High-speed hockey at the players’ fingertips

Emery Gelissen zipped around the court at Variety Village where recently Canada’s only Volt hockey team held its first practice.

“I wish this thing had six cylinders,” Emery shouted as he took a corner in the practice.

Volt hockey involves players in wheelchairs powered by twin 12-volt batteries that can reach a maximum speed of 13 kilometres an hour. Participants control their chairs with the flick of a joystick mounted on either side of the chair. Fixed to the front of each player’s chair is a hockey stick split into three blades – one that juts out directly in front for shooting, and two on either side for ball control.

Emery has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive genetic disorder that gradually weakens his body’s muscles. Emery’s father, Marcus Gelissen, had struggled to find an activity suitable for his son.

“It’s hard to find something that’s specific to Emery and his needs and this is it,” Marcus Gelissen said. “I love it.”

The arrival of the sport in Canada was made possible by a partnership between Variety Village and the Danish consulate. Together, the two raised enough funds to purchase 10 chairs valued at $100,000.

Chris Murdock, teams manager at Variety Village, organized drills to introduce players to the sensitivity of the chair’s controls.

Emery Gelissen didn’t appear worried about the controls or the speed. With his chair set to speed setting number three out of a possible four, he buzzed around the court, his joystick pushed to its most forward position.

Other para-sports often fall short for youngsters such as Emery. Sledge hockey, for example, required upper-body strength and dexterity that children with progressive disorders lose over time. While assigning a pusher has been a solution for some, Murdock said that Volt hockey provides something more.

“The chair becomes their movement and with that they become completely independent,” Murdock said. “This sport will always allow them the opportunity to play.”

Emery wasn’t shy about exploring that independence. After growing bored of a pass and play drill, he broke out into a full speed joyride around the outer edge of the arena. Soon he found himself sidelined with his chair powered off. Murdock called it the penalty box.

“He actually just wants to rip around,” Marcus Gelissen said. “If you let him go, I’m sure he’d just take the track.”