Today in Ufa, as part of the Week of Hockey Stars festival, begins an international sledge hockey tournament, the Continental Cup, contested by teams from Russia, Italy, China and the Czech Republic.
Flying the flag for the Russian Federation is SHC Phoenix of Moscow Region, champion of the nation in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2016, and boasting no fewer than 12 players who have represented their country at the sport, seven of whom – including the team captain, 39-year-old Vadim Selyukin – captured the silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and bronze at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships. In addition, nine players from the roster won gold at the 2016 European Championship in Sweden.
On the eve of the Continental Cup, captain Selyukin had this to say:
“Taking part in the Week of Hockey Stars is of great importance to us, and the whole set-up here is very impressive: such a high level of organization and so many people working with us. It’s hard to recall seeing such high-quality volunteers before in Russia and we should be proud that this is happening in our country. It is very good that our sport, sledge hockey, has not been overlooked and that they have put together this international tournament.
We will soon be facing the crucial second stage in the national championship, and our preparations have received a huge boost with this event, thanks to the presence of such strong teams: the Czechs, who are also national champions, the Italians, whose roster contains the nucleus of Team Italy. and the Chinese, who are gathering momentum ahead of the 2022 Paralympics. We do not get to play many games in a season and any game is important, so this tournament is simply great.
This sport is our passion, from which we draw our inspiration, as in everyday life we are restricted in many ways and limited by many mobility issues, but once we get onto the ice all our inhibitions vanish and we feel completely free. We’ve grown to know some of the guys from the Czech Republic and Italy over the last six or seven years, and we stay in constant contact via the Internet. Sledge hockey is a close-knit community, so while we will be fierce rivals during the games, we are still friends off the ice.”
The Russians have previously crossed swords with one of the illustrious guests, Italy’s SHC South Tyrol Eagles, in 2016, and on that occasion – the Lapp Cup Zlin tournament in the Czech Republic – the Moscow Region men celebrated a convincing 5-1 victory. To put that achievement in context, the Eagles have been the main force in the Italian sledge hockey championship since the competition’s foundation in 2008, and seven of the current roster play for their country.
SHC Sparta Praha of the Czech Republic has a similarly strong pedigree, with several national titles under its belt and a record of reaching the national championship play-offs every year bar one in the club’s history.
The fourth participant is ISH Team of China, the national sledge hockey team of the People’s Republic, and this tournament will be the team’s debut on the international stage. This is the youngest squad in the Continental Cup (average 23 years old) but with an impressive age range, nonetheless – the youngest player is 15 and the eldest is 33.
The action begins with ISH Team of China taking on Sparta Praha of the Czech Republic and then five-time champion of Russia, SHC Phoenix of Moscow Region, will face off against SHC South Tirol Eagles of Italy.
The tournament runs to a round robin format with the remaining four group matches played the next day, and climaxes on the 19th with a playoff for 3rd place followed by the tournament final.
Sledge Hockey Continental Cup 2017 - Full Schedule (local time):