Turin, March 17 – Hockey Canada has started working on plans to grow sledge hockey so that public awareness of the sport will be at an all-time high when the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games are held in Canada.
Bob Nicholson, president of the grassroots organisation, says the current state of sledge hockey is similar to where the international women’s game was in 1990 when the first World Championship was held in Ottawa. The women’s world tournament has since been transformed into a massive success when it is held in Canada.
“The love Canadians have for hockey is special and once they get to know this game, they will love it. But we have to help them to get to know it and we will.”
“This is really no different than 1990 when we had the first women’s tournament,” says Nicholson, who is attending the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games.
One of the things Nicholson wants to do is have a series of exhibition games in major Canadian cities involving team from Canada, Norway, the United States, Germany and Sweden every year leading up to the 2010 Paralympics in Whistler, British Columbia.
In the east coast city of Halifax, for example, fans of the major junior team, the Mooseheads, buy season tickets to the team’s games. Nicholson’s hope is to include sledge hockey in the season-ticket packages where major junior hockey is played.
Hockey Canada would also lean on its television partners to carry games live on Canadian television.
Nicholson has been busy during the Torino Paralympic Games, gauging interest in his plans, and he says there is an interest to build the popularity of sledge hockey, which in turn would make more athletes with disabilities aware of it.
“The two (semi-final) games I saw yesterday were awesome and we need to be able to make Canadians aware of this sport,” he said. “We have to find ways to grow the sport.”
Nicholson said he has had discussions with the company designing the arena in Whistler, to ensure that it is Paralympic-athlete friendly. As an example, he said that the floor on the players’ bench could be ice rather than the plastic that is used at Torino Esposizioni. Ice would make it easier for the players to glide their sleds onto the field of play.
Hockey Canada has a proven track record when it comes to taking events like the Women’s World Championship and the World Junior Championship to another level. The 2006 World Juniors in Vancouver set attendance records and generated about $10 million in profit for Hockey Canada.
Nicholson says sledge hockey athletes deserve the same treatment as their able-bodied counterparts.
“They are part of the (Hockey Canada) family and the athletes deserve every ounce of our commitment to them,” he says.
Canada’s Paralympic team falls under Hockey Canada’s jurisdiction and Nicholson hopes other countries step up and have their sledge hockey players become part of their national governing hockey bodies.