Everything you need to know about the 7th Annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival in Blaine, Minn., April 1-3, 2011

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Minnesota is Wild About Disabled Hockey!

Disabled hockey took the spotlight tonight in Minnesota. Before a preseason game between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues, USA Hockey held a press conference with Minnesota Hockey, the Schwan Super Rink, and the Wild to officially announce the seventh annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival. The national festival will be held April 1-3, 2011, in Blaine, Minn., and will feature all four disciplines of disabled hockey -- deaf/hard of hearing hockey, special hockey, sled hockey, and standing/amputee hockey.

Disabled hockey participants were featured throughout the game, including a flag bearer, Let’s Play Hockey, program sellers, a special hockey game, and a sled hockey game. Read more from the Minnesota Wild's website.

Thanks to the Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Hockey, and all the festival volunteers for their tremendous support of disabled hockey.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spreading the Word about Disabled Hockey

One thing I love about blogs is being able to track where visitors come from.  In just three weeks after launching, we've had visitors from 40 U.S. states and 15 countries (Canada, United Kingdom, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Poland, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Turkey, Costa Rica, South Africa, Australia, Taiwan, and Japan).

Soon I'll post a summary of festival coverage from newspapers and blogs so you can see how the festival showed even more people that hockey is for everyone.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Most Uplifting Display of Sportsmanship I Have Ever Seen"

Writing for the Howard County Times, sports reporter Stan Ber says, "In last week's column I wrote that I was planning to attend the festival. However, I never expected in my wildest dreams to see some of the most uplifting displays of sportsmanship I have ever seen since I starting writing sports in 1971.

"I saw parents cheering their own team and the opponents and players high-fiving a player on the other team for a good play. Every goal, every goalie save, every good pass or shot was met by cheers from both sides.... Missing was the usual bitterness that we have all too often at sporting events for the able-bodied. One of the most uplifting moments came when coaches assisted players to the mouth of the goal so they could shoot and score. The goalies were obviously clued in to let the puck slide past and those youngsters who might otherwise never score came off the ice pumping their fists in the air. It brought tears to some eyes.

"Every so often I get the opportunity to see how athletes cope with their various disabilities. In this case, these young hockey players, their parents and coaches can teach the able bodied what true sports can be. We need to see this kind of athlete more."

Read "Disabled Hockey Athletes Show the True Meaning of Good Sportsmanship."

"Being on the Ice Makes Me Feel Free"

Reporter Caitlin Moran of the Gazette visited the festival and took time to watch several games and talk with coaches, parents, and player.  Her article profiles the host team of the 6th Annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival, the Washington Ice Dogs. Founded 10 years ago, the Ice Dogs are one of the top teams in the American Special Hockey Association.

Because of the sensory nature of the sport, it is especially beneficial to children with autism, said festival director and Ice Dogs founder Mike Hickey. Parents told Moran that participating in special hockey has allowed children to feel included and part of something beyond a disability. One of the Ice Dogs players, Brian Howell, said, "Just being on the ice makes me feel free."

Read "Hockey Festival Ready to Score: Coaches, parents say hockey league players feel part of Something Beyond a Disability."

Festival "a Reminder That We all Need to Turn a Bad Situation Into an Opportunity"

For many people, the 6th Annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival was the first time they had seen or heard of special hockey, sled hockey, deaf hockey, or amputee hockey.  As bloggers have blogged ad reporters have reported, I've enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm -- and have been reminded of what motivated me to get involved with the American Special Hockey Association and our local teams.

One person who perfectly summarized the spirit of the festival was Kathleen, who writes a blog called DC Hawkeye. In a post titled "Hockey Changes Lives," she reflects on a particularly inspiring athlete, Joe Bowser, who was wounded in Iraq and lost a leg. He now is a member of the US National Amputee Team, which will play in the world championship next month. When I interviewed Joe for USA Hockey magazine, he told me, "I'm probably the only person you'll ever meet who chose to have his leg amputated so I could play hockey." Kathleen was touched by another quote, when Joe said, "You have to play with the cards they deal you. You have to adapt and overcome any kind of injury or disability you have and make the best of it."

On her experience at the festival, she writes: "Life is full of challenges for everyone, and it's easy to let things build up and get you down. But when I see someone like Joe Bowser play, I know that everything is going to be alright. It helps me to meet my own challenges, and it puts things into perspective...

"Like Joe Bowser says, you have to adapt and overcome. And when I consider how he has overcome obstacles that are unimaginable to me, and is such a role model for serving his country, hanging on to the sport that he loves, and working to improve the lives of others, it's a much-needed reminder that we all need to turn a bad situation into an opportunity and make it work. Watching people who have overcome obstacles greater than my own, and seeing them compete as more of an athlete than I will ever be... that is a truly moving, empowering experience."

Read Kathleen's blog post, "Hockey Changes Lives."

Read my profile of Joe and the USA Warriors, "The Warriors Way," from USA Hockey magazine.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Miss Virginia 2008, Tara Wheeler, Opens Military Games

Former Penn State goalie and Miss America Tara Wheeler sang the National Anthem on Saturday at two special games featuring soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the first, the USA Warriors sled team faced the San Antonio Rampage, another military team. In the second, the USA Warriors standing team played the Maryland Law (law enforcement officials) with Capitals alumni Joe Reekie, Sylvain Cote, and Gord Lane.

Writing in her blog for Comcast Sportsnet, Tara said, "Watching the guys warming up for the sled hockey game, many of them younger than I am, I thought about what these men sacrificed for me and our country and for the freedom of everyone in the world. I got choked up as I stepped onto the ice to sing the National Anthem but quickly pulled myself together. I owed these heroes the best performance I could give and it wouldn’t happen with a knot in my throat."

Clai Carr, Owner of Gardens Ice House

In a media interview, Clai Carr, the owner of the Gardens Ice House and a longtime supporter of special hockey programs, talks about the challenges and rewards of hosting a festival of this size and importance.

Players' Code of Conduct

At the festival, we introduced codes of conduct for players, coaches, and officials. Here is the Players' Code of Conduct:
·       We commit to the principles of sportsmanship, acceptance, and fair play.
·       We will uphold the integrity and dignity of the sport of ice hockey.
·       We will support and encourage our teammates and follow the direction of our coaches.
·       We will accept the authority of game officials and the decisions they make.
·       We will respect our opponents even as we compete against them.
·       We will celebrate our accomplishments and accept our challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.

Former Capitals on USA Warriors and other Brave Athletes

Caps alums Sylvain Cote and Yvon Labre talk about their experience at the festival. (Sorry about the lighting.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Highlights

See You Next Year...in Minnesota

The 7th Annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival will be held at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn., April 1-3, 2011. 

In this short interview, 2011 festival director Toni O'Brien explains why you should go.

US National Amputee Team vs. USA Warriors

The U.S. National Amputee Team will play in Montreal for the world championship April 27-May 1. They will be one of seven teams attempting to unseat the undefeated Canadians, who have five world titles. This morning, they played the USA Warriors in an all-U.S. game. Amputee hockey is for players who are missing one or more upper or lower limbs.

A double amputee on the USA Warriors.

Sled Hockey Championship Results

Congratulations to the winners of the four divisions of sled hockey:
Adult A: Buffalo Sabres defeat Northeast Passage
Adult B: Chicago RIC defeats Pittsburgh Penguins
Youth A: Wings of Steel defeats Chicago Hornets
Youth B: Space Coast Hurricanes defeat Capital/Delaware Sled Warriors

Small trophies for first and second place in each sled hockey division; a large trophy for each of the four winning teams.

J.J. O'Connor and Mike Hickey award the trophies on the ice.

A proud member of the Space Coast Hurricanes, winners in the Youth B Division.

800 Players, 800 Stories. Here's One.

At 8 years old, Harrison is new to sled hockey. In fact, he's been playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins novice team for just a month and a half, and this tournament was the first time he had played on full ice and against another team. I had a chance to meet Harrison, his parents, and his coach at the team's last game of the festival this morning, against the Space Coast Hurricanes.

Harrison's mother, Michele, told me he got started after seeing sled hockey during an intermission at an NHL Penguins game. "He really wanted to be part of a team, so he could play and compete, and he really likes it.  He's just starting, but he does okay. He holds his own, even though he's younger than many of the other players." The opportunity to play in a national tournament for the first time "has been a big deal for him and the entire team."

Harrison's dad helps get him in his sled before the game.

Harrison with his mother and father.

After the first period, the Penguins trailed the older and more experienced Hurricanes 5-0 on the scoreboard, but anyone who was counting knew the actual goals against were in double digits. Here Coach Hadley Dean gives them a pep talk.

Harrison with Coach Hadley in the locker room after the game. After going 1-3 in his first tournament, Harrison told me, "The team was working hard and doing their best, and that's all I can ask of them."

Harrison receives his medal from festival director Mike Hickey.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Visit by a Goalie, Miss Virginia 2008

Tara Wheeler, Miss Virginia 2008, joined the USA Hockey Disabled Festival today to sing the National Anthem at two feature games featuring wounded soldiers. Now a blogger for Comcast Sportsnet, Tara was the starting goalie for the Penn State Lady Icers and continues to play recreational hockey in local men's leagues. She feels a particular connection with the Armed Forces, having grown up in a military family and serving as an Air Force ROTC cadet and flight commander, and told me she was honored to be part of the festival.
Tara with former Washington Capitals Joe Reekie, Sylvain Cote, and Gordie Lane, who played in a game between the USA Warriors and Maryland Law.

With members of the USA Warriors, a team of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With members of sled hockey players with the USA Warriors.

With J.J. O'Connor, chair of USA Hockey's disabled section and general manager of the USA sled hockey team that won the gold medal in Vancouver.

Seen on Saturday

Media Interest Grows for Disabled Hockey

Despite the fact that the 6th Annual Hockey Disabled Festival has overlapped with an exciting final weekend for the NHL, media interest has been strong. Once they have arrived, most reporters and photographers have stayed for several hours to talk to players, coaches, parents, and volunteers and to watch as many games as they can. Many seem amazed by the level of play, the intensity of the games, and the inspiring attitude of the athletes. The Washington Post ran two photos on the front page of today's Metro section, and the festival also has attracted Comcast Sportsnet, Reuters, the Gazette, McClatchey News Service, and numerous photographers and bloggers.


Medals and Medalists

There's plenty more hockey coming today, tonight, and tomorrow, but some teams are playing their final games this morning. That means we get to pull the medals out of boxes and put them around athletes' necks. Any medal is nice, but we think the 2010 festival medals are pretty cool, and the players seem to agree.

Interview: Andy Yohe, USA Sled Hockey Captain

"One thing I've learned is that bronze medals are good, silver is cool, but people get really, really excited about gold medals."

Meet-and-Greet with Sled Hockey World Champions

Reunited for the first time since they won the gold medal at the Paralympics in Vancouver, members of the USA Sled Hockey Team signed autographs for fans between games. Players came to skate with their teams from several states, and captain Andy Yohe told me it was fun to them to hang out but also compete against each other. The players were very accommodating to their fans, letting them hold and even wear their gold medals.  View interview with Yohe.

Captain Andy Yohe

Alexi Salamone
Taylor Chace

Friday, April 9, 2010

Looking Ahead to an Action-Packed Saturday

After the first two days of the festival, we've already played 40 games.  Saturday will include 16 sled hockey games, 12 special hockey games, two deaf and hard-of-hearing games, and two amputee games featuring military veterans.  If you've been following the blog, Twitter, and Facebook updates about the festival, you know you're guaranteed to see some great hockey if you visit the festival any time Saturday, starting at 7:40 a.m.

NHL Home Ice Interview with Festival Director Mike Hickey

Interview with USA Disabled Hockey Festival director Mike Hickey on XM's NHL Home Ice.  Hickey says the festival is the largest ever, but represents just a fraction of the disabled programs around the country. Listen now.

Mixed Reviews for Ace of Cakes' Sled Hockey Debut

The Disabled Hockey Festival was honored to have a cake personally designed, produced, and delivered by the Ace of Cakes himself, Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Md.  Everyone in attendance got a sneak preview of the cake, and I even took photos, but I can't share them here because the cake will be unveiled to the public in a future episode of the "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network.

Before he presented the cake at the opening ceremonies Friday night, Duff tried his hand (or, I should say, his arms) at sled hockey. Now, sled hockey is not easy for anyone, but Duff put his reputation -- and his body -- on the line by takng the ice with some of the world best players, including many who just won the gold medal at the Paralympics in Vancouver. He fell down a few times, nearly scored a goal, needed a push from the referee occasionally, and got in a fight with the opposing goalie -- but overall it was an impressive debut. And one that will make for great TV, so don't miss this episode.

Q&A with the Keeper of the Cup

Before he packed up the Stanley Cup for its next stop (in Calgary), Mike Bolt of the Hockey Hall of Fame talked to me about his experience at the Disabled Hockey Festival.

Of the festival attendees, he said, "They do have a lot of challenges, but the reaction to the Stanley Cup is the same -- the smiles you see and the way you brighten someone's day when they get to see the Stanley Cup, whether it's a 9-year-old child or a 50-year-old." Just a few weeks ago, he had the opportunity to bring the Cup to soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

"So these players all of some disadvantage, but whether they're a soldier, have been injured, or were born with some condition, it doesn't stop them from living their lives. No matter what problems we have on a day-to-day basis, we could learn a lot from these people."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Photos: Opening Night Games

NOVA Cool Cats coach Randy Brawley consults with a Washington Ice Dog.

The Washington Ice Dogs vs. the East Coast Jumbos.
He caught me taking his photo. I love his expression.

We were worried our volunteer t-shirts wouldn't be bright enough. What do you think?

One of the Baltimore Saints unwinds after his first game.

The NOVA Cool Cats mascot, pretty graceful on his/her skates.

All players get the support they need to participate.

Even the mascots show good sportsmanship at the USA Hockey Disabled Festival, but you could argue that hugging opposing players while the puck is in play may be taking it too far.

The Baltimore Saints mascot with a fan.