New hockey horizons

World-class sled hockey player brings the sport to Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The sport of sled hockey met the city of Juneau on Tuesday at Treadwell Arena - and it had quite an ambassador.

Sylvester Flis, one of the world's top sled hockey players, spent an hour at the rink working with Juneau residents who wanted to give the sport a try. He'll be back at the arena today to instruct students from Harborview Elementary School.

Sled hockey, which originated in the 1960s, places participants on a metal-frame sled that is supported by a pair of hockey skate blades.

A pair of shortened hockey sticks are used to propel player and puck. There is a pick at the top of each stick, and players push themselves down the rink much like cross-country skiers on snow. The sticks' blades are smaller than standard hockey equipment, but as Flis demonstrated Tuesday, they can still pack a wallop.

Flis, who is from Poland but now lives in Chicago, was born with spina bifida and started playing sled hockey about a decade ago. He plays for a team at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and among many career highlights he led the United States to the gold medal at the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City, where he was named the most valuable player.

Last year, Flis was honored with his own NHL trading card.

Flis said the sled - and the means of propelling it - set sled hockey apart from sports like wheelchair basketball.

"You're jumping from a wheelchair to a different instrument, to a different motion," he said.

Before stopping in Juneau, Flis spent time working with a sled hockey team in Anchorage. That squad is preparing to travel to its first-ever tournament, in April in Edmonton, Alberta.

Flis said he'd like to see other Alaska towns start teams.

"I hope that there will be a team here, and in Fairbanks, so they don't have to travel a long distance," he said. "That's our goal."

Flis' visit was sponsored by Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL), and its Outdoor Recreation and Community Access program (ORCA).

ORCA owns one sled - they hope to get more - and Flis brought along three in addition to his own. Five at a time, sled hockey players mingled on the Treadwell ice with players on skates.

For more information about sled hockey, visit the United State Sled Hockey Association Web site at http://www.ussha.org.



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