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Second Annual NTDP Sensory Friendly Game a Highlight for Fans with Sensory Needs

By Becky Olsen, 10/21/19, 4:15PM MDT

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Lowered lights and reduced in-arena noise helps create an environment that’s safe for everyone

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The second annual Sensory Friendly Game at USA Hockey Arena on Sunday was a winner on the ice for the players and coaches, but most importantly, it was a win in the stands for the fans in attendance.

USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-18 forward Ty Smilanic, who scored the game-winning goal and added an assist in the 3-1 win over Green Bay, found the experience a memorable one.

“It was different not to hear the goal horn, but it is for a great cause,” he said. “To look up in the stands and see kids with smiles on their faces who are able to experience a hockey game, that means so much more than a horn.”

Instead of music, the goal horn and the video board, fans were treated to a game that featured limited sounds and videos throughout the music. It really allowed fans to hear the referee whistles, the players skating up and down the ice and of course, the puck banging around the glass. It was a special day for all in attendance.

“As a family with two boys with autism, we are very appreciative when there is an opportunity like this,” said John Doskocz, who lives in Northville, Michigan. “The boys like a lot of movement and action but the noise can be a little overwhelming for them. It’s great that it gives them an opportunity to be able to experience this without having to come to a regular game.

“If you try to bring them to a regular game, they have to have headphones on because the noise is too much for them. It’s great that they can handle being here without anything special.”

The Sensory Friendly Game was the brainchild of NTDP Under-18 coach Seth Appert, who had coordinated previous games when he was the head coach at RPI. It was the second straight year that he was behind the bench for this special event.

“It’s real humbling to get to be a part of it,” said Appert. “I feel fortunate to open our home at USA Arena to everybody in our community, especially children on the spectrum. [They often can’t] go to a big-time sporting event because of the noises and lights which can produce a negative environment on them. To take that all away and allow families to come in and share this, it’s special and we are appreciative for everyone that came out.”

Everything about the Sensory Friendly Game was designed with the needs of the fans in mind, from a general admission seating section to available quiet rooms and a modified concessions menu which featured gluten-free pizza, the NTDP really tried to organize a game that would give fans the maximum experience.

“At USA Hockey, we strongly believe that hockey is for everyone,” said Scott Monaghan, senior director of operations for the NTDP. “With this promotion, we are able to welcome an even larger group of fans to USA Hockey Arena, including some who have maybe never had the opportunity to see us before due to the environment of live entertainment.”

Doskocz echoed those same thoughts about the event.

“We can support USA Hockey, buy concessions and come to a game and have an environment that is good for them. It’s such a great opportunity for our family,” he said. “We really appreciate having gluten free options for food. A lot of kids with autism their digestive system can’t handle regular food so it’s a big help for that too.

“They did general admission seating this year which is nice and allowed us to move around.”

For U18 forward Landon Slaggert, the game took on an even more special meaning to him. He is currently taking a peer-to-peer mentor class at Northville High School and has worked with Doskocz’s oldest son.

“It’s a pretty humbling experience,” Slaggert said. “I chose to take that class. It really puts things into perspective for me. It’s pretty interesting. You don’t realize what those kids go through on a daily basis. You can walk in their shoes and help out.”

For Appert and his U18 players, it really showed that hockey is for anyone.

“It’s no different to coach it but it’s definitely different for the players,” said Appert. “There are some of those artificial things that shouldn’t matter but they do sometimes, and they probably do even more on a Sunday afternoon when you are playing your third game in three days. It’s the least we can do once a year to make it a more inclusive environment for everybody.”

And the players were quick to echo those same sentiments.

“It’s such an honor to play in this game,” explained Smilanic. “You get a whole new audience and having other people get that experience, it’s pretty cool for sure.”

“It was a little quiet out there, but it was amazing,” said Slaggert. “It’s great for what we are doing. It allows a broader audience to enjoy the sport of hockey.”

And that is a win for everyone involved in the sport.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.


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