Unique game means unique equipment challenges
Like the players themselves, equipment in the game of sled hockey is constantly improving. USA Hockey took time with U.S. National Sled Hockey Team equipment manager Bill Sandberg to discuss the differences in equipment between sled hockey and the equipment you see in the able-bodied version of the game.
USA Hockey: What are some differences between caring for sled hockey equipment and able-bodied hockey equipment?
Bill Sandberg: One of the main differences would be the sticks and the picks on the sticks. These sticks need a lot more maintenance, so you can't just wrap them up in tape and go play. The picks tend to get loose as the guys propel themselves down the ice, so we have to continue to tighten them. You also see broken picks, where you need to drill new holes and install new picks.
Then, for the sleds, the main difference is the maintenance. Instead of just putting a skate on a skate sharpener, you have to disassemble and take the blades off of the sled and then reassemble the skate. So, start to finish, sharpening a blade takes 15 minutes instead of two or three, which could cost a player a whole period.
USAH: Do you have one prime example of an equipment malfunction that took place during a game?
BS: Last year, at the World Championship in the Czech Republic, we had two players break what's called a "bracket." It sits underneath the sled, and the blade is attached to it. If the bracket gets bent, instead of sitting parallel to the ice, a player could be sitting at a 45 degree angle. You have to unscrew six to eight bolts, get the new piece, and realign everything. It was almost like trying to fix a car that was in a car accident in five minutes. Meanwhile the players and coaches are antsy and want to get back on the ice. Generally speaking, though, unless a sled breaks in half we can get a sled back on the ice in 10 or 15 minutes.
USAH: Are all sleds the same? Are all the pieces the same?
BS: Unfortunately, not. We're going that way with our team, so in a month if one guy breaks a piece I'll have the spare "one size fits all" part. As we speak, we've got guys with three or four different kinds of sleds and different manufacturers that make different parts.
Meanwhile, there are also so-called one-piece frames, and short of me having a welding kit, we're out of luck if those break. Bubba Torres broke his one-piece sled two years ago in Japan, and he was done for the tournament. It's not like you can go down the street in Japan and find a welder.
USAH: Are the players' sticks just regular sticks that are chopped in half?
BS: They are not. Sled hockey sticks are their own kind of stick. Our sticks look almost like those souvenir sticks you get at a concession stand with picks that look like a figure skater's toe. These sticks have a separate shaft. If you have a broken blade, you can insert a new blade pretty quickly. Repairing a broken blade can take five or six minutes. If they break their shaft, hopefully they've got extras.
USAH: Goalies have special gloves with picks in them as well. Do companies manufacture this specialized equipment, or do the players modify able-bodied equipment?
BS: Easton is a big stick manufacturer. We like to do one order that covers us for a couple of years. They also make a one-piece stick that some of the guys prefer.