The Colorado Avalanche hosts the Stadium Series Legacy Project sled hockey clinic at the Sertich Ice Center in Colorado Springs High School Sports
John-Michael Liles is pretty comfortable on ice.
After 836 games in the NHL, this should be a no-brainer.
But if you take off his skates and send him out onto the ice in a sledge, that’s a different story.
Wednesday Liles, who spent the first seven years of his career at the Colorado Avalanche, tried sled hockey with fellow beginners at a clinic hosted by the National Hockey League and the Avalanche at the Sertich Ice Center as part of the Stadium Series Legacy Project.
“I can confidently say that when you hear someone scream, I definitely am, very high. I don’t know what I do with a sled, ”said Liles, who retired in 2017 and attended the event as part of the Hockey is for Everyone campaign. Stanley Cup Champion Kevin Westgarth, formerly the LA Kings and currently NHL Vice President of Hockey Development, and sled hockey teams from Colorado including Warrior Avs, CO Sled Hockey and the Colorado Springs Tigers were also in attendance.
One player who had no problem skating the ice and making sharp turns on her sled was Robynne Hill, a graduate of Fountain-Fort Carson who has played sled hockey since 2011.
“I didn’t know about hockey when I started, and when I found sled hockey it changed my life,” said Hill. “I want to be able to change other people’s lives and tell them this sport is out here and come to play. To share that love and see people try it out and say, “This is amazing”. “
As an adult, Hill played high-performing sports such as soccer, volleyball, karate, and athletics. But a variety of disabilities deteriorated her lower body and restricted the use of her legs.
“When I couldn’t do these sports, it put a huge strain on my life,” said Hill, a 2015 F-FC graduate. “I also have severe learning disabilities, so school was very, very difficult for me and sports my outlet was. When it was ripped off, I said, “OK, what do I do now? “
But in 2011 a classmate’s presentation about sled hockey took her to the ice.
“I found out about the sport (from its presentation) and wanted to try it out,” said Hill. “I was so nervous, but I fell in love with the sport and I didn’t look back.”
Hill attended the clinic as a representative of the U.S. women’s sled development team – although, according to Hill, her team is not developing at all, being the only established women’s sled hockey team in the country.
“We are considered a development team because we have not yet gone to the Paralympics. Other countries are holding us back, ”said Hill.
She added that there are only two other national women’s sled hockey teams in the world – Canada and Norway.
“We have the hope of going to the 2020 Paralympics, but we have to have these other countries. There are 12 other nations developing programs, but they are not yet at this elite level, ”said Hill.
The clinic on Wednesday should help grow the sport, while Hill hoped the clinic would help grow the side of women.
“When I started there weren’t as many girls as there are now. In order to have more girls out here, I try to be a role model for them,” Hill said. “Especially when you’re playing a man’s dominated sport it’s pretty intimidating, but being a woman out there who rocks him is pretty amazing too. Reaching such a high level and having that dream is absolutely amazing. “
On-Ice Bench Sled Hockey Prototype
In addition to the free clinic, which provided equipment and instructions to athletes of all ages and abilities, Avalanche, USA Hockey and Athletica Sport Systems unveiled a removable prototype of an on-ice bench. The system of moving boards offers players protection from the game and saves the ice rinks from costly solutions to get sled players off the bench and onto the ice. Currently, many ice rinks cannot accept sled hockey players entering the bench area or the penalty bench. This means that athletes who are not in the game have to sit on the ice with their backs against the boards.
The bench design extends across the neutral zone and provides two openings for the teams to enter their respective benches. The end of the bench curves into the existing boards at the blue line to allow for a more seamless transition between the existing structure and the removable boards.
Changes will be made after a test phase.