Steve Cash is entering his third Paralympic Winter Games as a goalkeeper for Team USA.
The Paralympic Winter Games are March 7-16, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. With three medals up for grabs in one sled hockey competition, Team USA will send 17 athletes to compete. Get ready for Sochi with these 14 facts on sled hockey:
Swedish from the start
Modeled after ice hockey, ice sled hockey was invented at a rehabilitation center in Stockholm, Sweden, during the early 1960s by a group of Swedes who wanted to play hockey despite their physical impairments. The early equipment included sleds on top of two skates and two round poles with bike handles for sticks. The sport quickly caught on across Europe. In 1969, Stockholm hosted the first international match between a local club team and one from Oslo, Norway.
At the inaugural Paralympic Winter Games, held in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, two Swedish teams played an exhibition match, as the sport was not a part of the program. Sweden, fittingly, took home the first gold medal in sled hockey when the sport debuted at the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games.
During the 1970s, teams from Norway and Sweden regularly played each other, although it took years for the sport to spread to other areas. Several other countries began to establish teams in the 1980-90s including Great Britain (1981), Canada (1982), USA (1990), Estonia and Japan (1993).
Rising of red, white and blue
Team USA won the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic Winter Games, marking the first Paralympic medal in the sport for the United States. The team won a bronze medal in 2006 before taking the top spot again in 2010. The U.S. medaled at the world championship for the first time in 2004, taking silver. The team was third in 2008, first in 2009, first in 2012 and second in 2013.
The U.S. won the gold medal at the 2012 International Paralympic Committee Sledge Hockey World Championship in Hamar, Norway on April 1, becoming the first sled team to win back-to-back world titles. Entering the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, no team has ever won consecutive Paralympic gold medals.
American Steve Cash is one of the most respected goaltenders in the world. In 2009, he helped the United States to its first-ever International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships title, starting each game. The United States Olympic Committee recognized him as the 2009 Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. At the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, the second Games of his career, he did not allow a goal in five contests, stopping all 33 shots including a penalty shot attempt in the gold medal game. He received the “Best Male Athlete with a Disability” ESPY Award following the Games. Cash had a .923 save percentage at 2012 worlds. Undefeated heading into the finale of the 2013 worlds, Team USA allowed Canada to score the decisive goal at 2:07 of the second period. Cash made 14 saves otherwise in the gold medal game but the one that got away proved to be the difference maker.
Same rules, different equipment
USA Hockey, which oversees the U.S. Olympic Teams, also oversees the U.S. sled hockey program while IPC Ice Sledge Hockey is the global governing body. With modifications, sled hockey follows the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation, which governs able-bodied ice hockey, including at the Olympic Winter Games. Instead of skates, players use double-blade sleds that allow the puck to pass beneath the sled. Players also two sticks, instead of one, and the sticks have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting.
Mix it up
Although only male athletes were named to the 2014 roster for Team USA, sled hockey became a mixed competition at the Paralympic Winter Games for the first time in 2010. Teams that are mixed gender are allowed up to 18 players, while all-male squads are limited to 17.
Sled hockey games consist of three 15-minute periods.
As in ice hockey, each sled hockey 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.
What the puck?
Made of vulcanized rubber or other approved material, a sled hockey puck is 2.54 centimeters thick, with a diameter of 7.62 cm. It weighs 156-170 grams. At the highest level of the game, pucks travel at 100 miles per hour.
In sled hockey, players use two sticks with a hooked wooden blade at one end and a pick at the other end. Each stick has a maximum length of one meter and is made of wood, plastic or aluminum/titanium. The blade has a maximum length of 25 cm, except for the goaltender's blade, which has a maximum length of 35 cm. 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 1 cm anywhere beyond the stick
- The pick must have at least six teeth, each with a maximum length of 4 millimeters
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.
Because of the physical nature of the game, sled hockey players wear protective gear like their able-bodied counterparts. 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. Goalies are supplied with extra padding than teammates. They also have special gloves. All players are strapped in to the sled at the feet, ankles and hips for security.
Where the magic happens
Shayba Arena, which can host 7,000 spectactors, is home to the sled hockey competition for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.”Shayba” is Russian for puck. The Bolshoy Ice Dome, the Shayba Arena, the Bolshoi Ice Palace, the Maly Ice Palace and a training rink are all located in the same area of Sochi in what is known as the "Coastal Cluster”.
— International Paralympic Committee contributed to this report