Last week saw the first International Sledge Hockey School take place at Silver Blades Ice Rink Widnes. With sledge players from around the world coming to join some of the best new players we have in the UK, it was three days of training – both on and off the ice. More importantly, it was a chance for players to get to know some of the players they hope to compete against in future international tournaments.
Invitees from the UK teams were Jon Le Galloudec and Tyler Christopher [Peterborough Phantoms], Jason Solmon [Cardiff Devils] and Anthony Booth [Manchester Phoenix], along with GB Head Coach Andrew Linton and Manchester Phoenix Captain and Assistant Coach, Karl Nicholson. They joined 15 players and coaches from Slovakia, Austria and Norway, who each brought a different series of training drills and discussion points to the event.
The GB team ready to get started [Photo courtesy of Paul Woollias]
In conjunction with Halton Borough Council and Silver Blades Widnes, the event coincided with the launch of a new sensory rink and soft play area. As part of the launch, a friendly game was organised for the first evening of the school. Billed as “GB vs The Rest of the World”, the UK based participants were joined by some of the more experienced GB players. Familiar international names such as Gary Farmer, Rob Gaze and Matt Clarkson took to the ice, easily slipping back into their roles, allowing the new players to appreciate the added challenges that this level of competition brings.
Despite the familiarity of the GB team, the Rest of the World team proved that they were certainly a force to be reckoned with. It was a clean game, with very few penalties, and both teams were evenly matched and neither was willing to give up without a fight. Just moments before the end of the first period, GB managed to find the back of the net and get the scoring started. Although there was a little confusion over who got the credit for the goal, the final consensus (at least from the bench) was that it belonged to Gary Farmer.
The second period remained a close battle, but GB were starting to find their place and seemed to take a little more control. The first penalty came about halfway through the period, with GB’s Matt Woollias sitting for 2 minutes. However, when Austria’s Stefan Eberdorfer was whistled for a high-stick infringement less than a minute later, we had our first 4-on-4 shift. Coming up on the end of the period, Woollias was back on the ice, and GB ended the period on the player advantage.
A quick visit from the zamboni – and Widnes Wild’s mascot Pukka Penguin – between periods gave all of the players a chance for a quick breather, but they were soon back on the ice ready for the third and final period. Gb started with a power play, but even once Eberdorfer’s penalty was over, GB dominated the ice, keeping the action firmly in the opposing end. With only a few minutes left on the clock, the third penalty was issued, this time to Gary Farmer, who receieved 2 minutes for elbowing. GB’s penalty killing team held firm though, and only seconds after Farmer returned to the ice, they scored a second goal, this time from Karl Nicholson. It was already looking like a solid win for the GB team when Farmer decided he wanted another point. His goal came almost exactly a minute after Nicholson’s, and gave GB a 3-0 lead just in time for the final buzzer.
The supporters – many of whom had never seen a sledge hockey game before – were thrilled with the home win, and gave a rousing cheer for both teams as all of the players came onto the ice and the MVP awards were handed out.
Both teams on the ice at the end of the game [Photo courtesy of Paul Woollias]
The game was a great opportunity to see some of the best players this country has to offer, as well as some fantastic players from other countries. But the sledge hockey school certainly wasn’t over for those “enrolled”.
With the excitement of the previous night’s game over, the following morning started bright and early for all the players. With both on- and off-ice activities planned, each of the different coaches introduced a number of their own drills and practice sessions, sharing ideas with both the players and the other coaches. It didn’t seem to matter to any of them that they’d been on the ice for three days – everyone was still raring to go. Some of the on-ice drills seemed almost as brutal as the international game had been, with (legal!) hits and checks being thrown from all sides! There were also plenty of opportunities for the players to get to know each other. While the language barriers made it slightly harder to chat, no one was going to let that get in the way, and a lot of new friendships were formed.
All of the GB players who were invited to attend enjoyed the opportunity. Jason Solmon from Cardiff Devils, was particularly thrilled with his invite:
I was proud and honoured to have been included in the International Sledge Hockey School, and found the experience invaluable to aiding my development to the next level.
There were many new ideas, drills and techniques that I will personally pass on to the Cardiff Devils Sledge Hockey Team, which will hopefully enable the sport to move forward in terms of player quality in the future.
May I take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all at the BHSA, Silver Blades, Planet Ice and the GB Sledge Hockey Team for their continuing support to both myself and all players of Sledge Hockey.
This event was hopefully only the first of several to come, offering more opportunities in the future for both GB players and those from other countries.
The BSHA would like to thank Silver Blades Widnes for hosting the event, and Halton Borough Council for all their support in making this event possible.