Sleds, smiles and stumbles were all part of the scene when Avalanche players Scott Hannan and Ryan Smyth hosted an hour-long sled hockey clinic at Pepsi Center on Monday in conjunction with the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD). The event was part of the Avalanche Player Clinic Program.
The NSCD was founded in 1970 as a ski program in Winter Park, Colorado, and since has expanded to include an office in Denver.
The mission of the organization is to provide quality sports and therapeutic recreation programs that positively impact the lives of people with physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioral challenge.
The free clinic allowed children with physical disabilities (aged 6-18) to experience first hand the sport of sled hockey, with Smyth and Hannan participating in instruction, coaching and just a bit of horseplay.
Monday’s “ability camp” was the second of its kind, as the NSCD also held a sled hockey clinic at Pepsi Center a year ago. The NSCD has held around 17 ability camps this year within many different disciplines, according to Kati Bohall, National Programs Coordinator for the organization.
“We do camps with every single Denver sports team,” said Bohall. “We’ve also had camps in Kansas City, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Portland, San Diego, and Washington D.C.”
|Scott Hannan was quite a hit with the kids at Monday's clinic |
Having professional athletes like Hannan and Smyth actively participate in their clinics is equally beneficial to the NSCD and the children involved.
“For us, it’s great to have them come out and give up their valuable time. It really means a lot to us,” said Bohall. “It’s a huge draw for kids, especially for kids that have disabilities, to be out on the ice.”
Approximately 40 children showed up for Monday’s clinic, relishing a chance to experience the sport of sled hockey and skate on Pepsi Center ice.
While many of the skaters were experiencing the sport for the first time, around half of those who took to the ice are members of Colorado Sled Hockey, which also provided much of the equipment for the event.
“When I first came out here and saw the kids with smiles on their faces, it reminded me a little of our team. We enjoy what we do and we’re very blessed to do what we do,” said Smyth. “Some of these kids are unfortunate to have the disability they have, but they still come out here and enjoy it.”
And enjoy it they did.
The highlight of the event for many of the youngsters came when Hannan engaged in a spirited game of “keep away” with a handful of the participants, stickhandling around more than a dozen young players as they tried to thwart his efforts. With each successful steal of the puck away from the NHL defenseman, a hearty cheer erupted from the players.
Stationed on the other end of the ice, Smyth noticed the game, and perhaps a bit jealous of the fun Hannan was having, quickly skated over to join in and give his teammate some much-needed assistance.
|Even pros like Ryan Smyth can't resist a game of "keep away" |
“That’s the instinct. As soon as you put on the skates you get out there and start having fun,”said Smyth.
With so many of the participants being new to the sport, there were understandably a few light tumbles to the ice as they tried to master the intricacies of their sleds. But the kids learned a valuable lesson – that even the best of them fall on occasion – when Hannan himself was involved in a minor spill after being bumped into by one of the participants. After his fall, Hannan was immediately surrounded by a flock of chuckling children - and even though much bigger in stature - didn’t look too far out of place as he lay on the ice sharing a laugh with them.
“That was a pretty good one. He snuck up on me, caught me from behind,” joked Hannan. “It was a pretty good hit. We might have to sign that kid up.”
At the conclusion of the event, there was plenty of time for a few photo opportunities on the ice, while Hannan and Smyth also signed autographs for those in attendance. And in the end, the event proved to be as rewarding to the professionals as it was to the children.
“Just coming out here and being able to see how much fun these kids were having, getting out there with their friends, playing keep away and shooting the puck into to the net. It takes you back to when you were a kid. It’s a good feeling,” said Hannan.