Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Plugged into wheelchair hockey

Enthusiastic players scoot 'n' shoot around the court in electric buggies

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Living in a hockey-mad nation, it's not surprising that a handful of hockey fans try to make the sport accessible to all.The Canadian Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association's third annual Allied Cup, taking place at the Investors Group Athletic Centre at the University of Manitoba, is the latest example the game being adapted to suit the abilities of its players. Two local squads and teams from Calgary and London, Ont. are trying to scoot and shoot their way to a championship. The final is today at 2:45 p.m.

The game is played with the same dimensions as a basketball court, which fits a goalie and four "skaters." Rules allow for players of nearly any age, ability, and sex to participate, and the athletes are thrilled just to be a part of it.

Jeff Bobula said that his cousin and teammate Ian Dmitriw was a hockey fanatic who could only watch as his siblings took to the ice.

"He never thought he'd be able to play the game," said Bobula, 40, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a "freak trampoline accident" five years ago. "It feels really good that it's becoming more recognized and more competitive."

Bobula and teammate Samantha Brouillette credit Bill Muloin for getting them into the game. Muloin runs the local league out of St. James Civic Centre and works for the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities.

"He told me about it, and I'm like, I have to play," said Brouillette, 18. "I'm going into my third season and it's just so much fun.

"It's amazing. I can't describe it, it feels great."

Brouillette said that she wasn't a big hockey fan before joining the league, but relishes the opportunity to be active and make new friends.

"There aren't many wheelchair sports out there, so when I found out about this, I just said I want to get in it, I just love it."

The game strives to be as close to ice hockey as possible, and includes face-offs, dekes, and even players getting sent off the court to serve penalties. There are some differences though, as players who don't have the upper body strength to hold a stick can attach it to their wheelchair, and unique penalties, such as dangerous driving, can be called.

There's also a local league that runs from September to April out of St. James Civic Centre. Athletes looking to get involved can contact Muloin at 975-3261.

daniel.falloon@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2009 C4

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