Arapahoe Pee Wees find ‘privilege’ in playing Little Avs
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The losing coach was more than gracious in defeat.
“This is another example of how powerful the game of hockey is,” said Sean Leonard, coach of the Arapahoe Warriors Pee Wee AA team, after the Warriors were belted 8-1 on April 30 by the national champion Little Avs youth sled hockey team in an exhibition game at the Family Sports Center in Englewood.
The game between teams affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche was played on sleds, and that put the stand-up skating Warriors at a distinct disadvantage.
They didn’t mind.
“It was a privilege to share the ice with the national champions,” Leonard said. “They’re a success on and off the ice and what hockey is all about: commitment, teamwork and having fun.”
Leonard said his players had fun facing the Little Avs and learned what it’s like to play a national champion team.
“Little Avs coach Larry Stoiber (from the Colorado Adaptive Sports Foundation) and his staff did an excellent job before the game setting up our players with sleds and providing instruction to help our kids adjust to their new skates and sticks,” he said. “Initially, our kids were very surprised at how fast the sleds are. They were even more surprised at how challenging it is to stop or turn the sled. After a little practice, they figured it out and were ready to play.”
Sled hockey is played by people with physical disabilities or lower body impairments. Sleds, sticks, pads, helmets and other equipment is needed to participate.
Just prior to the opening faceoff, all the players gathered at center ice to acknowledge the national champions.
“It was a great moment, especially when the national champs were applauded with the traditional tapping of hockey sticks on the ice, which is the ultimate show of respect from one hockey player to another,” Leonard said.
Then the game began.
“We quickly realized the speed and skills of our opponents were going to be a challenge,” Leonard said. “At times, our players were in awe of their speed and passing abilities. We did a great job battling and we got better as the game went on but in the end, they were too good for us.”
After the game, more smiles took over.
“It was fun watching the kids from both teams talk hockey, take pictures together and do what they do best – be kids,” Leonard said. “Overall, this was a great experience not only for the players, but the coaches and parents as well.”
Leonard said one of the sled team captains thanked the Warriors several times and said how grateful he is for sled hockey.
“Before sled hockey, he said, he would sit in his chair all day with basically nothing to do,” he said. “Since he discovered sled hockey, he’s never been the same.”
The Warriors’ only goal, by the way, wasn’t scored by their players. It was scored by the team’s unofficial “fourth line” of Leonard, assistant coach Dan Beaudette and Tyler Reddy, who works in community relations for the Avalanche.
“It was an amazing day from the Avalanche organization’s standpoint,” Reddy said. “It was special to see two of our cherished teams compete against each other, but more importantly, be united through hockey and our organization.”
Stoiber was the driving force behind the exhibition game, which is expected to become an annual event. He said he’s always looking to set up exhibition games against able-bodied players for the Little Avs, not just to raise awareness about the team in the community.
“Being a part of a team is a big deal for our kids,” he said. “They’re mostly excluded from team sports. The advantages able-bodied kids get from team sports are the same for our kids.”
— Steve Stein