It has been three years since the Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival was staged. The event, which last took place in April of 2019, was cancelled alongside the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships in the spring of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic that quickly shut down the world.
Rewind to before all the cancellations, Pittsburgh had been set to host the 2020 Disabled Hockey Festival and had been spent an entire season preparing for the event. Schedules were finalized, pucks were ordered and everything was set and ready to go.
However, COVID had something else planned. Then again in 2021, the COVID landscape didn’t lend itself to any better outcome and the event was postponed once again.
“Third time’s the charm,” Michele Humphreys said with a smile.
Humphreys serves as the MidAmerican district representative for USA Hockey’s disabled hockey section and has orchestrated the planning and re-planning for hosting the Festival in Pittsburgh for the last three seasons.
Although youth nationals were able to be held in 2021, the disabled hockey community had more cause for concern with at-risk athletes and the decision was made out of the utmost precaution for the safety of all parties involved.
It’s safe to say that everyone is excited that the event is finally here.
“It’s so awesome that we are finally getting to host this event after three years” said Humphreys. “I think it’s really important for both the Pittsburgh community and the disabled hockey community.”
While Humphreys said that they did see registration go from 160 teams pre-COVID in 2020 to 126 teams in 2022, she said that she was happy with the turnout given the lingering concerns and restraints brought on by COVID, whether it be health concerns or financial limitations.
“We were willing to host as many people as we possibly could, find as many sheets of ice as we needed in order to give disabled athletes the opportunity to compete, both therapeutically and competitively.”
And they certainly accomplished that. With 126 teams and well over 1,500 athletes set to compete, three facilities with multiple rinks were still needed to host such a large-scale event.
“Over the course of the pandemic, a lot of the athletes did not have the opportunity to get out and play sports, like my son James.”
Humphreys has four sons, including a set of triplets, who all share a love of hockey. Her son Christian just recently competed at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 16U National Championship, where he brought home the 16U title with the Rochester Saints.
Humphreys’ son James, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, competes with the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins sled hockey program and will be participating in the sled hockey portion of the Disabled Hockey Festival, which will take place April 21-24 in Pittsburgh.
A lot of kids who play stand-up hockey locally in the area are volunteering in various roles for the Disabled Hockey Festival. Humphreys said the Pittsburgh hockey community is quite connected and it’s nice to see that camaraderie at these events.
“I think it’s really important for the kids who are able-bodied who play AAA hockey, Tier I hockey, every level of hockey to see these athletes who are overcoming so much to get out on the ice and be a part of it all. That’s really powerful. Having the Mighty Penguins sled hockey program up here with the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite was really good for all of those kids. As a mom, my greatest thing is knowing that James has had an impact on other kids here.”