|South Jersey Sled Hockey:
Wings of Steel
Wednesday, March 13, 2002
By Joanne & Mike Costantino
SJSports Staff Writers
As the Paralympics took off last week in Salt Lake City, South Jersey Sports Online would like to tell about some local young athletes that some day would like to compete in the Paralympics. They are the Wings of Steel, a sled hockey team of youngsters with disabilities. Sled hockey is hockey played not on skates but seated on a sled with one blade and the legs strapped together at the front of the sled. There are two cropped down sticks that have a metal grabbers at the ends to help push the sled and each stick has a regular hockey blade. Each player is outfitted with the standard protective padding and helmets that hockey players wear.
The Wings of Steel team was pulled together by Tom Brake, the Atlantic District Vice-President for Disabled Sports. He is the coach, equipment and team manager of this under 17 sled hockey team, consisting of both boys and girls with varying disabilities from MS to cerebral palsy.
Tom invited SJSports Online to his team's practice to meet some of his very special players and we were glad to do it. With ice time at a premium, Tom spends a lot of time asking for donations and raising money to pay for the ice time and also for the sleds that cost $350 each and up. Fortunately last summer while Tom was assembling this team, Skate Zone in Voorhees donated ice time every week. They are now locked into a regular guaranteed time slot of Thursdays at 5p.m. and Skate Zone tries to donate as much as the time as feasible.
The first thing you notice when you enter the rink is the collection of small wheelchairs, gait trainers (walkers) and a few companion dogs. Extraordinary sites at a hockey rink, but these are extraordinary individuals. In the stands are the parents and friends that make sure the kids all get to the practices so they will be ready for the games.
We first meet Cayleen Oliver, a fifth grader at Eleanor Rush School, an engaging and charming young defenseman all of 11 years old whose older brother John plays on the varsity hockey team for Cinnaminson High School. When asked what she likes the most about playing hockey, Cayleen responds with a smile, "I get to do what my brother does", figuring he has so much fun playing hockey, why not her as well. As for Cayleen's favorite hockey player she loves Eric Lindros, even though he plays for the hated Rangers. Cayleen doesn't waiver on her choice, Lindros is her man. Cayleen also plays soccer and looks forward to scoring her first goal.
Another player, Danny, age 15, from Shamong, has been playing about three years and also loves to play basketball. Danny loves all of the Sixers but his favorite player is Allen Iverson.
For all practices there are a few volunteers that assist some of the rookie players with navigating the ice and hockey players from the high school league that volunteer their time with the practices in drills and instruction.
The remarkable thing about this team is not their disabilities; it is their attitude and determination. On the ice in the sleds they are a team of equals. Athletes in the same sense as any athlete that they are there to play a game and to compete and have the added benefits of learning sportsmanship, camaraderie and making friends.