J.J. O’Connor has had quite a year. As general manager of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, he watched as Team USA captured its first-ever 2009 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship gold medal last May. Last month, while operating in the same role with the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, he cheered the U.S. on to the gold medal at the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.
But the biggest event for O’Connor and disabled hockey throughout the United States will take place this weekend outside of Washington, D.C., at the sixth annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival. The event, which features all four disciplines of disabled hockey including deaf/hard of hearing hockey, special hockey, sled hockey and standing/amputee hockey, will welcome 47 teams and approximately 600 athletes to The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md., April 8-11.
“We’ve seen increases in exposure and participation over the years,” said O’Connor. “Part of the reason why we hold such a big event that caters to all four disciplines is to attract greater attention to each individually. Each event might struggle to garner attention on its own, but this event allows all of the disciplines to gain visibility.”
The event has proven successful in the past, raising money for local disabled hockey programs across the country while increasing awareness and participation for each of the disciplines.
Read the release about the event here.
“It happens all the time,” said O’Connor. “Someone visits our Disabled Festival and is inspired to go out and join their local organization’s team. And we’re seeing higher levels of competition each year because of it.”
One area of growth has been among veterans. The USA Warriors program is a prime example of USA Hockey’s recent efforts to reach out to this important and inspirational category of athletes. With this year’s USA Hockey Disabled Festival taking place in such proximity to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the opportunity to promote USA Warriors’ sled and standing amputee teams has never been better.
Find out more about the USA Warriors program here.
“Hopefully our sport will grow in popularity with wounded veterans,” said O’Connor. “We want the people who have sacrificed so much for our country to know that hockey is a place for them. If they want to play, we will find a way to get them on the ice whether it be as a standing amputee or in a sled.”
But the Festival serves not only to generate growth but to honor its current participants and devoted followers, as well.
“This event is inspirational for the players and the spectators,” said O’Connor. “Our goal every year is to create an atmosphere that leaves a happiness with everyone in the facility. Plus, the more people that attend to watch and cheer on the athletes, the better they feel.
“I’m looking forward to seeing players’ family and friends,” he added. “I enjoy hanging out with fans and sharing special moments with them. Just being a part of the event is such an honor.”
March 27, 2017 | When USA Hockey implemented its American Development Model in 2009, one element of the nationwide age-appropriate training blueprint sparked more debate than any other: cross-ice hockey for 8U players. In the years since, an abundance of evidence, both data-driven and anecdotal, has proven the developmental advantages of cross-ice hockey.
This week, Hockey Canada announced that it too will introduce its players to the game through cross-ice play beginning in 2017-18.
“Re-sizing the playing surface to cross-ice or half-ice means more puck touches, which result in more chances to practice puck control and shooting, as well as overall more movement and motor skill-development – twisting, turning, balance, coordination, agility,” said Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada, in a release today. “Their field-of-play matches their size, and these players hone in on their skill-development in a way that larger ice surfaces just aren’t conducive to.”
The Grassroots Show on Ottawa’s TSN 1200 weighed in on the decision. Click the audio link below to hear how Canada is embracing cross-ice hockey for the coming season and beyond.
Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, appeared on the Grassroots Show to discuss the nationwide shift to cross-ice hockey, beginning this fall for 5- and 6-year-olds and expanding to all of Canada's Novice (8U) level in 2018-19.
“When you see 10 or 12 or 14 or 16 kids out on the ice in between periods and they’re playing 200-by-85 and 3 or 4 kids touch the puck in that whole six minutes, yet there’s people in the stands clapping and thinking it’s wonderful, I just can’t help but think about the 95 percent of the children that didn’t even touch the puck or get from one end of the rink to the other and I ask myself what are we doing when the opportunity is certainly there to have 30 kids on the ice playing cross-ice and everyone is having a much better opportunity to touch the puck, skate a shorter distance and really play. It just boggles my mind,” said Renney.
“We completely embrace, at the Initiation level and the Novice level, cross-ice hockey and we have mandated that in the Initiation program and we will mandate it across the country in Novice hockey.
“This is about the pure enjoyment of the game, and your first connection with it has to be something that’s pure fun, on a surface of play that is conducive to much more participation and joy.”
Tag(s): Disabled Festival