Over the weekend, the Mighty Penguins, Pittsburgh’s sled hockey team, kicked off their 2011-12 season at Blade Runners in Harmarville for a weekend of intense hockey.
The Mighty Penguins are a part of the Mid American Great Lakes (MAGL) Sled League, one that is unlike any other. The league is designed for children and adults with physical disabilities, and it gives them the opportunity to fly down the ice on specially made sleds that are guided by the athletes’ sticks a.ka. picks.
From Saturday, Nov. 12 to Sunday, Nov. 13, the Penguins faced off against four other MAGL teams, the Grand Rapids Sled Wings, the Michigan Sled Dogs, the Turnstone Flyers, and Ohio United.
Angie McCoy, president of Mighty Penguins, weighs in on this life-changing sport.
“For many of the players, this is their main sport,” McCoy says. “They are able to play a competitive sport, all-out hockey.”
McCoy explains that children with physical disabilities can compete in sports fairly well until middle school when the sports become much more competitive.
“Sled hockey gives them a chance to call something their own,” she says. “Even though they may have a disability, they can say, ‘On the ice, I’m better than you.’”
That is the case for many of these players as they shoot forwards down the ice, each one eager to grab ahold of the puck. However, the Penguins truly are a team, as the goals and assists are not coming from just one player. McCoy says that this is what gives the athletes solidarity as a team.
“We have been together over 10 years as an organization,” McCoy says. “Seeing other organizations that have been together for only two or three years, we see how far our team has come when they play together.”
Although each player brings something unique to the game, no less than 10 of the Penguins lead the league in scoring points, among them are Daniel McCoy, second place in the division with a record 5-7-12 in 4 GP, Josh Wirt (4-3-7 in 4 GP), Kelsey DiClaudio (2-5-7 in 4 GP), Nevin Gray (2-4-6 in 4 GP), Zach Harding (4-1-5 in 4 GP), Andrew McCoy (3-2-5 in 2 GP), Mike Kempka (2-2-4 in 4 GP), Nick Halapchuk (3-0-3 in 4 GP), Lee Tempest (1-2-3 in 4 GP), and Kiefer Mansfield (1-2-3 in 3 GP).
Cody Gray and Jonathan Stark each added assists over the weekend as well. The Penguins are also excited to see what James Hetzel will bring to the table this upcoming season.
This team is currently ranked first in the MAGL, winning all four games played so far.
This is a great feeling to Angie McCoy.
“These young men have that athletic mind, but their bodies may not be able to perform in a non-adaptive sport,” she explains. “With sled hockey, they can use that mindset to perform, and this carries through to their daily lives.”
The Penguins will continue to play together throughout the rest of their season, working as a team, hoping to end up fighting for the National Title at the National Disabled Festival in Dallas.
Although the feeling of winning makes the hard work pay off, McCoy notes something else that is even better.
“The camaraderie of the players more than the actual game,” McCoy says. “The players and the parents and the support they give each other. It’s truly life-changing.”