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Sled hockey booming with help of Kings, Jenkins family

Teenager with spina bifida plays major role in bringing sport to Los Angeles area

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Nicholas Jenkins couldn't help but be proud of how far the Los Angeles Kings sled hockey team has come.

Ten years ago, Jenkins, then eight years old, was calling ice rinks near his home in San Bernadino, California, to see if sled hockey was available. It wasn't, but he and his family would lay the foundation for it.

This weekend, the Kings had a full 14-person team that won two games at the USA Hockey Sled Classic, presented by the NHL, at MB Ice Arena.


[RELATED: Sled Classic provides 'greatest feeling' on final day]


"This is the best tournament we've had so far as a team," Jenkins said. "It's been an awesome experience and I'm glad we're winning games. We play league tournaments close to home, and we almost never win, so it's great."

Jenkins, 18, has spina bifida and is a big reason why the Kings now have sled hockey. In search of a sport to play, he became hooked after watching a friend's video of sled hockey.

"That's kind of when I realized, especially being in California where it's extremely hot for most of the year, I knew it was for me," he said. "I could spend time in the rink, cool down a bit. Even after a stressful day at school I could get my stress levels down. It was awesome."

Finding a rink where it was played, however, wasn't easy.

"Most of them had never heard of it before; a couple of them thought it was a joke," Nicholas' father, Todd, said. "We got with USA Hockey and they asked if we wanted to do a clinic, because Sacramento was the only [sled hockey] program in the state at the time."

The Jenkins' began the sled hockey clinics in 2010 at a rink in Ontario, California, which is 30 minutes west of San Bernadino. Interest grew, and the Jenkins family helped spread the word about the game.

Joshua Swope, 30, met the Jenkins' while watching the Ontario Reign, the former ECHL team, and was asked if he was interested in sled hockey.

"We had never heard of it before. Then we come home after the game, my dad turns on the television for the Paralympics, and there's sled hockey," said Swope, a defenseman who was born with spina bifida. "Originally, we were doing this as a clinic kind of thing, bring people out, try it out. It's just fun and exciting."

The team, which was affiliated with the Reign in 2011, became affiliated with the Kings in the summer of 2013.

Todd Jenkins loves what sled hockey has done for his son.

"He's learned a lot about sportsmanship and made a lot of friends," Todd said. "He's still the youngest player on the traveling team at this point, but it's been great for him on many levels. He's learned leadership skills and all manner of things. And the reception in the community has been good as well."

Nicholas Jenkins' desire to play sled hockey has led to a team in the Los Angeles area, and they're hoping for bigger and better things as they continue to grow.

"We've been asked by Canadian teams to go to Canada for some of their local tournaments," Jenkins said. "They have their Canadian teams, but after a while you get tired of playing the same teams over and over. You want to have new competition. The growth is getting out there."

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