GLENDALE -- When the One Step Bobcats took the ice for their first practice on Nov. 1 at AZ Ice Peoria, many of them were new to ice skating. But that didn't stop the 27 special needs hockey players, and group of volunteers, from playing the great game of hockey.
Some players, still to this day, are being pushed around on chairs in order to experience the joy of the sport, but their smiles and shouts of happiness show they are happy swinging their stick and scoring goals.
The Arizona Coyotes were introduced to the One Step Bobcats through a local youth hockey association that reached out for assistance. The NHL team's hockey development department immediately sprang into action.
After seeing the One Step Bobcats in action at their practices, Coyotes Hockey Development Director Matt Shott wanted to make sure this team would be given an experience they wouldn't forget.
"I knew that with how much they were enjoying their new sport, that bringing them out for an arena tour was going to be a memorable enough experience for them, so I wanted to kick it up a notch," Shott said.
And kick it up a notch the Coyotes did!
After bringing the One Step Bobcats into the Coyotes locker room for a tour on Dec. 9, volunteers then asked the players to go into an auxilary locker room for a surprise. What they found was that the Coyotes had transported the team's equipment to Gila River Arena and also provided custom Coyotes jerseys for all 27 One Step Bobcats players.
"It was a complete surprise to the players," One Step Bobcats Head Coach Jared Woosley said. "They couldn't contain themselves and the tears of happiness flowed. I think it was because they felt recognized and honored by their heroes."
Video: Coyotes give an experience of a lifetime
With Coyotes staff members acting as fans, the players were able to experience a day in the life of an NHL player.
"We get kids out here that get excited about skating on NHL ice, but nobody has been as excited as these guys," Shott said. "We wanted to make sure that we provided this team a memory that they will cherish forever and I think we achieved that goal."
After an hour on the ice, the team headed to nearby Dave and Busters to cap off what was surely one of the better days any of those players experienced.
"If more professional sports teams took the time to make these gestures, it would give the special needs community a lot more confidence," Woosley stated. "Instead of focusing on their disabilities, this gives them confidence to focus on their abilities."