Don Suozzo has been active throughout his entire life. It’s all he knows.
So when he lost part of his leg almost a decade ago, it didn’t hinder his competitive lifestyle. Suozzo found sled hockey to help fill the void. And age isn’t a factor either for Suozzo, who will turn 70 years old later this year.
Suozzo recently traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and competed in the 2022 Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival with the Vegas Golden Knights.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Suozzo said of his newfound love for sled hockey. “I guess the ability to bump and run into people … no one treats you as if you’re a frail person who can’t do anything anymore because you lost a limb. That made it feel competitive for me.”
The Festival brings together all six disabled hockey disciplines. The mission of the Festival is to provide a fun, exciting weekend of hockey at a grand event while promoting and growing disabled hockey throughout the country.
The 69-year-old Suozzo competed at the Festival with and against 18- and 19-year-olds, players more than 50 years his junior. Suozzo had one assist in five games as he helped Vegas go 5-0, including a narrow 4-3 victory in the championship game.
“It was very good,” Suozzo said. “And it became extremely competitive in the last two games, the semifinals and the finals.”
Suozzo wasn’t even interested in hockey at a younger age.
“I was horrible at hockey,” Suozzo said. “I couldn’t skate, I couldn’t stop, so it wasn’t good for me.”
Suozzo played soccer through high school and college in New Jersey. He also wrestled in high school, did a lot of running and still bikes. About “six or seven” years ago, Suozzo lost part of his leg below the knee and was introduced to sled hockey at a learn-to-play clinic in Florida.
“I played soccer through college, so this was similar to me as far as positioning, zones, areas you’re covering and rotating through spots,” Suozzo said. A lot of it seems to be quite common between the two sports at least for me, from what I can see.”
Aside from the similarities between the two sports, sled hockey also filled that competitive urge for Suozzo, who now lives in Las Vegas.
Suozzo was immediately frustrated that the larger width of his skate blade deterred him from making sharp turns, but he adjusted. Players had trouble handling a puck at Suozzo’s first learn-to-play clinic, so they used a beach ball during a scrimmage.
Teammates and friends were kind enough to offer supplies like sleds, sticks, gloves and more, but he eventually purchased his own equipment.
“It was a lot of fun, so I kept going with it,” Suozzo said. “It’s tiring and there’s more strain on your upper body. It’s tough keeping your wind. But it’s the enjoyment of playing and being able to move. It’s feeling your heartbeat and sweating. You feel like you’re semi-normal.”
Even while facing off against players 50 years younger at a national tournament.
“It’s tough competing with the children,” Suozzo said. “Some of those 18- and 19-year-olds can run down the ice and make me look like I’m standing still. It’s tough. There are quite a few that are exceptionally fast. It was good. It was fun.”
Suozzo has no plans to slow down either, as he prepares to turn 70 later this year.
“I love the workout, I enjoy athletics,” Suozzo said. “It’s enjoyment, going out there, being exhausted and coming away with something like a win or a good game. I’m going to keep going as long as I can and as long as I’m not a detriment to the team. I enjoy the group and I’m amazed at the capabilities of people in wheelchairs and people who are double amputees. I see prosthetics and wheelchairs lined up along the boards and for me it was motivation. Those are people who don’t stop and they’re not sitting around and whining.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.