Dozens of youngsters with disabilities in New York are getting the chance to experience team sports firsthand, thanks to the New York Rangers sled hockey team. The team, started in October 2012, is the city’s first ice hockey team for disabled children.
Watching the players prepare to play ice hockey is inspiring on its own. Players arrive in a variety of ways: on crutches, with the aid of a walker, or in a wheelchair. Volunteers and parents assist the kids as they pad up and are lifted into the bucket seats of the narrow aluminum sleds that are used to play the game. The sleds have skate blades under them.
Once the kids hit the ice, they glide easily around the rink, chasing after pucks and other players, and hopefully, scoring goals along the way.
“The whole idea is to get them involved and show them what disabled athletes can do,” said Victor Calise, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.
“Some of these kids and their parents never knew they could play team sports,” said Bill Greenberg, an investor from Greenwich Village who has a son on the team.
Together Calise and Greenberg worked together to organize the city team. The team plays every other weekend at Lasker Rink in Central Park. The rink is equipped to handle the hockey sleds.
The equipment the team uses includes the sled and a shortened hockey stick that has a blade on one end used for propelling the sled with arm movements. The team has sponsors, including the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the New York Rangers pro team, and the Wheelchair Sports Federation, to help cover the costs of equipment, and the Lasker Rink donates the ice time.
For Calise, the team is more than just a game. After he was paralyzed from the waist down in a mountain biking accident, he almost lost hope. That is, until he found sled hockey.
“Initially, I didn’t want to live anymore, and I found sled hockey and it changed my life,” he said.
Calise made quite a name for himself in the sport. He was part of the 1996 national team, played in the 1998 Winter Paralympic Games in Japan, and became a member of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey team. Because he knows how much hard work is involved in the sport, he doesn’t coddle the players. Instead, he drives them to push harder.
“If they can do this now,” Calise said, “they don’t see their disability.”
Though this video doesn’t show the young New York Rangers team, you can see how the sport is played by a kids’ sled hockey team in Minnesota, where gliding on ice is a way of life in the winter! If you play sled hockey, tell us what you love most about the sport!
Michael Del Rossi Photography