MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s approaching 10 p.m., and the line that snakes through the upper lobby at the New England Sports Center shows no signs of shrinking. Nobody is leaving without getting what they came for.
It isn’t the Boston Bruins alumni, who had just played a charity game against an all-star team of amputee players, that everybody is waiting for. To the kids participating at the 2014 USA Hockey Disabled Festival the prize for their patience is much bigger than that.
Every disabled player and family member will leave here with more than just an autographed team photo of the 2014 U.S. Sled Hockey Team. They will carry with them a memory that will serve as a source of inspiration moving forward.
“These kids look up to these guys like they’re [Alex] Ovechkin or [Sidney] Crosby. They’re their heroes, and they give them a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to shoot for,” says J.J. O’Connor, the chairman of USA Hockey’s Disabled Section, who considers the presence of these Paralympians the crowning jewel of this weekend celebration of disabled hockey.
The 13 Paralympians who came here with their gold medals in tow are happy to oblige. For many of them, they have been on the other side of the autograph table, and giving up a few hours of their time and a little writer’s cramp is a small price to pay it forward.
“I think it’s great because I get to give back to the sport that has given me so much,” says Rico Roman, who is here competing for the San Antonio Rampage.
“These guys really look up to us as National Team players and Paralympians, so for me to sign some autographs and take a few pictures hopefully will inspire them to be the best that they can be. I really get fired up from seeing the youth players and the smiles on their faces. I love it.”
As O’Connor is proud to point out, these festivals are more than just another hockey tournament or a showcase of skills. It’s a chance for every player, whether they are competing in a sled, a special hockey game or as a member of an amputee team to say loud and proud that they too are hockey players just like their able-bodied brethren.
And what these Paralympians represent is the possibility that there are opportunities to be a part of something bigger if they continue to work hard and believe in themselves.
“It’s like pulling on that USA jersey,” says Kip St. Germaine, a three-time Paralympian who is coaching the UNH Wildcats adult team.
“It’s an honor and a responsibility that you can’t take lightly. It’s one thing to make the Paralympic Team and win the gold medal, but there are other responsibilities that come outside of the ice … to get kids enthused and involved because they’re the future.”
To their credit, every member of the gold-medal team understands that and relishes the opportunity to serve as an example for the next generation of disabled athlete.
“It’s awesome to be that kind of role model for these kids,” says Josh Sweeney, who scored the winning goal in the gold-medal game against Russia.
“That’s why I try to do the best I can to let them know that it’s possible for them, and it’s not something that they can’t do if they get to work.”
Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”
Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future.
USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.
On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.
The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1.
SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.
The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.
The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.
These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.
Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.