26 to 27 November was a special weekend for the community of Thorncliffe and Flemingdon. The neighbourhood had the rare opportunity to watch Korean national hockey players take the ice against the Ontario All-Stars at the Angela James Arena for three days.
But these were not your typical hockey players—they were sledge hockey players.
Sledge hockey is a variation of ice hockey and a paralympic sport. Players are strapped to a bladed sledge and propel themselves with miniature hockey sticks that are spiked at one end and curved at the other.
The Ontario Sledge Hockey Association (OSHA) and the Friends of Angela James Arena (FAJA) worked together to host the Korean national sledge hockey team. The visiting team played a practice game against the Ontario All-Stars on Thursday 24 November, an exhibition match on Saturday 26 November, and finally another practice game on Monday 28 November. All matches were hosted at the Angela James Arena, Flemingdon Park. FAJA also offered free food for spectators.
When asked about how the event was made possible, OSHA President Drew Rigden said that the Korean team had been looking for a series of exhibition games that were en route to the World Sledge Hockey Challenge (WSHC) in PEI. “I think they [the Koreans] are fantastic. I mean, you could just see by the speed they have here on the ice,” commented Drew Rigden on the game. “They’re probably the 4th ranked team in the world. You know, they’ve got a lot of speed and they’ve got a lot of good goal scorers, they’ve really bounced up the ranks in the international games, so we’re pretty fortunate to have them here to play us.”
The first two practice games played on 24 and 26 November ended with a score of 8-0 and 6-1 for Korea. The Korean coach said he was satisfied with the results but that this was only practice. The team’s ultimate goal is to beat the American and Canadian teams at the WSHC.
Those who attended the games sat in awe as the players slid up and down the ice, dribbling the puck back and forth. MGCI’s teacher, Mr Hillman, came to watch the game and was impressed by both teams. “Just look at how fast they are simply with their hands,” he said, “They are such tremendous athletes, despite their disability. To go in that fast, get into physical contact and come out unscathed……brilliant! Hopefully we’ll see Canada play here someday.” Mr. Hillman was disappointed in the lack of student turnout at the event, but planned to get his students more involved in hockey after the experience.
Similar sentiments were echoed by an anonymous spectator: “Korea did a great job, really professional. There were not a lot of kids around, but hopefully it will increase awareness of sledge hockey and disabilities.”
Aishah Sheri, a FAJA worker, was one of the individuals who helped organize the event. She feels hopeful that events like the sledge hockey exhibition will help youths become more active in the community. “Youth here have a tendency to go astray, but sports can often act as a safeguard,” commented Aisha. “A lot of young people do not know that one of Canada’s finest athlete was created in this arena.” Aisha also mentioned that the arena and recreation centre lack resources to fully operate. She encourages youth to step forward and help their community solve these problems. She also affirms that regardless of how close to MGCI a student lives, Flemingdon will be part of their community: “Every part of Toronto, together, creates one big community. It’s just a bridge or a street that separates us.”
The arena is currently under renovation, and is home to the Pro-Action Hockey League. It was the first Toronto hockey rink to be ranked as a Top 10 finalist in the Kraft Hockeyville contest. Aishah invites all students who wish to volunteer in the community, or involve themselves with FAJA, to visit her at the Angela James Area.