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Hockey On Wheels

by Travis Betts / New York Islanders
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New York Islanders coaches and front office staff took part in a wheelchair hockey game against students from the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson on Thursday. The Cougars from the Viscardi School won 6-5 during a three period contest complete with 6-on-6 teams and line changes. After the game, Head Coach Jack Capuano, who played center, reflected on the afternoon.

“We played three periods of real intense, good hockey, and we came up on the short end of the stick. But all in all, I think everybody enjoyed themselves today and had a lot of fun. For the coaches and front office staff to come out today and put smiles on the kids faces was really special.”

Following the game, the Islanders coaches and staff handed out t-shirts, posters and other Islanders-themed items to the students in attendance. The coaches also signed autographs and took pictures with students.

Joe Slaninka, who works at the Viscardi School as an assistant teacher and head coach for the basketball team, served as referee for the contest. Slaninka, who is also an advisor for the school’s Friday after-school sports program, said the students enjoyed the time.

“To have the Islanders come out here, year after year, sit in the chairs and play hockey against the kids, it lifts everybody’s spirits,” Slaninka said. “It’s a fun day, it’s a fantastic day. It’s something that we look forward to as a school every year.”

The Viscardi School specializes in students with physical disabilities and has about 185 students ranging from 4-21 years old from Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as New York’s five boroughs and Westchester. Students can attend the school if their local public school is unable to meet their academic, social or physical needs. The individual districts bus students to and from the Viscardi School, which works hard to ensure the students are maintaining the same curriculum they would at their local school.

Angelo Zegarelli, the school’s Physical Education teacher, says a big part of that experience is the physical education classes.

“The great thing about our physical education program here is that all our students have an opportunity to participate,” Zegarelli said. “We pretty much have a 100% integration rate of all the students, no matter what the disability is, that get to participate in phys ed. We play hockey and other sports – everything that any normal student would do, but we just adapt it.”

In addition to hockey, the physical education course load includes baseball, football and basketball. As the school’s top players whizzed around the gym Thursday with ease, Islanders staff members struggled to navigate their way around the court.

“For somebody that’s never played a game like this before, to see all the little things that the kids deal with on a daily basis, is eye-opening,” Capuano said. “Spinal injuries and other circumstances keep a lot of these children in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. They’re pretty incredible individuals and people. This makes us all realize how fortunate we are, so it was good to be a part of this today.”

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