WAWOTA - In Canada, hockey is the main winter sport, but not everyone has the ability to play.
For many, lacing up skates isn't an option, but with the creation of sledge hockey, more opportunities have developed for everyone to participate in a version of Canada's national sport.
Sledge hockey is the Paralympic version of ice hockey. It is a fast-paced, highly physical game played by athletes with a physical disability in the lower part of the body. It has essentially the same rules as ice hockey.
Instead of wearing skates, each player sits strapped to a two-bladed sledge that is raised high enough to allow the puck to pass beneath. Players also use two 75-centimetre hockey sticks, with spikes on one end and blades on the other. The spike is used to propel the sledge across the ice while the slightly curved blade is used to handle the puck.
Similar to ice hockey, each team has six players on the ice, including the goaltender.
The town of Wawota welcomed the first recreational sledge hockey tournament of its kind in the area in 2014, with Melanie Brimner organizing the event.
Several years ago her son, Blake Lamontagne, was in a car accident which left him injured and in need of a wheelchair.
The idea for the tournament came with the want for Brimner's family to be able to play hockey together, a favorite pastime of the family. This gave Blake the opportunity to play hockey with his brother.
The seventh annual recreational tournament is set to happen March 25-27.
Brimner explains that the event wouldn’t happen without the support of the community and many friends and family.
The equipment for these tournaments was usually rented but Brimner took an opportunity to purchase the equipment, which allows Brimner and her family to bring awareness to people in Wawota and the surrounding communities.
"It was about awareness and getting everybody to see how it is to not be able to use your legs," says Brimner.
The tournament has had over 20 rinks participate in the past.
“I said I would continue to organize the sledge hockey tournament as long as there was interest,” says Brimner.
“Instead of it losing interest, it seems to be getting bigger and bigger. They start asking me in December if I’m still going ahead with it again.”
It’s unknown how many teams will take part this year, as many seem to wait until the last minute to commit. Brimner expects there will be upwards of 20 teams again this year.
All ages, no matter what your abilities are, are welcome to sign up to play.
“It’s just a fun tournament, there’s no prizes….just bragging rights,” jokes Brimner.
To enter, please call Brimner at 306-577-7484 or message her on Facebook.
“We have a guaranteed 50/50 prize of $1,000 this year,” explains Brimner.
Any money raised from the tournament and silent auction will be donated towards the Wawota Rink, STARS Air Ambulance and the remainder for Blake to compete in world waterskiing competition.