The first “Celebrity” sledge hockey game at the North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex turned out to be a success.
More than 500 people turned out to watch Canadian Olympic medallist Hayley Wickenheiser and Humboldt Broncos Ryan Straschnitzki, among others, play in the first celebrity game at the city’s newest arena.
The showcase game was part of the Canadian Tire WickFest, which is a world female hockey festival. WickFest, described as a “dream come-to-life” for Wickenheiser, is hosted in partnership with the City of Surrey and Surrey Falcons. This is the second year, the City of Surrey has played host to WickFest.
Wickenheiser said the turn out was “awesome.” She said that more people came out to watch the para hockey game, but had to be turned away because of fire codes.
With that success, Wickenheiser said she hopes to make this an annual event due to its success.
“It was a great turnout. I think people enjoyed it. They had a few laughs at my expense, anyway,” she said. “I honestly am so bad, I couldn’t even get going enough to be tired. It’s super hard and I didn’t realize you have to have your hands on the ice to touch the puck, so I missed just about every pass I got.”
Wickenheiser was joined by Straschnitzki; former NHL players Dave Babych, John Craighead, Denis Pederson, Doug Lynch, Garth Rizzuto and Craig Redmond, SportAbility players Mitchell Garrett, Brandon Twaites; BC Lions Andrew Peirson; and James Gemmell of Team Canada and BC Hockey. Several people from local media, including the Now-Leader’s own Lauren Collins, also took part in the game.
Wickenheiser said Straschnitzki’s story is also “opening a lot of eyeballs to this game.
Straschnitzki, who is training to play for the national para hockey team in 2026, was in the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash in Saskatchewan that injured 13 junior hockey players and killed 16 others.
He was paralyzed from the chest down, but received spinal surgery in Thailand in late 2019.
As for playing sledge hockey, Straschnitzki said, “I’m just lucky enough to be out here and have support.”
“It’s great. It’s just like playing stand up (hockey) for me,” he said. “Being at the rink was my happy place growing up, and I’m just fortunate to have a rink like this around me in Calgary. It’s just absolutely incredible and I can’t thank everyone enough.”
Straschnitzki was referring to the North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex’s accessibility and inclusivity.
“It’s absolutely incredible. You go to places where I’m from and they say it’s accessible, but it just has a ramp. People need help getting into the dressing rooms, so it’s good to see the City of Surrey build this rink for accessibility and wanting to build more is a step in the right direction,” Straschnitzki said.
“I know a lot of people with disabilities stay at home and don’t do anything because they’re scared that not many places are accessible.”
With that, the Rick Hansen Foundation announced Saturday before the showcase game that the new arena had been “Accessibility Certified Gold” by the foundation. It’s the city’s fifth gold-certified facility.
During a tour of the facility before it opened, Surrey’s manager of civic facilities Scott Groves said, “(We’re) much more aware now than we were years ago of all the needs for people to be accessible and inclusive.”
The changerooms were designed for women’s and co-ed teams, with enclosed showers.
The player’s benches were also designed with para hockey in mind, which are removable so players don’t have to get out of their sledges. The boards were also fitted with clear lexan, so the para-hockey players can still see the ice while on the bench or in the penalty box.
The foundation rates sites on several criteria that look at the various needs of individuals with disabilities affecting their mobility, vision and hearing.
Wickenheiser added that she’s a “big believer” that hockey is for everyone.
“I think you can’t build a rink in this country unless you’re building female dressing rooms, accessible facilities, having the plexiglass in the arena, big wide doors for wheelchairs to come in, including elevators, things like that. That’s just the way the world is now, and if you’re on the cutting edge of doing things right.”