They don’t skate backward.
It’s an arm based sport.
The skill level is incredible and there is nowhere to hide on the ice.
These are a few of the early observations made by Ken Babey, head coach of the Canadian National Para Ice Hockey Team.
After 27 years as head coach of the men’s hockey team at SAIT, a post-secondary school in Calgary, Babey decided it was time for a change. In 2015 he became the head coach for the Canadian National Para Ice Hockey Team and he hasn’t looked back since.
From leading Canada to a World Title in 2017 to taking home silver at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games to now getting ready for the 2019 Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup in Paradise, N.L., he says this coaching role is the highlight of his career.
From differences in the game to his coaching philosophy and why young kids should get involved, we caught up with Babey to discuss all things hockey.
How does this coaching job compare to the others you’ve had in the past?
I had a great career in everything I’ve done, but this is the highlight of my coaching career. It’s been very challenging at times and that has been a great part of it but mostly getting to know these guys as people and their stories. How hard they (players) have to work every day of their lives just to get around, go to school and raise families. Then they come out and we work the heck out of them on the ice, it’s just amazing to be apart of it and of course, representing your country internationally is always an honor.
It’s been a great highlight of my coaching career.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I believe in teamwork in terms of player teamwork and building a positive culture that demands high performance. Our programs focus on high performance and being the best we can be. The goal of our program is to be the best in the world and we are working towards that.
I think the teamwork aspect involves also everyone associated with the team. Whether it’s the managers or the support staff, assistant coaches, everyone who is apart of the team and I enjoy including them as much as possible and having an active approach in the game.
For young kids coming into the sport, how steep of a learning curve is it?
It’s a big learning curve. In stand up, there is a pyramid to the top, you make a team, you are a good player, you keep bumping up and through that, you go to many competitions and there’s so much competitiveness that you get pretty used to it.
This situation is different because there is not a vast amount of players who play at a high level. So the better players, will go back and dominate their team so they don’t have to work as hard and don’t get hit as much.
Then when they come to our camps and start getting involved in our program, that’s how it shows up and they have to adjust their game. They have to push themselves a little harder.
We hope there will be a day where we have so many sledge hockey leagues and teams that it’s like stand up. That would be great because they would have more depth in the program.
What are the biggest differences between stand up hockey and sledge hockey?
The first thing I noticed is they don’t skate backward. Another key element is that they do everything with their arms. I was amazed at the skill level of these athletes to do what they do at such a high pace and such a physical sport.
We now make all our coaches get into a sled, so they get initiated into the sport.
In stand up hockey you can spin-off, turn away, you can move your upper body away from a hit and sledge hockey you can’t do that. Also when you do get hit in the boards, you hit the boards, you don’t hit the boards in sledge hockey as you do in stand up hockey.
What do you look for when it comes to your team and choosing players?
I look for how a player presents himself. How he holds himself, does he have a sense or have a sense this is a respectful honorable person who has confidence.
I look for the character side of people more than the skill side, because I believe if you get good character people that have athletic skills we can get them to the point where they are great players because they have to have the attitude that I mentioned.
What advice do you have for young players and their parents when it comes to playing sledge hockey?
Get involved. Look for programs in your area. There are supports through Hockey Canada called the First Shift program, they support beginners. That is definitely something I would tap into. Enjoy the experience.