DEDHAM, MA - The familiar sounds of blades against ice, sticks banging and pucks swooshing filled the air of the Nobles and Greenough Rink in Dedham on Sunday morning.
But although the sounds were familiar, the Northeast Passage sled hockey team received an on-ice surprise in addition to their normal practice routine – the Boston Bruins youth hockey staff, along with Assistant Coach Geoff Ward and former Bruin Tommy Songin.
There were children of varying ages on the ice – all members of Northeast Passage, which has been the official sled hockey team of the Boston Bruins for the past three seasons. Towards the end of practice, Ward and Songin joined the kids on the ice to help run drills and a high-tempo scrimmage.
Sled hockey is played in very much the same way as stand-up hockey, with a few exceptions relating to equipment. Players are seated in sleds with two hockey sticks, one with a curved blade at the end, and both containing metals picks at each end that propel the players across the ice.
One such player on the ice was Taylor Chace, who started our learning sled hockey with Northeast Passage and has now competed in two Paralympic Games.
“I remember being out here, just like when I learned to skate on two feet,” said Chace, reminiscing about his first experiences with sled hockey. “It’s the same thing, you have to learn all the motor skills all over again. And, it’s much harder than stand up hockey when I started out. I worked hard at it and I loved it.”
And it is no easy skill set to master. The morning saw kids at different levels of experience, some first starting out and others zipping around the rink with precision and speed. Songin has attempted sled hockey before, with results much different from the players out there on Sunday.
“Doing the turns is more difficult than you think. A couple of years ago, I got on one just for a little while and I got off it real quick,” said Songin, referring to the difficulty of mastering the sport.
But for those brave enough to try the sport, there is much to gain.
And for members of the Northeast Passage team, playing for the Bruins official team means they get the chance to wear the spoked-B. Most recently, they participated in the NHL Sled Classic in Buffalo, NY and donned the Black & Gold.
“To put that ‘B’ on, just like I did when I first did put it on, it’s quite a thrill for them,” said Songin, on the opportunity.
The day was quite a thrill, but not just for the players on the ice. The enthralled parents watched from the bench and Coach Ward got the chance to see sled hockey up close.
“This is only the second time I’ve seen sled hockey,” he said. “And to be down this close to it for the first time was amazing.”
“The fun that they’re having, the things that they can do with the puck, how quickly they can maneuver on those sleds, it’s challenging.
“I tried to just stay out of the way and just talk to them on the side,” he added with a laugh.
It is evident from everyone involved, from parents to players and volunteers, that this team is something special. For Kait King, head coach of the Northeast Passage’s youth development team, the team represents much more than the hockey itself.
“I started volunteering as a student and I fell in love with sled hockey,” said King, noting that since she began, the team has tripled in size and grown into a “giant family.”
With practice winding down, an intense scrimmage helped cap off the morning on the ice with the Bruins staff. Players raced after the puck, but win or lose; it was a rewarding day for everyone. And that fits right into the greater mission of Northeast Passage, according to Taylor Chace.
“Our mission is to provide people with all ranges of disabilities and abilities to get back into what they love.”