and Craig Adams
stood in the tunnel waiting to take the ice for practice on Saturday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center, but this wasn’t going to be any ordinary skate.
Instead of standing upright on the ice, the two would be strapped to sled hockey sleds alongside the Mighty Penguins sled hockey team.
The Mighty Penguins feature children with disabilities from all over the greater Pittsburgh area. The program is designed to give disabled youth the opportunity to compete as well as a self-esteem boost and has four levels: novice, intermediate, junior and senior. Thirty-five players participated in the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Aside from Kunitz and Adams, their teammates Steve Downie, Christian Ehrhoff, Thomas Greiss and Marc-Andre Fleury also took the ice.
“These guys love hockey, and to see their heroes come out and get on some sleds with them and have Fleury standing up and shooting with them and dangling is really a cool experience for these guys,” said Michele Humphreys, president of the Mighty Penguins.
Kunitz wasn’t the only Olympian on the ice that afternoon. Dan McCoy, Olympic sled hockey gold medalist with Team USA, also skated at the event. They shared stories about their experiences in Sochi, Russia during the 2014 Winter Games.
“We talked about that, about the conditions and everything if anything was different (for us),” McCoy, a Pittsburgh native said.
“It was really warm both times we were there and it didn’t really feel like the Olympics or Paralympics when we were there. We were joking about that and just kind of reminiscing about the whole experience.”
The two even share No. 14, although McCoy, who is diagnosed with spina bifida, claims it was on accident.
“Just to meet him, that was a dream come true. It’s something I’ll never forget,” McCoy said.
The Penguins players got a taste of sled hockey as well as the chance to get in touch with some unique fans.
“Any time you can be a part of the hockey family is a cool experience,” Kunitz said.
After warming up a bit, the Penguins players who were on sleds slowly started to grasp that variation of hockey.
“They did pretty well,” McCoy said. “They needed a couple pointers. They fell over a few times, which is expected, but they did pretty well.”
The clattering of stick taps echoed from the Mighty Penguins thanked the Pittsburgh Penguins for their appearance.
“One of the best parts of this to see everybody’s faces light up and realize that the kids and families are getting to experience something that not a lot of people get to experience,” McCoy said.