It's Hockey Across America Week, and as part of the week's events, five-year-old Mason Kubin tried hockey for the first time. Not surprisingly, he loves it. He loves it so much he wants to play all the time. Mason doesn't want to go to school, he even wants to give up playing tee-ball to be on the ice.
At least that's what Mason, who has spina bifida, told his parents after stepping out of his sled for the "Try Sled Hockey" clinic put on by the Blue Jackets and Ohio Sled Hockey on Tuesday.
LEARN TO PLAY CLINICS
The Kubins weren't a big hockey family. But they knew about other children in the spina bifida community who played sled hockey, and when they got the invitation to Tuesday's event, they knew they had to be there.
"We were worried that when he got on the ice he might be a bit hesitant but oh, my gosh, he just went nuts," Mason's dad Jason Kubin told BlueJackets.com.
Mason and his family watched the sled hockey scrimmage that immediately preceded the clinic. The Ohio Blades and Ohio Warrior sled hockey teams played with a few Blue Jacket alumni, and Jason used the opportunity to show Mason the motion he'd have to make with his arms to push himself down the ice once in a sled of his own.
PHOTOS: Sled Hockey Clinic
"He picked right up on it, which was crazy to me," Jason said. "A young man named Zach helped by pushing him, and Mason would try to 'skate' himself. Then Zach would let go and Mason would do it himself a little bit. Then I told Zach 'go fast.' And that was Mason's favorite part. When he came off the ice the smile on his face showed the upmost joy.
"To see your son who can't really physically go fast ever, for him to feel the wind in his face, he just loved it. For my wife and I to watch that it was euphoric. It was awesome."
Sled hockey puts players in a metal sled equipped with a blade on the underside and they propel themselves around the ice using sticks that have picks in the end. Mason took to it like a natural, but former NHL players like Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre who played in Tuesday's scrimmage can attest to what a challenging sport sled hockey is.
USA HOCKEY NIGHT
"It definitely brought you to back to the basics," Grand-Pierre said laughingly. "It was a very humbling experience. I scored two goals and both came when I was literally scrambling sideways and just extending my arms, but I'll take them for sure.
"It's a different type of workout but it's quite a bit of fun. It's great for these folks to play a game they've loved in the past or typically would not be able to play."
Which brings us right back to Mason.
Kelly Fenster is the general manager of the Ohio Blades. For her, finding a new player like Mason to add to the roster is what makes a night like Tuesday a success. The evening got even better when she was able to meet with the Kubins to tell them that the program can provide Mason's equipment for at least the first year so he can continue to do something he loves.
"All of our families have so much to deal with," Fenster said. "You have medical costs, you have parking and meals at hospitals, all of those things go hand in hand. I never ever want a family to have to say they can't play hockey due to financial situations."
It's not lost on Fenster or the Kubins that having a night to introduce sled hockey to individuals who might not be able to play traditional hockey was part of "Hockey Across America Week."
"It's the biggest thing," Jason said. "It's setting a new bar, a new standard without any limitations. We knew there were avenues to go to for adapted sports, but never in our wildest dreams did we think our son could be on the ice with a hockey stick in his hand. This message and spreading the word, it's perfect and it's exactly what is needed."
TRY HOCKEY FOR FREE