ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Sledge hockey – now officially known as para ice hockey – is a version of Canada’s sport which opens it up to person with disabilities. However, in smaller, rural communities, it’s a version not often available since the number of prospective participants simply doesn’t create enough of a demand for a program and the resources it would require. The answer – ‘inclusion.’
“This season, a collaborative partnership between Antigonish Minor Hockey Association (AMHA), St. F.X. human kinetics and X-Men hockey has helped foster inclusive physical activity for children with and without disability, through the sport of sledge hockey,” a statement from organizers of Bulldog sledge hockey program, read.
“For the past six weeks, Bulldog teammates, at the novice, atom and pee wee levels, have shared their passion to grow the game with children with various disabilities, during weekly sledge hockey practices and games. Bulldog players, with and without disability, have realised they share much in common; especially commitment, effort and a desire to score goals or just getting back up.
“All players have discovered, quickly, that sledge hockey is a tough sport requiring hard work, strength and skill. Whether practicing turns, scoring goals or completing full-ice drills, it has been refreshing to see an all-round growth in terms of a sense of community and acceptance.”
Fourth-year human kinetics student Brent Ashfield has been one of the leaders running the program and is creating a video which will be shared throughout Canada to try and promote the program to other communities and minor hockey associations. Ashfield said it’s about putting “theory into practice.”
“We’re doing evidence based practice,” Ashfield said.
“We’re looking at taking research that has been done in the past and applying it to our program. We’ve been doing, sort of, an innovative program for rural sledge hockey; basically, if it can be applied in a rural setting, it could be applied in any association across Canada – urban or rural.
“How do we bring up the skill level of individuals with disabilities in a rural setting? We’re doing that through inclusion.”
He described ‘inclusion’ as a “team sport.”
“It only really works if everyone is pulling in the same direction,” he said. “We’ve been lucky here in Antigonish with the community support, the families, the coaches with the Bulldogs, and the fans.”
Classmate Giovanni Akeson, a player with the Antigonish Farmers Mutual Junior Bulldogs the previous two seasons, talked about the weekly schedule for the inclusion program.
“A practice once a week, every Thursday, and we’ve implemented sledge hockey games into the minor hockey association,” Akeson said.
“The hockey games are every Sunday, right after the house league minor hockey games. The kids who play in the house league games would also be playing in the sledge league games, right after the house league games. It’s two teams every week, so the last two teams who played in the house league game are staying.”
Ashfield noted there is a skill session on Thursday as well.
“An inclusive practice where we have the regular minor hockey association players doing their drills on skates and then we’re adapting with a few of us in the sleds,” he said.
Akeson said they’re working with local coaches to adapt drills used for players on skates, to ones for players in sleds.
Asked about the class they share, which provided the basis for their work with the program, Ashfield said it’s about “design thinking.”
“A lot of time there are issues with putting theory into practice, there is a gap there,” he said.
“We have these kids in Antigonish who have a need; they need physical activity but there is no program for people with disabilities; no program for people to engage in – that’s the gap.
“We’ve designed this population intervention which has really never been done before, and we have designed it specifically for Antigonish. Through this, we’ll have our video abstract we’re doing. It will be coming out soon and with that, hopefully it expands across Canada.
“Specifically in our class we’re writing, basically, a research paper; this is what we did, this is how it worked, and then, hopefully, it will be adopted by other communities, other minor hockey associations.”
Akeson credited Ashfield with being the leader on the project.
“He has led our group on it,” he said. “I’m happy to work with him and learn through him; I’ve worked hard at it because I’ve seen how hard Brent works.”
During the X-Men’s Nov. 23 game versus the Dalhousie Tigers, the program was recognized with sledge hockey players Danielle Pellerine and James Macmillan taking on the role of flag bearers during the opening ceremonies, as well as teammate Daniel Bond serving as the X-Men’s ‘7th player.’
There was a demonstration of a para ice hockey game during the first intermission and during the second intermission, representatives from Bonvie-MacDonald Rinks to Links presented Daniel with a commit to purchase, for him, a personalized sled.
Words of gratitude were also expressed at the time towards; AMHA, X-Men hockey, the Junior Bulldogs, Goodlife Kids Foundation, Municipality of the County of Antigonish recreation department and Hockey Nova Scotia’s ‘Grow the Game’ grant for money going towards sleds, other equipment and ice time.