Dylan Hogan knew nothing about volt hockey a year ago. Last weekend in Sweden, the pre-med student from the northeast found himself coaching an inspired team of wheelchair players at the sport’s inauguration world Cup.
“It turned out to be an incredible experience in every way,” says Hogan, a fourth-year biology student. “The players all really enjoyed it, and they learned so much from the start to the end of the tournament.”
Hockey Volt, a new sport in North America, is played by people with disabilities in specially designed electric wheelchairs made of wood and equipped with a paddle in the front to control a ball. Teams of three players each compete to score goals while maneuvering their chairs by joystick at speeds of up to 10 miles per hour.
Hogan was introduced to the sport in a roundabout way last fall while taking a specialty course, Contemporary Issues in Health Care, taught by Lorna Hayward, Northeast Associate Professor of Physical Therapy, Movement Sciences and Rehabilitation. To fulfill the class’s community service obligation, he was assigned to Boston Self Help Center (BSHC), a non-profit organization run by and for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
Since 2012, the BSHC has sponsored the Boston Brakemen team in the sport of power wheelchair soccer, in which players with disabilities seek to advance and score a large ball. The success of this venture encouraged Kim Damato, a BSHC board member whose family operates the New England company Rehab Equipment Associatesto raise $61,000 to purchase half a dozen Volt hockey chairs.
Hogan took charge of the fledgling Volt hockey program, known as the Boston Whiplash. Over 30 potential players have expressed interest in trying the sport.
“In the first practice, the players learned how to maneuver the chairs and how to play the game,” says Hogan. “Five of the players we brought to Sweden met for the first time at this event.”
World Cup organizers in Sweden heard of the growing interest in Boston and invited the Whiplash to participate in the inaugural World Cup from September 16-18. Hogan took on the complex challenge of organizing the trip, which impressed Hayward.
“Dylan arranged flights and other travel logistics for a crew of seven in wheelchairs,” says Hayward, who over the years has led more than 215 physical therapy students on international service trips to Ecuador, China and in Mexico. “International travel is generally difficult to navigate and is currently made more difficult by COVID precautions. For the Volt Hockey Group, the process was further complicated by additional factors such as traveling with equipment, wheelchairs used for daily mobility and personal luggage.
“Dylan is both impressive and inspiring in his desire and ability to execute this World Cup journey while maintaining a full course load this fall,” adds Hayward. “Dylan is an exemplary student and leader and also shows humility in his endeavors.”
Hogan and Amanda Bell, a Northeastern senior in data science and behavioral neuroscience who volunteered to help, traveled with the team by train and van from Boston to Newark for a nonstop flight to Stockholm. – 26 hours in all. In Gävle, a small coastal town where 22 teams from six countries competed, the sole American entry was greeted with gratitude.
“What struck us was how supportive everyone was,” Hogan says. “The sport is centralized in Scandinavia – most of the teams are from Norway, Denmark and Sweden – and I think they see our participation, as well as Canada’s, as huge potential for growth. They know that if it happens in the United States, it could really explode.
The Whiplash went 1-5 in the tournament, highlighted by a 7-1 victory over an opponent from Alberta, Canada. Watching the most experienced teams was an eye opener, says Hogan.
“We had just guessed how the game played out,” he says. “But once we saw him play it was so different. We thought passing would be a main part of the game. But the other coaches were telling us that one person could score all the goals, that he It’s not uncommon to have a primary ball handler and the rest of the team just trying to set up a player with blocking patterns.
“So our whole strategy has changed and you’ve seen a huge improvement.”
Parents told Hogan they could see the players, aged 15 to 30, having fun.
“A few of our players have been playing power wheelchair soccer for over 10 years and they’ve said they’re considering switching to this new sport,” Hogan said. “It shows how much it meant to them and how much they want to pursue it.”
Hayward hopes the success of the Whiplash program will help create a Volt hockey team at Northeastern. She recently received a scholarship from the university Institute for Health, Equity and Social Justice. Hogan is an intern for his project to not only create a team, but also to measure its impact on the players.
“Adaptive sports have many benefits,” says Hayward, referring to sports modified to allow participation for people with disabilities. “The grant will allow us to collect certain physical measurements, such as biometrics, heart rate and blood pressure, to see if they increase with activity. There is also the feeling of belonging, of feeling connected in a group so important to mental health.
In the meantime, Hogan believes the experience in Sweden will lead to higher goals for the Whiplash.
“We’re going to take a breather,” he said. “And then in October, we’re going to do it again.”