Since its debut at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games, the Paralympic version of ice hockey has quickly become one of the largest attractions for spectators. It is fast-paced, highly physical and played by male and female athletes with a physical impairment in the lower part of the body. The sport is governed by the IPC with co-ordination by the World Para Ice Hockey Technical Committee.
It follows the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) with modifications. Instead of skates, players use double-blade sledges that allow the puck to pass beneath. Players use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting.
In 2016, the sport has been renamed and rebranded from IPC Ice Sledge Hockey to Para ice hockey.
As in ice hockey, each team attempts to outscore its opponent by shooting the puck across the ice and into the opposing team's goal while preventing the opposing team from scoring. Six players (including the goalkeeper) from each team are on the ice at one time.
Double-blade sledges that allow the puck to pass underneath replace skates, and the players use sticks with a spike-end and a blade-end. Therefore, with a quick flip of the wrist, the players are able to propel themselves using the spikes and then play the puck using the blade-end of the sticks. A player may use two sticks with blades in order to facilitate stick handling and ambidextrous shooting. Ice sledge hockey games consist of three 15-minute periods.
Protective gear: Because of the physical nature of the game, all players are required to wear a helmet with a full cage or mask as well as a protective collar or bib. Players are also encouraged to wear protective padding, including shoulder pads, shin guards, elbow pads and large padded gloves. In addition, the goalkeeper wears leg pads, body pads, a helmet with a visor and a catcher glove to protect the athlete from pucks flying up to 100 km/h.
Puck: Made of vulcanized rubber or other approved material, the puck is 2.54cm thick, with a diameter of 7.62cm and weighs 156 to 170 grams.
Sledge: Made of aluminium or steel, sledges are 0.6m to 1.2m in length with a curved front end and one of two different seating systems. The sledge is set on two blades, which are usually made of tempered steel and are each 3 mm thick. The puck must be able to pass underneath the sledge. The height of the main frame must be between 8.5cm to 9.5cm above the ice, and the length of the blade may not be more than one-third of the total length of the sledge. The sledge may be equipped with a backrest, but it must not protrude laterally beyond the armpits when the player is properly seated. Straps secure a player's feet, ankles, knees and hips to the sledge.
Stick: In Para ice hockey, players use two sticks with a hooked wooden blade at one end (for puck handling and ambidextrous shooting) and a pick at the other end. Each stick has a maximum length of 1m and is made of wood, plastic or aluminium/titanium. The blade has a maximum length of 25cm, except for the goaltender's blade, which has a maximum length of 35cm. The pick end of the stick must not damage the ice surface or inadvertently puncture or slash other players, so the following rules apply:
No part of the pick or teeth may come to a sharp point.
The pick must not extend more than 1cm anywhere beyond the stick.
The pick must have at least six teeth, each with a maximum length of 4mm.
The goaltender may have an additional pick at the base end of his stick. The goaltender may also use an additional stick with a blade or a trapper glove with teeth.
A direct descendant of ice hockey, Para ice hockey was invented at a rehabilitation centre in Stockholm, Sweden, during the early 1960's by a group of Swedes who, despite their physical impairment, wanted to continue playing hockey. The men modified a metal frame sled, or sledge, with two regular-sized ice hockey skate blades that allowed the puck to pass underneath. Using round poles with bike handles for sticks, the men played without any goaltenders on a lake south of Stockholm.
The sport caught on and, by 1969, Stockholm had a five-team league that included players with a physically impairment and able-bodied players.
That same year, Stockholm hosted the first international Para ice hockey match between a local club team and one from Oslo, Norway.
During the 1970's, teams from these two countries played once or twice a year. Several other countries began to establish teams, including Great Britain (1981), Canada (1982), USA (1990), Estonia and Japan (1993).
Two Swedish national teams played an exhibition match at the inaugural Örnsköldsvik 1976 Paralympic Winter Games in Sweden.
Para ice hockey did not become an official event until the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games.