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The Great Blizzards of Massachusetts Work Hard to Bring Special Hockey to Boston

By Brianna Rhone, 04/30/24, 5:15PM MDT


The International Special Hockey Tournament returns for the first time since 2019

Steve Nearman’s unrelenting determination to get his son on the ice has led him to many different places.

Most recently his mission to bring back the International Special Hockey Tournament led him to Lovell Arena, an event his team, the Great Blizzards, was honored to host. The tournament, which took place April 25-27, featured more than 33 teams comprised of 500-plus athletes over three days. 

Nearman’s days were consumed with the never-ending chaos of running a tournament that not only saw big achievements on the ice, but the building of unbreakable bonds off of it. 

“We have 33 teams from 19 different programs, from the U.S., Canada and the U.K.” Nearman said. “We have teams coming from all over the place, just having the times of their lives.” 

Nearman, the founder and executive director of the Great Blizzards special hockey organization, remembers the struggle he had finding a special hockey program when moving to southeastern Massachusetts from northern Virginia. Nearman wanted a program that would not only teach his son skills on the ice, but would also allow him to travel and meet other hockey players like himself. After connecting with another dad of a special hockey player, Nearman created a plan of action and quickly got to work. The Great Blizzard special hockey team was created in 2019, beginning with 10 players and their families who were eager to find camaraderie with others.

The Great Blizzards numbers quickly ballooned to 40 players with varying degrees of experience and proficiency. Looking for more competitive opportunities for his players, Nearman tried to register for the SHI tournament. Discovering that they were looking for a host rink, he quickly jumped at the chance. 

“I wanted our players to meet players from around the world, who are like them, and they can say, ‘I’ve played players from all over. I met people from other countries. We still have something in common. We play ice hockey together,’” Nearman said.

The SHI Tournament was a significant experience for the special hockey community. This year’s tournament is the first since 2019, bringing players and teams from not just the U.S., but Canada and the U.K. to Boston. For athletes who rarely get to play against someone of their same skillset, the chance to hit the ice with their peers does wonders for their self-confidence and morale. 

Nearman recalls a story of a young player who, prior to coming to the SHI Tournament, had been using a handheld skating aid for months. Skating beside other special hockey players at the tournament gave the player the courage to forego the aid and begin skating on his own for the first time, almost bringing his parents to tears.

“I saw players skating like they've never skated before, and the parents are absolutely beside themselves,” Nearman recalled.

Not only were the players competing on the ice for hardware, but also creating indelible memories during on-ice workshops with Boston Bruins alumni Joe Mullen and Bob Sweeney. The Bruins greats hosted a Q&A session, giving the SHI athletes insight on their playing careers, hard work and how to always keep fun at the core of playing hockey. 

The success of the SHI Tournament in Boston was so large that the Great Blizzard have been awarded the right to host the tournament again in 2025. More than half of the teams who played at this year’s tournament are tentatively committed to returning already. 

Winning on the ice has never been Nearman’s main goal when gathering these athletes together. Their performance off the ice has been a driving factor for him since the very minute he was told his city would be awarded the tournament. 

“I want them to feel good about themselves,” Nearman said while recalling the award ceremony in which all 500 athletes in attendance received a medal. “That's probably the most important thing that we do in our sport is make our players feel important, feel worth something, and feel like they've accomplished something.”

Nearman aspires to impart the magnitude of a tournament like SHI on his athletes.

“I hope they feel like there are people from other parts of the world that love the same game they do and like to compete and be on the same ice,” Nearman said. “While they have different uniforms and different accents, at the end of the day, they’re still hockey players.”

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