Sled hockey was first introduced to the Lakers hockey program in 2003, when Rod Kolstee and Chuck DeAngelo wanted to provide physically disabled athletes the chance to play their favorite sport. The team they created allowed athletes to take the ice free of charge, armed with aluminum sleds instead of skates and special, shortened hockey sticks. The team was a success, and several years later, the men recognized the growing need for another version of the sport: special hockey. They launched the first Lakers special hockey team in 2012, a stand-up version of hockey designed to accommodate developmentally disabled athletes. Today, both programs are going strong, not only offering handicapped athletes the chance to play team sports, but also providing them with a supportive environment to grow self-esteem, create friendships, and have fun. Program director Rod Kolstee sat down with the Jamestown Gazette to discuss this year’s teams and their upcoming special hockey tournament the weekend of March 17-19.
Cortney: How did you originally get involved with sled and special hockey?
Kolstee: Well, I was coaching a travel team and we got this USA Hockey magazine that was featuring an article about sled hockey. I thought it would be a great program to get going. So I approached the [Chautauqua County Youth Hockey Association] and Chuck DeAngelo, and we all got things going, we raised money, and we’ve been going ever since. The special hockey team has been going about four or five years now. We had some kids that had developmental disabilities and they were in sleds because we didn’t have any other teams for them. They wanted to do stand-up hockey, so we decided to get that going too.
Cortney: You offer sled and special hockey programs at no cost to the players and their families. Why do you think it is so important to have these opportunities for special needs athletes?
Kolstee: Well, many of them have physical handicaps, and they’re spending a lot of money going into Shriners [Hospitals] and having various surgeries and treatments. That’s why we thought it would be good to offer it at no cost. These programs have changed the lives of a lot of kids. They’re always on the sidelines watching other people, their brothers and sisters, score goals and make touchdowns. Now they get to do the same thing.
Cortney: How does your training differ from other ice hockey teams? What kind of conditioning and drills do you run?
Kolstee: Basically we do the same things. In sled hockey, they have to learn how to get in their sleds and propel themselves. And in special, they’re maybe not as fast and can’t turn around as well. But outside those few minor things, the skating drills that I run are almost the same as your drills for stand-up hockey.
Cortney: What kind of athletes comprise your team this year?
Kolstee: For special hockey, we get kids out there that are in their high teens, early twenties, and a couple of younger kids. They just love it. We mostly have boys, but we don’t turn anybody away. We actually had a girl that went to play on the USA women’s team for a season and right now we have a guy who was just picked for the National Developmental Team, which is only a step underneath the world team.
Cortney: How has your season been this year?
Kolstee: Oh, it’s just been great. We actually have a special hockey tournament coming up on March 17, 18, and 19. During the tournament, we have a fundraiser where the sheriff’s office gets in sleds and plays hockey against our team. March 17 and 18 we’ll also have a big Chinese auction and 50/50 raffles. So we’d like people to come on out for that and show their support.
For more information on sled hockey, special hockey, or the upcoming tournament, visit JamestownLakers.com or the CCYHA Facebook page.
To read more of Cortney Linnecke’s creative and informative contributions to the Jamestown Gazette, please go to www.jamestowngazette.com.