as many as 15 players and as few as 10.”
There’s also the Maritime sledge hockey tournament, which started in 2015 and will be held again this December in conjunction with the WSHC.
Three teams – the Ice Breakers, Cape Breton and Halifax – will face off against one another and games have been scheduled around the World Sledge Hockey
Challenge, which will allow the players from the Ice Breakers, Cape Breton and Halifax to take in the sights and sounds of the WSHC.
“Halifax and Cape Breton have senior teams,” Payne says. “There is a junior program in Wolfville and now Bridgewater. We have been working hard with New
Brunswick to try and get them pull the trigger and finally form a team.”
The work to grow the game certainly isn’t done. Stevenson has other goals to grow the sport on P.E.I., including creating a youth program and building on
the success of the Ice Breakers program. The team usually has around 12 committed players and Stevenson would like to see a few more added each year.
Starting at the grassroots level is key.
In 2013, a second sledge hockey team was based out of Montague, thanks partly to funding from the Canada Winter Games legacy. That team had momentum at the
start but Stevenson says there just weren’t enough players to fill two rosters. Looking to the future, there is the potential of again adding a second team
on the island.
“I would love to see a youth program,” says Stevenson. “We are starting to create some interest through our relationship we have built with the schools.
The interest is certainly growing with that population. And the younger we can get them into the sport, get them active … it’s beneficial for everybody.”