Jill Mandveno’s two older sons have played with the Brick Stars Challenger special hockey program for about a decade. It’s provided them with so many opportunities they wouldn’t normally have had, including traveling to other parts of the country like Tampa, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
But one of their latest excursions was a bit of a surreal experience. Her sons, Evan Silva, 20, and Elijah Silva, 14, went to Washington to skate on a rink on the White House lawn.
“I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mandveno said. “You’re at the White House. That’s the ultimate destination. It was just really exciting.”
Mandveno hadn’t been to the White House before, so she made sure to do everything she could to make the trip from New Jersey when Alex DePalma, coach of the Brick Stars, and USA Hockey’s special hockey rep, called her to let her know about the opportunity.
With an outdoor hockey rink on the White House lawn, disabled hockey players from various areas in the United States traveled to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to skate on the ice with quite a special backdrop. USA Hockey invited players from its six disciplines of disabled hockey across the country: Blind, deaf/hard of hearing, special, warrior hockey (veterans), standing/amputee and sled hockey. They were among some of the first to skate on the new rink, which was revealed in November.
DePalma, who founded the Brick Stars in 2008, brought six special athletes, a parent and a coach from his local organization in New Jersey to make the drive to Washington. They were on the ice on the White House lawn for about an hour in the early evening on Dec. 19.
It was a cold night, “great for hockey,” DePalma said. They used tennis balls in place of real pucks. They did some fun drills and played 3-on-3 scrimmages with the coaches. All the players wore USA hockey jerseys that they got to take home as well.
Along with skating on the ice, everyone loved taking a bunch of photos on the White House lawn, too, with the Washington Monument in the background for a picture-perfect setting.
Afterward, DePalma and his skaters got back in their cars for the long drive home, but it was all worth it. DePalma and his wife stopped at a rest area on the way back and talked with one of the parents of a girl with autism who skated at the event. The mom and her daughter couldn’t stop saying “thank you” for the opportunity, DePalma said.
“Well worth it to see the smiles on the kids’ faces,” DePalma said. “And the parents, just very, very thankful and appreciative that their kids got to go out there. So, that was the best part.
“It really meant a lot to them.”
Mandveno, of Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, took her two older sons, who both have autism, to the special skate. Her son Evan is the Brick Stars goaltender and Elijah is a skater.
“They were super excited when they found out about it,” Mandveno said. “Then on the way down there, even on the way back, it was just so much fun for them to have that opportunity. And when they were out there, they were having a blast.”
Not only was it a great experience for the players, parents and coaches involved, but the event helped showcase the disabled hockey community.
The more exposure, the better, DePalma said. The more word gets out about disabled hockey, it might reach other families who have kids who could get involved in one of the six disciplines.
Mandveno “never thought in a million years” that her kids would play hockey, but they got involved with special hockey about 10 years ago after a friend suggested it to them.
Though a lot of people don’t even know about disabled hockey, seeing so many people in different disciplines at tournaments shows that “it’s bigger than you think,” Mandveno said.
“It’s really growing every year,” she said. “It’s heartwarming. It really is because everybody’s coming together. Everybody’s learning about the inclusivity of it.”
DePalma hopes the White House rink is put in place each year since it was such a good experience to showcase the sport.
“Hopefully more people around the country pick up on it and realize that in their local communities, there are special hockey teams,” DePalma said. “The more exposure… the White House showing it, different other venues, then we’re really making a difference.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.