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Community: Wheelchair Hockey Recap

by Doug Warf / Carolina Hurricanes
Sunday was a terrific afternoon at the RBC Center as the Carolina Powerhockey Invitational invaded the arena.   The day featured two serious, intense and intriguing powerhockey games and one laughable charity game. In order to address each appropriately, I will discuss each separately.  Also, click here for a photo gallery.

Doug Warf
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Powerhockey Games
Of the four teams in the tournament, the Philadelphia Powerplay and the Carolina Fury are the two that are still growing their playing base. The teams from Michigan and Minnesota were virtual all-star teams as each state has its own league of 5-6 teams. This allows them to have intra-state competitions that better their quality of play as well as deepen their talent pool.  

In contrast, the Carolina Fury has to field its team from across the state, thus making scrimmages and practices very hard to organize and attend.

The tournament was set-up well because there was good parity between the Carolina Fury and the Philadelphia Powerplay while the Minnesota Selects were able to battle hard against the Michigan Mustangs. 

The third place game was the first game at the RBC Center and it pitted the Carolina Fury against the Philadelphia Powerplay. Philadelphia beat the Fury in a tight game during the round robin format on Saturday afternoon at Millbrook High School and the Fury wanted revenge.

The game was very even and competitive throughout, seeing the Fury take a 1-0 lead midway through the game on a deep blast by Shawn Hessee. Shawn is the player who had a great interview Friday afternoon with Mike Maniscalco on 99.9 The FAN on where he had my favorite line of the month. Mike asked him if the games were intense and Shawn responded “we aren’t out there playing for hugs”. That intensity came across as Shawn celebrated his big marker.

However, it would not be the game winner as Philadelphia worked hard to tie the score late in the third period. The tension in the arena was palpable as many Carolina Fury fans were on hand and ready to make noise. With Rod Brind’Amour and Chad LaRose looking on, George Silvey broke the tie and put the Fury in the lead with a hard working goal late in the third period. 

The game had Brind’Amour’s attention as he immediately started asking if Philly would pull their goalie. The Fury did a great job of hemming in Philly and not allowing them to pull their goalie until there were just a few seconds left. The Fury won and the RBC Center celebrated a big hometown victory.

Rod and Chad passed out the individual player awards to both the Powerplay and the Fury while also stopping to pose for pictures and sign autographs.   They both also spent time with the two championship teams prior to their big match-up. It was great to see all of the wheelchair hockey athletes interacting with our hockey athletes. There was definitely a mutual respect that was shared. It was also interesting to hear how many of the Philadelphia fans asked to have Rod Brind’Amour come back with them (luckily for us, he stayed here). 

The Championship game had a lot of intensity and strong play.  The Minnesota Selects defeated the Michigan Mustangs during Saturday’s round-robin by a score of 6-5. Michigan wanted to exact the same type of revenge awarded to the Fury in the day’s first game.  

However, it was the Minnesota Selects that led for much of the game, driven by their all-star forward, Chad Wilson (who has a curve on his stick that would make Ovechkin jealous). 

However, the Michigan Mustangs mounted a huge comeback, led by a goal by #77 Josh Cueter. Cueter’s goal tied the game and only seconds later the Mustangs would take a one goal lead late in the third. Despite taking a late penalty, the Mustangs would hold on for the win and their fans stormed the court (literally). It was a great scene as one Mustangs player was overheard commenting on their first place trophy, “we have earned this, we have worked so hard”.

That quote gave me a whole new perspective on the event. This is a serious sport for all involved, and finally seeing the Fury play other powerhockey teams allowed me to fully understand this. This was their Stanley Cup Finals, and they celebrated accordingly. 

I was overly impressed by the organization, execution and athletic ability exhibited by both teams.

CHAIR-ity Game
In a drastic contrast to the games that we were sandwiched between, the CHAIR-ity game did not show nearly as much effort, organization or athletic ability. 

Out of pity for the 99.9 The FAN team, Rod Brind’Amour and Chad LaRose were merely coaches, not players. Though it did not help the team from The FAN, it is easy to see that it could have been worse.

The FAN caught another early break in that Tripp Tracy was in the midst of a 6 hour delay in O’Hare airport and was not able to make it to Raleigh in time to participate (though it would have been tough for Tripp to top our goalie, Blair Brooks, in this one). 

We then gave them Coach LaRose, who talked early smack to our beloved Coach Brind’Amour. Coach Brind’Amour wasn’t really having it, but his very brief, yet poignant pre-game speech said enough. In essence he said, you guys might not care too much about beating these guys, but if you lose, I will hear about it for a long time.

We were winning this for our Captain.

The staff of the Hurricanes front office owned the first period but we could not crack the goalie from the FAN. Coach Brind’Amour told us to keep it up, that we were buzzing around the net and to continue our strong play. However, he did put pressure on us by saying that despite our strong first period, one brief lapse and we were on quickly on the wrong side of the scoreboard. 

We responded quickly with Jon Chase scoring on a beautiful feed from Paul Strand. We were allegedly on a power play, but the FAN was playing with three players and a big pig named Stormy. They probably would have been better with just three players. 

In my pre-game assessment, I told our dozens of adoring fans to watch out for Mike Sundheim and Strand. 

Many great regular season players have been known to choke in the post-season. For a while that label was placed on legend like Barry Bonds, and most notably now on Alex Rodriguez, both of whom put up huge regular season numbers but fade into oblivion in the playoffs.

Mike Sundheim is no Alex Rodriguez. Sundheim continued his wheelchair terror by netting the next goal…and then capping the day with a seeing-eye empty netter. Sandwiched between the two Sundheim goals was a beautiful score by Paul Strand. 

The FAN highlight of the day for me was when Mark Thomas fell out of his chair and still tried to score (unsuccessfully). However, their one goal came on the highlight of the day for many watching the game as a ball slowly rolled down the rink…LaRose had enough of his team’s lethargic play. He jumped on the rink, sans chair, and rushed our goalie for a score. 

Thankfully Blair did not leave her crease as an injury to LaRose in a charity game would have ended any hopes of a rematch. 

The scoreboard read 4-1 in our favor at the end of the day, but we all credited Blair with her Ward-like shutout dominance.   

What I took away from the CHAIR-ity game

  1. Rod Brind’Amour may never want to be a coach, but his presence demands respect from his team.
  2. Mark Thomas is a big man. I grabbed his arm during a scrum in front of the net and it was the size of my leg. (however, his wheelchair speed would not be the best “40” time)
  3. Mike Maniscalco is a good sport. Before the CHAIR-ity game, he had participated in a 25 mile bike ride with the Canes Cycling Club, of which he is the newest member
  4. Manual Wheelchairs are exhausting…and cause bruises on your forearms…and are hard to stop when you are going all out into the boards (I need to perfect a wheelchair hockey stop before next year)
  5. I can’t score- though I was a +4 in Sunday’s game, I was the truest example of why that stat is misleading as I am not sure I factored in on any of the four goals (I like to think that I was just an awesome decoy)
  6. MOST IMPORTANTLY- we either gained, or furthered, our respect for the Powerhockey athletes
One Disappointing Spot
Jonathan would not want me to mention this, but the most disappointing thing about the day was that the Carolina Fury founder and tournament organizer, Jonathan Greeson, was not able to enjoy Sunday’s festivities.

Jonathan, a huge Canes fan, had always dreamed of playing on the RBC Center surface. However, he fell ill after the games on Friday and was not able to attend or participate. This weighed heavily on the Fury players as many told me before the game that it would not be the same. However, they did win for him…and the four teams participating paid a nice tribute to him during the second intermission of our game.

FINALLY, thanks to all who came out to support the day. We raised more money than we expected as over $1,540 was given to the North Carolina Wheelchair Hockey Association at the end of the day. Thanks to all who came out and helped make this a very special day for all involved.

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