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Union College hockey players try sled hockey against Capital Region adaptive sports team

The Capital District Sled Warriors defeated hockey players from Union College on November 29th, 2023.
Lucas Willard
The Capital District Sled Warriors defeated hockey players from Union College on November 29th, 2023.

Union College’s home hockey rink has seen a lot of memorable moments over the years, including a team that won the national championship in 2014. On Wednesday night, the Garnet Chargers got to try something new.

Inside Union College’s Messa Rink, the Garnet Chargers are getting low to the ice — really low.

Members of Union’s men’s and women’s hockey teams are seated in sleds that almost look like large skates. With a short hockey stick in each hand, the varsity hockey players are facing off against the Capital District Sled Warriors, a program of STRIDE Adaptive Sports.

As the Union players struggle to navigate the ice, the Sled Warriors easily cruise circles around them.

Amanda Quan is a forward on the Union women’s team.

“It was definitely difficult, like, the first time getting on the sled and figuring out how to push and turn, that was definitely really hard. But once we got the hang of that, it got a little bit easier,” said Quan.

The Sled Warriors accept players of all ages and abilities.

Ten-year-old Lyle Joiner was steered around the rink in his sled by his dad, Steve, who skates behind.

“What do you like about it?

“You get to play.”

Tonight’s match is the first game scenario for the father and son. Steve says they’ve only been playing sled hockey for two months.

“The sport is fun to learn, it’s just trying to get him comfortable with pushing and turning – turning is the hard part – but overall, it’s a pretty fun sport. It just takes time to get used to,” said Joiner.

James Wilson, a 45-year-old disabled veteran, has been playing sled hockey for three years now. He says he was introduced to the sport by a military friend.

“The first time I got in the sled, I loved it. I layed on the ice most of the time, but once I got a hold of it, got a handle on it, I love it,” said Wilson.

Wilson says he can only stand on his legs for about an hour at a time, preventing him from strapping on skates.

Now, he says he works out his core and upper-body to play hockey with a team he says has been supportive from day one.

“They were like, ‘You know what? Everybody falls. Everybody gets up. Everybody is going to learn the same things that you’re learning. Just stay with it, you’re going to be good.’ And then as, you know, I get better passes. And people are like, ‘See? Now you’re better at passing.’ And then all of a sudden, I started shooting and they are like, ‘You have a hell of a shot! You should just do that more often.’ And that’s encouraging to me. So, then when I see new people get on the ice that want to play this sport, I do the same thing that the team did for me,” said Wilson.

Sled Warriors Team Manager Jon Phillips says the strength of the athletes who are physically limited from playing traditional sports is impressive.

“I’ve been in tournaments where we’ve seen players with no arms and sticks taped to their elbows and six goals in the top of the net…and don’t come off the ice for three periods. The conditioning of some of the special needs athletes is in awe…like, hockey players, usually you’re a minute-and-thirty off the ice. When I see a special needs athlete on the ice for three full periods, that’s pretty impressive,” said Phillips.

Phillips adds that hockey is not the only sport that STRIDE offers.

“Sled hockey is kinda cool because I think it gives a lot of good awareness. We have our adaptive ski program, we do camping, there’s so many activities that we do for the kids. So it’s kind of nice going to the site and connecting…there’s a lot in this area. I’ve been amazed with how many special needs, or it could be school programs, that don’t realize all the amazing things that kids can do in adaptive sports and the resources that STRIDE Adaptive Sports has to support those kids in that journey,” said Phillips.

On this night, the Sled Warriors defeat the Garnet Chargers 9-1.

Brianne Brinker, Assistant Director for Facilities at Union, says it’s not the first time the sleds have hit the home ice in Schenectady.

“We have had them at a game to play in between periods in the past, we have had a game, about 12 years ago or so, with the Sled Warriors against our varsity programs and it was a great success. And I just figured, ‘Let’s try that again.’ We had some ice time here and I think it would be a great opportunity to get the Sled Warriors a chance to play a game and get our kids exposed to adaptive sports,” said Brinker.

Union’s Quan says she’ll take something away from learning a new version of her sport.

“I think it just makes us appreciate how lucky we are to be able to skate with two perfectly fine legs and feet as hockey players, and it’s really important for both the men’s’ and women’s’ team to be out in the community and supporting and supporting different forms of hockey that we don’t necessarily see every day,” said Quan.

For more information on STRIDE Adaptive Sports visit Stride.org:

Welcome to Stride Adaptive Sports

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.