Cochrane got its first taste of sledge hockey on Friday night (Jan. 26) at a fundraising game hosted by the Cochrane Generals.
To no one's surprise, the final score was a lopsided 8-1 for the Sledge Calgary team, who outshot Cochrane, 31-4. Evan Plewes scored the loan Gens goal.
But in the big picture that didn't matter.
Its purpose was to showcase the sport and raise funds for the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association (CSHA).
Gens captain Tristan Ripplinger salutes the night and the bond that has been created.
"It's a great feeling to have everybody out here having fun, and seeing the fans come to show their support. We're appreciative of everything that we've been able to do. We're just doing it for everybody, and we thoroughly enjoyed it."
"I know a lot of the guys' shoulders are pretty sore, but it's super fun, and it's nice to try new things as well. We're super privileged to be able to be given this opportunity to play sledge hockey because I think it's a great sport. A lot of respect goes to them because it's not easy.
It was truly a special night for Cochrane sledge hockey player Shane Mott.
"It was really exciting to see the people come out and support us," he says. "And then, just to be on the rink in my home rink, which I don't get to do very often, was a cool experience."
He scored one of his team's goals and says they took it easy on the Gens.
Even before the game got underway, the Gens presented a $5,250 donation and there could be more provided after the final tally.
"At the rink, things are different than outside," said Gens president Rick Richard in his opening remarks. "We compete, we fight (hopefully not tonight), and sometimes our emotions get the best of us, but we are family.
"You've been neglected, bullied, harassed, or put aside because you are different. But tonight, in this arena, we celebrate that you are different. From this day forward, you are our heroes. We salute you."
CSHA president Alane Halbert says they appreciated the invitation from the Gens.
Sledge Calgary had a range of ages and skill levels on their team.
"We're pretty fortunate that we have quite a diverse group from juniors. some of our intermediate players that are going into Team Alberta, as well as some national players."
There was one player from the men's national team and three from the women's team.
Six years ago, the organization had about 30 players, says Halbert, and now has about 80 players, four teams, and just about enough players to form a second junior team.
"It's awesome. We were very fortunate that everybody came back full force right after (COVID) restrictions were lifted, and the interest has just been non-stop with new players almost every month looking at coming out."
They're currently preparing to host the Western Canadian Sledge Hockey Tournament on the last weekend of March. That, too, is growing.
"We've got B.C., we've got tons of teams from Alberta, a lot of teams from Saskatchewan, and a couple of teams from Manitoba."
There's been interest expressed by eastern Canadian teams to play in the tournament, and the association is planning to reach out to those in the northwestern US. They're also looking to connect with the Seattle Kraken, Colorado Avalanche, and Minnesota Wild.
"They've got some players that would love to come out and play, so we're hoping to have them visit us here. Maybe not this year, but next year for sure."
Jason Leask, manager of the junior program, says fundraisers like these are extremely important to help introduce youth to the sport.
"They're the most important thing we can have because it brings the team fees down and it brings in money for our gear. A lot of our gear we provide for people so they can try the sport. If they learn to love the sport, then they'll go out and purchase their own gear and become part of the organization."
He says they have 32 sleds for the junior program, and about another 15 kids have their own.
Events like this also offer the chance to expose the sport to more people.
"You don't have to be disabled or anything to try the sport. You can be to a cousin, a friend, a brother. We welcome anybody and everybody. "
Gens president Richards says it's just the start of an ongoing relationship. For one, he says they intend to have some volunteers assisting at the Western tournament.
SLS Centre chief executive officer Erin Wagner was in attendance.
"We're very thankful and honoured that we could host a first-time event for Cochrane and an absolutely first-time event in our centre."
They consulted with Sledge Calgary in advance to ensure the centre could provide an enjoyable experience for their players.
"We certainly have a long way to go to make our whole facility acceptable for them, but it looks like they're having a great time out there."
For more information on Sledge Calgary, click here.