Sports stories and accomplishments have often been the focus of movies and books since the inception of competition. From the 1980 “Miracle” team to the Marshall University victory against Xavier a year after tragedy struck their school, using sports as a form of inspiration is a common theme in today’s culture. However, there are some stories that have yet to be told on such a high level that are cause for daily inspiration and motivation.
One such story is the resilient, powerful, and motivated participants of sled hockey. The sport of sled hockey was created in the early 1960’s in Stockholm, Sweden at a rehabilitation center. Sled Hockey allows youth and adults with physical disabilities the opportunity to play ice hockey, and was officially declared a Paralympic medal sport during the Lillehammer Games in 1994.
In the Tri-State area, the Wheelchair Sports Federation’s Sled Rangers are the New York Rangers' partner sled hockey team. The Sled Rangers began in 2012 and have both adult and youth teams. Since the organization was formed, the youth team has grown from eight to 34 team members due in large part to the advocacy and promotion from coaches and players involved in the program. The youth program includes children from the ages of five to 21, and the best part about the team is that it is entirely free to the participants. The Sled Rangers organization pays for everything knowing that cost could be a deterrent for some people, and believe that there should be no obstacle when it comes to giving children the opportunity to play.
Coach Victor Calise stated that, “The main goal of the Sled Rangers is for the kids to build their athletic skills and to show them that regardless of disability that they can play a sport.”
This past weekend, the youth Sled Rangers had an incredible opportunity to raise awareness to their sport by playing a friendly tournament against the Minnesota Wild Junior Sled Hockey team. To Coach Calise, “the impact of the tournament was huge not only for the Minnesota team but also for the Sled Rangers team because it shows them that level of competition exists throughout the country.”
The weekend included two days of competition topped off with the chance to skate during the period break of the Minnesota Wild’s preseason game. For some members of the team, it was their first time leaving the Tri-State area, and for many of them, it was their first time on a plane. Playing at the Schwan Super Rink in Minnesota, the teams were there not to be competitors but as advocates for their sport and respective organizations.
“We played our best games of sled hockey ever during this trip," Coach Bill Greenberg said of this past weekend. "Kids were in position and playing good offense and defense, and making use of their hockey skills.”
Kids who play on the team not only develop skills on the ice, it helps them off the ice too.
Bill mentioned, “One mom just wrote me today about how her daughter is so thrilled to be on the team and how the program has improved her self esteem and self confidence.”
This year, the Sled Rangers will be helping the New York Rangers during select Try Hockey For Free events by hosting sled hockey introductory sessions. The first one will be on October 6th at World Ice Arena at 7:30 pm. Sleds and equipment will be provided at no cost to participants and the Sled Rangers organization will be on site to help teach people how to play. There is no age restriction for those wanting to learn how to play sled hockey. To learn more about sled hockey and the Sled Rangers, you can visit www.wsfsledrangers.org.