Brevard County and Space Coast Home to World Class Sled Hockey Talent

By  //  June 10, 2019

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Space Coast Iceplex has played a large role in the development of the sport

Sled Hockey is among the most popular Paralympic sports in the world; Brevard County has a history of producing world-class talent in the sport. Sled hockey players compete with specially designed sleds. (Photo by Tony Webster/CC BY 2.0)

For those who don’t know, Sled Hockey is an adapted version of regular ice-hockey that was designed for athletes with physical disabilities or mobility limitations.

Invented in Stockholm, Sweden in the early 1960s, it has most of the same rules as ice hockey, with the exception that players sit on specially designed sleds, under which there are two skating blades.

Players then make use of two sticks with metal pics on the end to propel themselves around the ice-rink.

Sled Hockey is among the most popular Paralympic sports in the world; Brevard County has a history of producing world-class talent in the sport.

Space-Coast Iceplex

As difficult as the sport is to play, it can be even harder to find adequate rinks that are equipped for it. There are only a few rinks around the country that have been made accessible to sled-hockey players, our very own Space Coast Iceplex being one of them.

The Space Coast Iceplex has played a large role in the development of the sport locally, as well as Brevard County’s success in Olympic-level Sled Hockey.

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Not only has the rink been made sled-accessible, the recently-launched Wounded Warrior Project aims to help local residents with service-related injuries regain mobility, or to simply enjoy the sport.

Greg Shaw, a two-time Olympic Gold winner and player for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Sled-Hockey team,  is a Brevard County resident and makes it a point to visit the Iceplex as often as he can.

This allows him to encourage and mentor new sled-hockey players, with Shaw saying, “I want to give back to the community…I’ve fulfilled my goals. I’m very blessed. So many people can’t say that.”

AS A MEMBER OF THE USA National Sled Hockey Team, Greg Shaw of Merritt Island, Florida, earned a gold medal at the Paralympics games in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010, as well as in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Shaw also skated off with two gold medals at the World Sled Hockey Championships in 2008 and 2012.

World-Class local Players

Brevard County is home to two world-class sled-hockey players: Greg Shaw for the Men’s Team USA and Karina Villegas for the Women’s Team USA. Both have helped the US reach Gold at the Para Ice Hockey World Cup.

Villegas found an interest in sled hockey in 2014 after taking her daughter to the rink, where she was impressed by the sport. She soon began playing and encountered Shaw, who became a teammate and mentor to her during her novice period. Villegas soon gained a spot on the US development team, closely followed with a spot on the US Women’s national team.

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In 2018, she helped the US Women’s Para Ice Hockey team win gold at the World Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic

Shaw currently plays for the Hurricanes, a sled-hockey team based out of the Space-Coast Iceplex. She was instrumental in US team’s two Paralympic victories in 2010 and 2014. Born and raised on Merritt Island, Shaw is recognized as a world-class athlete and played on the national team for a total of eight years.

Team USA wins Gold

The US men’s team took gold again this year in the World Championship. In a stunning 3-2 overtime win against Canada, the team managed to bring home America’s fourth world title in the sled hockey world championship.

It’s definitely invigorating to see a home victory on the ice, especially after the swift collapse of Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite it starting off as an exemplary and very promising season.

In a later match, the Blue Jackets were outed by the Boston Bruins, who now face a final showdown for the Stanley Cup against the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues had a few contentious games in the playoffs against Dallas but were widely predicted to come out on top, which they did. All that remains to be seen is how they fare against the Bruins in this year’s final.

Retired Army Sgt. First Class Dustan Brewer enjoying sled hockey.

What’s next for Sled-Hockey?

Sled Hockey is a rapidly growing sport across the USA and internationally, with more and more ice-rinks becoming sled-accessible. To make an ice-rink sled-accessible, it simply requires that the rink cover the ground in the bench area with ice so that players can move into the area whilst remaining in their sled.

Sled-hockey is a physical activity that is well suited to players with many types of disabilities, players often express the fact that the strenuous activity helps alleviate emotional and physical stress.

This makes it well suited to the purposes of the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps empower wounded veterans by allowing them to compete in athletic competition, which in turn goes a long way in improving an individual’s physical and mental well-being.

Hats off to the Space-Coast Iceplex for getting involved in the worthy cause.

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