Disabled youths soar on ice

Some players use sleds to take part in hockey

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Parker resident Aidan Lewis smiled as his dad Brian helped him put on the gear so he could take part in a hockey camp at the Pepsi Center.

“I came last year and it was a lot of fun,” the 9-year-old said at the Feb. 21 event for 6- to 18-year-olds. “I liked it because I got to skate and play hockey so I wanted to come back.”

When he had on all the equipment, Aidan linked arms with a volunteer who helped steady him on his skates as they circled the rink.

Quite a few of those attending the camp came in wheelchairs. That didn’t keep them off the ice as they took part in the camp with specially designed sleds.

The sleds are equipped with adjustable blades mounted under the seat, and the sledder uses two short hockey-style sticks to move along the ice.

While this was the first time in a sled for some kids, Casey Myers is a veteran sledder.

“I tried the sled at the camp, liked it and started playing sled hockey a couple years ago. I really liked the sport and I am excited because this is my first full season as a regular member of the youth Avalanche sled hockey team,” the 8-year-old said. “I really like playing sled hockey. It’s a lot of fun being a part of the team, whizzing around the ice and even scoring goals.”

So no one would be left out, kids who didn’t have sufficient arm strength to move along the ice rode in sleds designed with push bars so volunteers could propel them around the rink.

The event is put on annually by the National Sports Center for the Disabled, with assistance from the Colorado Adaptive Sports Foundation.

“The camp is a way to introduce these special kids to hockey,” said Corey Fairbanks, executive director of the foundation, as he helped get the camp started. “We have more than 40 kids and almost that many volunteers. The kids here tonight are about evenly divided between stand-up skaters and those in the sleds.”

Fairbanks, who is in a wheelchair, was on the ice in a sled wearing his Avalanche sled hockey jersey. The 1989 Arapahoe High School graduate and Avalanche sled hockey teammates Myers and Pierce Grandchamp volunteered their time to help the kids who were new to sleds and sled hockey.

Grandchamp, a Highlands Ranch resident, said he liked helping kids get used to the sleds and sled hockey because he really enjoys the sport.

“This is my 11th season playing sled hockey,” he said. “Sled hockey is fun for me because it is a sport I can do well. I also like being part of a team made up of guys who are friends on and off the ice.”

The kids got a special treat as Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson joined them at the clinic. He helped the stand-up skaters with stick handling and shooting. He even got into a sled and tried out that form of hockey.

He told Fairbanks he had a blast and enjoyed every minute working with the kids.

Johnson took time to autograph his player card for each of the kids at the camp and, as they left, each camper received two free tickets to an Avalanche game.