Students from India try out sledge hockey at Sydney's Centre 200

Cape Breton University student Parin Shah from India was having a blast trying out sledge hockey at Sydney's Centre 200 arena on Wednesday. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Cape Breton University student Parin Shah from India was having a blast trying out sledge hockey at Sydney's Centre 200 arena on Wednesday. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

If you've never experienced a Canadian winter, ice hockey can look downright scary.

But the coach of the Cape Breton Sledgehammers says sledge hockey is not just for people with disabilities — it is accessible to everyone.

"Standup hockey is hard. You've got to learn to skate," Steve Deveaux said Wednesday, in between helping Cape Breton University students from India after they got strapped into a sledge on the ice at Centre 200 in Sydney. "Anybody can play sledge hockey, to the best of their ability. You can get in right away and you can have some fun.

"We always say, if you can get a bum in a bucket, they'll have a great time."

Turns out, he was right.

Akshay Chattentavida is studying public health at CBU and said being in a new country, he wanted to try new things.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

"Everything is new here," he said. "We are experiencing snowfall and winter for the first time, so we need to explore everything, as much as we can."

Sledge hockey requires balancing similar to kayaking. "But it's safe for the beginners," Chattentavida said with a laugh.

Nidhi Behl, who is also studying public health, said field hockey is the national sport in India, but she had never seen ice hockey before.

However, she saw sledge hockey on TV earlier this year.

"I only saw this in the paralympics and I just wanted to try it," Behl said.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Parin Shah studies at CBU and works in the concessions at Centre 200.

He said he always wanted to try hockey, but found it too intimidating.

"Today we found this opportunity, so we are enjoying it," Shah said. "It's kind of tricky. I could fall, but it's amazing."

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Deveaux and his wife Gina created the sledge hockey program in Cape Breton 11 years ago as a way to get their son Kurtis into sports. Kurtis was born with spina bifida, but always loved watching hockey.

Deveaux said the Christmas break provided an opportunity to give the sport some exposure by allowing international students from the university a chance to get on the ice and try it for themselves.

"What a great time to introduce sledge hockey to these students," he said. "They don't have a lot to do during the holidays."

The Sledgehammers, which is made up of disabled and able-bodied players, provided the "buckets" and sticks and the university helped out with helmets and gloves.

Able-bodied players needed

They are running the free program once more on Friday from 1:30-2:30 p.m., hoping to expose more international students to the sport.

Deveaux said the local league takes all comers, partly because it needs players to ice a team and partly because volunteers are needed to help get players onto the ice.

"We could not function in our program without able-bodied players," he said.

The only ice-level entrance at Centre 200 is the Zamboni bay. The players' benches are not accessible, because there is a step of a few inches down onto the playing surface.

Deveaux said renovations planned for the Canada Games Complex rink at CBU will make it entirely accessible, making it much easier to host sledge hockey games.