Boston’s TD Garden, home to the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins, will play host to it’s first-ever sled hockey event for disabled youth on Monday, February 28. In part sponsored by World T.E.A.M. Sports, the afternoon event will provide 24 children with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the growing sport of sled hockey.
Steven Berube, the program director for Massachusetts’s Unified Sports Program, is passionate about the independent athletics program that brings together children with disabilities with non-disabled children. “We want these kids to enjoy playing sports together,” said Berube, who created the program in 2007. Winner of the 2008 New England Patriots Community MVP Award, the Unified Sports Program offers Massachusetts children with any disability to participate in sports such as bowling, baseball, rock climbing, swimming and sled hockey.
Players compete in sled hockey by using sleds to travel across the ice. Shortened hockey sticks with a metal edge allow the player to push the sled to compete. Players unable to propel their sleds on their own use adult volunteers to push their sleds from behind. In addition to pushing the sleds, the hockey sticks are also used to control and shoot the puck. The result is an often fast-moving game with plenty of excitement for the players.
Despite the growth of sled hockey nationally with state and regional associations such as the Northeast Sled Hockey League, many ice arenas are still unaware of the sport. Berube explains that in the Boston area, ice time is a major consideration in arranging practice and game time for Unified Sports Program participants. In January 2010, Unified Sports Program, World T.E.A.M. Sports and the Boston Bruins hosted a sled hockey clinic and game at the Steriti Memorial Rink in Boston’s North End as part of the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative. The event included several Bruins alumni and inactive defenseman Andrew Ference, who tried his hand at sled hockey. “It was very, very difficult and I felt very, very vulnerable,” Ference told Bruins media relations specialist Samantha Wood.
For the 2011 TD Garden event, selected Bruins alumni will again participate. World T.E.A.M. Sports is supplying special branded hockey jerseys for the participants in red, white and blue for the three squads of eight. Northeast Passage, affiliated with the University of New Hampshire’s College of Health and Human Services, is participating with student athletes and is providing sleds.
Berube believes athletic events such as sled hockey help participating children “look at themselves as nothing but kids.” Unified Sports Program events treat all participants equally, whether they are disabled or non-disabled. That makes a difference, as World T.E.A.M. Sports follows the same philosophy with its sports events.