LEWISTON — Women all around the country are hitting the Androscoggin Bank Colisee this weekend as the USA Hockey’s Women’s Sledge Hockey Team holds tryouts for the upcoming season.
The usually team holds it tryouts at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minn., which is outside of Minneapolis, but Lewiston native Christy Gardner, who has been on the sled hockey team the last few years, had the tryouts moved to Lewiston for this year.
“This was Christy’s doing,” said Rosie Misiewicz, who is an assistant coach for the women’s sledge hockey team. “We usually do our tryouts in Minnesota where the women’s able-body team has their home rink. The facility is in Minneapolis. We typically use that as a kickoff point there.
“Christy set this up and a lot of people were willing to pull together to make this happen. There has been a lot of community support here in Lewiston, so it sounded like a good opportunity.”
Sledge hockey is designed for players with a physical disability to play the sport. Players sit in a sled that’s equipped with ice blades and has a stick in each hand to control the puck and used to push themselves down the ice. Players follow normal ice hockey rules with the same amount of skaters on the ice.
Gardner, who travels across the country playing for the national team and the New England Warriors — a team of mostly composed of disable veterans — is glad tryouts are close to home so family members can catch a game of hers.
“It’s awesome to have the national tryout here because we travel all across the country and play the men’s team constantly, but we are never here in Maine,” Gardner said. “So my family never gets to see me. I think this is the first time in two or three years they get to see me play.”
She has been playing the sport for four years now.
Saturday afternoon they held an inter-squad scrimmage where team white and team red skated to a 4-4 tie.
For Monica Quimby, who’s from Turner, having the tryouts in her own backyard helps promote the state.
“I love it; it’s in my backyard,” Quimby said. “I like that the tryouts are in Maine. It shows off this great state and really be able to be proud of where I am (from).”
The sport is still growing as the national team didn’t receive recognition from USA Hockey until last year after Tom Koester and Tom Brake started the program independently in 2007. Last November, the first ever IPC Women’s Sledge Hockey World Cup took place in Brampton, Ontario. where USA defeated Canada to take first place.
These tryouts in Lewiston will help set the World Cup roster for the tournament this November.
“The purpose of this is to pick a core group of women and girls that will travel with us on a monthly basis,” Misiewicz said. “We get together once a month throughout the year to play men’s teams in a different state.”
They also select a few alternate players when they are playing near the alternates’ home.
While men’s sledge hockey is a Paralympic sport, the women’s game doesn’t have that designation just yet. They hope to be a medal sport come the 2018 Winter Paralymic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. At the very least, sledge hockey athletes hope it will be a demonstration sport in hopes of becoming a medal sport in future games.
“Everybody here is aiming for those spots on the Paralympic roster, whether we are demonstration or medal sport,” Gardner said. “Getting a chance to wear the USA jersey is huge for all of us. It’s like a dream come true.”
The skill level of the players who are trying out ranges from the cagey veterans who have been playing for seven to eight years or players who are just starting out.
One of the newer players is Quimby. She got into sledge hockey when she was training for paracanoeing. She quickly warmed up to the sport.
“I was going to a (sledge hockey) practice to recruit people for another adaptive sport,” Quimby said. “I ended up playing and falling in love with it.”
She also tried out for last year’s team and was an alternate where she got called up to play in some games.
It’s not the first time USA Hockey has come to Maine. Last year, the Women’s National Team held a training camp down at University of New England’s Harold Alfond Forum. In the fall of 2013, the women’s team started their pre-Olympic tour against the Portland Junior Pirates boys’ 18U team at the University of Southern Maine. In 2010, they held exhibition game at Bowdoin College’s Sid Watson Arena against Sweden. The Men’s National Team also hosted an exhibition game against Sweden in Portland in 2008 before the IIHF World Championships that were being held in Quebec City and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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